When Harry Harling, a 15-year-old schoolboy, fell to his death from a Dubai apartment block in April after a night of drinking, expatriate parents shuddered across the UAE. Some newspaper reports claimed that teenagers in the UAE are fit, energetic, amply financed by their parents ... and often bored to tears. With little chance to get a job to earn their own money, and months at a time when it's too hot to go outside, it was suggested that our young people have plenty of time and not much to do.
"Boredom in teenagers is an international phenomenon," says Clare Smart, a counsellor for adolescents and adults at Lifeworks, Dubai. "I have heard young people complain about being bored in Dubai, but equally they have complained about being bored at a fabulous resort in Thailand or on safari in Kenya." The danger is that boredom can lead to feelings of depression, loneliness and anger, and even trigger risk-taking behaviour, she says.
If your teenager is bored, then you need to take action. "Parents are responsible for the development of their children's interests, passions, and hobbies - a "bored" mindset should not even begin to exist in the minds of children," says the relationship expert and teenage coach Natalia Shpeter. Practically, there's plenty you can do: during the long summer holidays ask your teenager to pick a camp they'd like to attend; it could be anything from jewellery-making to Formula 1 karting. "Take advantage of the sports, clubs and groups popping up all over the UAE," suggests Smart. "Or encourage your teenager to organise things with friends, or volunteer at a local charity."
Ironically, boredom can set in when parents arrange too many activities and young people lose the ability to entertain themselves. Similarly, boredom can be a result of making life too easy for your child. A study by the market research firm AMRB found that Emirati teenagers are the highest spenders in the world and receive most of their money from their parents. Instead of just giving pocket money away, encourage your children to earn some of it. They could do some housework, gardening, or wash the car in return for cash, enabling them to go to the mall proud in the knowledge that they earned their own money.
Perhaps Harling did earn his own pocket money, played football., and had plenty of interests, but he still went to parties. And what teenager wouldn't want to go to a party if they knew all their friends were going to be there?
While the UAE is a safe and protected society, teenagers will be teenagers, no matter where they are in the world. The stakes might be higher here (minors age 7 to 18 can be arrested and given jail sentences and parents, as the child's sponsor, can also be held criminally and financially responsible for any laws broken), but sneaking out, drinking and doing drugs is often a typical part of adolescence. Whether it's illegal or not.
On hearing about Harling's death, it's only natural to want to ban your child from parties, but parenting experts would disagree with this approach.
"Going to parties is part of a normal socialisation process. If you restrict your teenager's freedom in this respect, he may end up isolated from his school pals and depressed. And he might rebel against you," warns Shpeter. Try as we might, we can't protect our children from everything, but we can take steps to ensure they are as safe as possible. If your teenager is going to a party, Shpeter suggests you: "Gather as much information as you can about the party, such as where it's happening, when, with whom, whether it's a special occasion, and if an adult will be there. If in doubt, call the parents of the party's host, or call the parents of your child's friends."
Parties can, unfortunately, mean illegal substances are available. Harling had alcohol in his system when he died and two years ago Anton Tahmasian, an expat teenager, collapsed at a house party after sniffing butane from canisters. He later died in hospital. Rather than pretend these problems don't exist, Smart says, "parents should educate themselves about alcohol, drug and inhalant abuse as much as they can; learn the slang terms and talk to their teenagers. By discussing it openly and stressing the dangers, you could help to save a life."
While some parents may fear talking about the subject will make their children more likely to experiment, Smart believes the opposite to be true.
"Honest conversations make young people more likely to ask you questions and discuss friends they may be worried about."
Even if you're the best parent in the world with the best teenager in the UAE, sometimes things still go wrong. If you have a good relationship with your child, you should be able to spot the warning signs. "If your child's behaviour appears to be strange or new, if his way of talking, looking at you, his body language, school results, discipline, or habits have changed, it might be a cause for concern," says Shpeter.
If you're worried about your teenager and unable to get to the bottom of what's going on, seek professional help. It's always better to take action earlier, rather than later.
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