Your teenager or young adult children are happening into one of the most tumultuous phases of their lives inside and out. Internally, their hormones and brain structure are undergoing massive changes to get them ready for adult roles like handling complex tasks and decisions, having the strength to do hard labour, and becoming spouses and parents. Externally, they may face many new challenges which require experiential learning and guidance from trusted adults.
As a parent, guiding your growing children through these changes is a huge challenge in and of itself. According to a 2013 study on the Maturation of the Adolescent Brain, the development and maturation of the prefrontal cortex occurs primarily during adolescence and is only fully accomplished at the age of 25 years.1 Therefore, their executive decision making skills need a lot of fine tuning as they grow. Moreover, your life experience is key in helping them make more informed decisions. Balancing your guidance with their innate need to try new things and handle it on their own is the difficult part.
What Defines an Adolescent or Young Adult?
Firstly, humans are considered adolescents from the age of 10 to 19 years old, according to the World Health Organization,2 whereas young adults range from 18 to 25 years old.3 However, according to Islamic legal terminology, one becomes an adult at the onset of puberty known as bulugh. Reaching maturation for boys is indicated by beard growth and voice change. For girls, it is the beginning of menstruation.4 According to some schools of thought, 15 lunar years is also the limit at which scholars say a child becomes a young adult.
At this stage, all Islamic responsibilities become obligatory on the young adult, such as praying five times a day, fasting, and Hajj. Marriage is also possible if the reproductive organs are fully formed. The prospect of marriage should go hand in hand when it is easy to discern that the young adult has reached intellectual and social maturity, which is called rushd in Islam. If discerned, it is obligatory on them to also enjoin good and forbid evil to the point that s/he has developed some sort of social standing. This same rushd, intellectual and social maturity, also applies to when the young adult has reached financial maturity and has some wealth to his/her name. This then makes zakat due upon him/her, and s/he can also take on some economic responsibility. We can see an example of how this discernment of puberty and intellectual maturity plays out in an ayah presented in the Quran about young orphans being given their due wealth and property by their caretakers:
Test the orphans when they reach the age of marriage (hatta idha balaghu al-nikah). Then if you discern in them maturity (rushdan), deliver to them their property. And do not consume it lavishly and hastily lest they should grow up. As for him who is well-off, let him be abstemious (not self-indulgent), and as for him who is poor, let him eat in an honourable manner. And when you deliver to them their property, take witnesses over them, and Allah suffices as reckoner.
(Surah An-Nisa, 4:6)
Just as teenagers begin to think critically about their surroundings, they may pose a challenge to their parents’ rules and ways of doing things because they want to try things you may not be comfortable with yet or may have little experience in. Moreover, reproductive development also begins an interest in the opposite gender, and quite possibly, a whole new set of challenges. Lastly, the matter of deciding on what education and careers they want to pursue requires much exploration of talents and inclinations as well as finding the best route to pursue those educational and career goals.
Here are some ways parents can help their teenage and young adult children navigate certain challenges they may face.
All relationships change when your child begins young adulthood. That includes their relationships with you as parents, their siblings, friends, other family members, and of course, the opposite gender. Navigating changes in all of these relationships requires helping your child mature emotionally and socially as their burgeoning hormones disrupt their neural networks and bring changes to their body’s composition. What can we do to show our support during this tumultuous time?
- Learn to listen actively without judgment to their current interests and concerns about their body, school, and relationships with their friends, and possibly the opposite gender if they are comfortable. Even if they look older, they need to feel that the closeness they had with you growing up has not changed.
- Focus on helping them regulate their emotions when they experience anger, sadness, unbridled excitement or passion, confusion, or stress. It starts with you being calm in their presence and then proceeding with techniques that will help them come back to a normal emotional state. If you cannot stay calm, take a break from each other and come back to the issue at hand. Dealing with an issue with a calm mind will model to your child that this is what they need to do when faced with a stressful situation.
According to Dana Foundation, a foundation that supports studies in neuroscience, “children routinely look to the parent for guidance in navigating the emotional and physical landscape. Social referencing is a powerful means of regulating emotions and has been used to explain the intergenerational transmission of emotional knowledge, including the transmission of anxious behaviors and reactions.”5 Therefore, how we behave is important to reducing our children’s anxiety.
- Listen compassionately and brainstorm solutions together. This will help your adolescent or young adult see that they have a say in how to solve their problems. Taking an approach where you ask open-ended questions helps them to think critically about the situation with another person, which will help them solve their problems by themselves in the future inshaAllah, God-willing.
