Treat your sons like young men and your daughters like young women, because this is what they actually are.
When I go to the grocery store with the kids, I give them jobs to do. “Bring me 2 gallons of milk,” or “Grab that container of peanut butter,” or “Help me pick avocados.”
When we get to the cashier register, the kids’ job is to help me unload the groceries from the cart and onto the conveyor belt. After we finish paying, the kids help put the bags into the cart. Then they thank the cashier and wish her or him a good day and we head out.
One day at the grocery store, we needed to stop in for one or two items quickly before meeting up with some friends at the park. So we ducked into the store without a cart and ended up (of course) grabbing more items than just one or two.
As we walked out of the store to the car, an older lady saw this sight: a line of four boys each holding a plastic bag in each hand, including the toddler, followed by a mom (me) holding only her purse.
She smiled and nodded at us approvingly and told me, “Good job, mom! You’re raising men!” Then she said to my sons, “Well done, young men. You carry things for a lady.”
I thanked her for the kind words and the boys puffed up their chests at the compliment.
But the reality is, in the modern world, and particularly in western societies, there is a much-extended childhood. Adulthood is delayed with the length of the adolescence period, which traditionally has been a much briefer period of time than what we now consider to be the “teenage years.” Kids in western countries are considered to be adults only at 21 years of age, with some “adult” privileges like voting or drinking alcohol granted at 18.
There is very little accountability. I know a mother who called her 16-year-old son “a child” in order to defend his chronic irresponsibility, lack of accountability, and lack of foresight.
But as Muslims, we know that this isn’t good for our sons or daughters, or for us as parents, or for society. People cease being “just a child” when they hit puberty and become baaligh (بالغ ).
This is when they will start to be held to account for their actions and when all of their actions, good and bad, will be recorded by the angels. It’s not all fun and games anymore. They have to know their deen and act on their knowledge and be responsible. They must start training, gently and gradually, for the future roles they will fulfill and the future responsibilities they will shoulder.
Yesterday, we were driving to the park and listening to our seerah as usual, and we reached the preparations for the Battle of Uhud. Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم commanded the Muslim army to camp near the mountain of Uhud and he began to sort and organize the men into ranks before the battle. The munafiqeen left ignobly, making some lame excuse about this open area not being a good place for a battle and beating a hasty retreat back to Madinah. Only the believing men were left.
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم came to a group of youths. He commended them for their intentions and for their courage, but sent them back to the city, too young to fight. Among the young ones sent back was Abdullah ibn Umar, who was 12 years old. There was also a Sahabi who was 10 years old!
Then there was a 13-year-old Sahabi who tried to make a case for himself to stay and fight. He said, “Ya Rasul Allah, I am an archer. I never miss. Give me any target to hit and I’ll hit it InshaAllah.” Hearing this, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم granted him permission to stay.
Hearing this, his friend, another 13-year-old, suddenly spoke up. “Ya Rasul Allah! You have allowed him to stay, but commanded me to leave. But I am a good wrestler. Whenever he and I wrestle, I always win.”
What was the Prophet’s response, صلى الله عليه وسلم?
He said صلى الله عليه وسلم, “Then wrestle.”
The two young men wrestled right there on the battlefield and the one who said that he always wins did win. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم granted him permission to stay and fight, along with his friend the archer. They were two 13-year-olds. Today, many parents would call these young men “just kids.”
I turned to my own sons and saw that they were sitting up and paying attention. Good.
I said to Muhammad, my eldest, “You are 8 and a half. In a few months inshaAllah, you’re going to be 9. That’s only one year younger than the Sahabi who walked with the army all the way from Madinah to the battlefield near the mountain of Uhud. Do you think he was whining that he was hungry or that his feet hurt? Do you think he asked for a snack?”
They laughed. But they looked thoughtful.
Today, we have a short-term view sometimes of this subject, and we may mistakenly treat our children like very young children in a way that may hinder their emotional, mental, psychological, and even spiritual progress and development. Our love for them, natural and justified and good as it is, may cause us to over-coddle and baby them even when they are no longer babies. We hinder their maturity with our babying.