x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

When boys behave badly, saying 'I'm sorry' will not cut it

Many children in the UAE have fallen into the three Ds of discipline: disobedience, disrespect and deceit. Parents and educators need to work together to reverse these trends.

How many parents have told me about their boys getting caught by the police, or making mischief which causes grief beyond compare? So many that I've lost count.

In Islam, we're advised to cover each other's mistakes, but there are times when these mistakes cause everyone to suffer. The problem was highlighted in Ali F Mostafa's film, City of Life, which tells the story of what happens when young men don't have much to do.

In the past two months alone I've come across teenaged boys involved in tussles, pushing and shoving. I've seen one boy violently kicking another as a crowd of adults watched, not thinking enough of it to get up and see what was going on.

Girls are doing it too. I myself was insulted and assaulted by a teenage girl from my neighbourhood as I spoke to her mother about her daughter harassing mine. The next day we all ended up at the police station, but the police advised me to just forgive and forget.

"Forgiving and forgetting": this sentiment prevails in the case of Lujain Hussein, the 11-year-old girl who was attacked on her school playground in Abu Dhabi not long ago. Unfortunately, many children realise that adults would rather forget and move on; some children even use this to their advantage. When they have fights or disrupt the class, pleading "I'm sorry" is all it can take to go scot free.

Dr Aisha Hamdan, in her book Nurturing Eeman in Children, says that many children have fallen into the three Ds of discipline: disobedience, disrespect and deceit. She cites the effects of global media culture which values the three Ds in many regards.

She's right. Just take a listen to the title track of the cartoon Despicable Me, which says regardless of who gets hurt children should do what they want, and try to get their way.

Some children are under the influence of rap, where money, girls - and even drugs - are the main features. Evidence of this can be seen in the hastily scrawled graffiti popping up here and there. One patch of scribble I saw in the UAE recently said, "The Hood," which was so far from an actual tough neighbourhood as to be laughable. Yet such signs speak to an angst that our boys feel.

I've talked to kids who love Snoop Dogg or blast Wiz Khalifa from their smart phones. They don't understand that these ghetto-fabulous theatrics are just moneymaking ploys and they couldn't stomach a genuinely dangerous neighbourhood life for more than a day or two.

In Newark, New Jersey's notorious Westside and Barringer high schools, many of them sit quietly, do their work, and come out valedictorians. The only swagger in their step is when they walk up the aisle to accept their diplomas. And from there it's off to the suburbs.

Here I see a completely different phenomenon. I'll call it the "UAE kids syndrome". Children here can be so spoiled, telling adults off constantly, and when they don't get what they want, they hold grudges. Often, they just don't care.

But their behaviour is not entirely their fault. As a teacher, I've learnt that many parents put the responsibility of raising their children on the school and the teachers, too.

Well, sorry, no one is paid enough to raise 30 kids over 10 months, with a time limit of six hours a day. It just can't be done. Parents need to take their - majority - share of the responsibility.

It's a dilemma that can't be solved by arresting or deporting problem children, or by letting them go unpunished at all. It needs a deep solution, one that forces parents, police and schools to work together in teaching children in the UAE to take responsibility for their actions.

There's also a need for more public spaces for boys to participate in constructive activities, such as more free, open and shaded places for sports, and youth cafes, where they can have opportunities to relax and respectfully express themselves.

Sadly, many places that were once open to teenage boys such as cafes, arcades and entertainment centres have gone "family only", excluding them, primarily because of their bad behaviour and excessive loitering.

In a country home to a society of temporary workers, finding a solution to boys behaving badly will not be easy. But in a country filled with itchy and innovative entrepreneurs, I have hope that someone just might try.


Maryam Ismail is a sociologist and teacher who divides her time between the US and the UAE