- Use the Quran and Sunnah as your basis on how to deal with different types of relationships. Looking at examples of how the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, dealt with his wives, children, relatives, neighbours, authority figures, co-workers, and friends is a great way to help your children understand their Muslim identity and how it influences their daily lives. Moreover, the Quran also has much wisdom and rulings on these topics. Go over how to keep ties of kinship strong and how to deal with the opposite gender, for example. Listening to lectures or reading books by well-known scholars on these topics are also great ways to do this as well.
- Put into perspective their relationships that are not beneficial to their emotional, mental, or spiritual growth. Whether it is a jealous friend who backhandedly degrades them, or if he/she is involved in a premarital relationship, gently help them see the problems of those relationships in light of the Quran and Sunnah. Most of the time, when our kids seek love or connection from people outside of the home who are not emotionally supportive or Islamically appropriate, it may be because they lack that connection at home. If put into this perspective, parents can approach in a kinder manner rather than be in disdain of their teenage or adult children. And sometimes it may just be peer pressure when they choose to be with people we may not choose for them. Still, you would approach them in a compassionate but pragmatic manner.
- Show them alternative relationships that can build the love, connection, and belonging they crave. Help them find friends with similar values to your family through Islamic learning circles, youth groups, recreational activities and sports, and community events. Connect with the parents of these youth so that new long-lasting bonds can be built, inshaAllah.
About Education and Careers
Finding out an adolescent’s inclinations, interests, and talents may take much exploration. It is in these years that youth discover their aspirations and what they would like to do in their older adult years. Sometimes it is in their young adulthood when they discover it. Here are ways parents can be of support in these matters:
- Have your child take career tests through their school or talk to a career guidance counsellor who can help find where their talents and inclinations are best suited.
- Visit schools that specialize in certain academics or vocations. Or, if your child is older, visit colleges together to see what programs hold their interest. Talk to the college’s academic counsellors, professors, or current students there.
- Have your children speak to adults in the industries they are interested in. Seeks help to make those connections from acquaintances and people in your local community.
- Have them volunteer at different jobs to see if they like it. This is a great way to get introduced to workplaces they might not have been exposed to through university. Co-ops or internships are great opportunities as well for this.
- Help them find networking opportunities through local community elders from different professions. Masjids and youth groups also offer networking for jobs.
- Use career development websites such as LinkedIn and Indeed.com, to help connect with people in particular industries and find networking opportunities. Also, help them build profiles and resumes there.
About General Mental and Emotional Health
According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 1 in 3 adolescents from the ages of 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder.6 These numbers have been steadily rising between 2007 and 2012. Moreover, the aftermath of the pandemic has sharply increased anxiety disorders and depression among children and adolescents, doubling those figures from pre-pandemic levels.7 There are varying factors as to why our youth may be experiencing increased levels of these mental health issues, such as social isolation or anxiety, social media comparison, bullying, parental or familial abuse or neglect, intimate partner issues, poverty or homelessness, job loss or unemployment, and addictions to drugs, the internet, or video games.
However, adolescence and young adulthood by nature are mired by times of fluctuating changes in their bodies, environments, and the people around them. Those situations alone bring on distress. Our growing children could be dealing with any of these myriad issues. How should parents support them?
- Apply the same steps mentioned above in the About Relationships section when it comes to finding out about the source of their anxiety or depression.
- Seek professional help. Use the help of a therapist, counsellor, psychiatrist, or rehabilitation program. Working with your family and professionals as a team in supporting your child’s mental health will be very beneficial, inshaAllah. Sometimes, we may not have all the tools or energy as parents to help our children through tough times. It can take a toll on your own mental health as a parent. For such situations, family counselling would be great to help guide your child in future stressful situations with the right techniques.
- Guide them to other trusted older adults who can help them through their situation as well. They can be a listening ear, good company, and give different perspectives. These adults can be grandparents, aunts or uncles, family friends, teachers, coaches, and the imam at your local masjid. If you have vetted these adults and truly trust them, relying on your extended family and community is a great way to expand and strengthen other bonds for your teen or young adult child.
- Encourage them to expand their circle by going to community and Islamic events, volunteering, attending workshops or classes, or doing recreational activities (painting, book clubs, sports, etc). Let them travel to new places for a change of scenery and perspective. These activities allow the mind to relax, renew itself, and focus on things outside of their life stressors.
Guiding our teenagers and young adults through life’s challenges is no easy task. However, if we can grasp the tools and techniques needed to get us through these situations, then life can be a little easier for all of us, inshaAllah, God-willing.