Terrorist groups like ISIS uses social media like Twitter to recruit young impressionable minds. They rely on teens who have a “restrictive” household and offer them lies like “freedom, excitement, purpose and belonging.” Teens tend to fall for these lies because their prefrontal cortex is not fully developed. They cannot fully and intelligently judge anything into the future.
As a father of a 15 year old teenage girl, I feel for the parents of runaway teens, especially Muslims teens who feel the need to join a terrorist group like ISIS. After the recent news of the 3 teens who ran away from their London homes to join ISIS, I found no other option but to express my thoughts on this matter.
I thank Allah for giving me the opportunity to host a podcast that reaches tens of thousands of listeners worldwide. Being blessed with such a platform, I feel it would be a disservice if I did not express my thoughts on this very sensitive and important topic.
This is not meant to be a “quick fix” blog post. Parenting is a life long endeavor and this post is just a reminder to parents.
5 Ways To Protect Your Teen From Joining ISIS
1. Proper Parenting
Good parenting strengthens the bond between parent and child. This might seem like common sense but unfortunately it isn’t. Two key ingredients in good parenting is patience and respect. Being patient is a crucial part of being a successful parent. Understand that every single child learns in a uniquely different way. Every child absorbs and processes information differently. If one child is a straight-A student, don’t be surprised if the other isn’t. That doesn’t mean he/she is dumb. It could mean that the other child has a different learning style. More attention, more time, less distractions, etc. Respect is also crucially important. Parents usually think the child must respect them without recipricating that respect. If children learn from their parents then how can they learn to respect if they don’t see their parents respecting them? Remember, that the Prophet (pbuh) never disrespected anyone, let alone children. A child deserves to be treated fairly. Being a “dictator parent” that always says “no” will only make the child rebel. It’s important to note that the point of rebelling doesn’t necessarily become noticed immediately. It could take years. This will open their mental doors to outside influence (i.e. ISIS recruiters). I believe the term “rebel” is even a negative word. Teens are learning independence. Parents should not resist this but help direct teens.
I highly recommend the following two books. They completely changed my outlook as a father, parent and husband.
2. Understanding of Islam
Patience comes with knowledge and understanding. As Khidr told Musa (a.s.)
And how can you have patience about things which your understanding is not complete? (Quran 18:68).
Parents must take it upon themselves to learn and understand their religion. Not only to perform the obligatory acts like praying and fasting, but also the wide range of topics that their children will ask them about. Whenever my daughter asks me about something, I immediately go through my mental “rolodex” of Quran, Hadith and stories. The Quran and Hadith provide so much applicable information that in most cases I can perfectly answer my daughter and at the same time educate her.
We, as Muslims, are blessed to have the Quran and Hadith. Children love to connect with stories. They love to relate to other people. Usually, children think their life is hard when a parent tells them to do some chore. What better way to tell them a hadith that is similar to their feeling so that they can relate to it. Parents should not only read but discuss the stories. As your children grow into teens, they will run into social issues that are potentially un-Islamic. This is when all those hadiths that you educated them on start to act as a reminder of the Islamic boundaries. In turn, they will have a higher appreciation and respect for you. This instills love and connection between parent and child. It is also very important that during these times when your teen comes home to tell you their day at school, you be very attentive on how your child reacted to whatever social pressure they faced. Acknolwedge their decision, and respect their judgement. Don’t forget that their judgement is maturing so they will make mistakes. That is perfectly fine, as that is part of growing up.
3. Instilling Self-Worth and a Sense of Belonging
Instilling self-worth and a sense of belonging comes with time. Sometimes as parents we want our kids to “change now” but, unfortunately that’s not how it works. If parents do not take it upon themselves to be patient and instill these values in their kids then someone else will. One way to help instill a sense of self-worth and belonging in your child is to ask for their opinion on family related matters. Below are a few examples of what I mean:
We plan on purchasing a new car, are there any cars you think we should test drive?
We plan on buying some new furniture, would you like to look online at a few items?
Yes, I know that these seem like common sense questions but I am surprised at how many parents do not incorporate their children’s opinions in family matters.
Value their capabilities, judgement, opinions, and educate them in secular and religious education. Religious education is wonderful, but do not be of the mindset that as long as I take my child to an “Islamic school” they will turn out great Muslims or Muslimahs.
Religious education is instilled at home first.
4. Limit and Monitor Social Media
It’s not only crucial that parents know who their child’s friends are and where they are spending their free time, but also to monitor their social media and internet usage. Of course this is hard in today’s world. Kids have access to the internet and social media at such a young age. If you allow them to use social media, have them choose ONE social media platform and only stick with that. If they decide to go with another one (which they will later), then they need to make a choice: Deactivate the current one and create a new one, or stick with old one. Parents must monitor every single friend add request. Pre-teens and teenagers are extremely impressionable, making them extremely vulnerable to their peers. It is absolutely crucial to watch their internet and social media activities at this very vulnerable age.
Teens just want to be loved and treated with respect. They need the most love when they are pushing you away. Bad behaviors are cries for attention.
We highly recommend Ourpact. It’s a mobile app that makes monitoring your child’s phone extremely easy!
5. Ask Him
Make duaa that Allah keeps your children on the right path. You must get as specific in your duaa as possible. Understand that Allah is in control of every single thing. Nothing happens without His knowledge. As it says in the Quran (6:59),
Not a leaf falls but that He knows it.
Being conscious of this fact is absolutely necessarily when making duaa. We must constantly remind ourselves that He knows all nothing happens without His knowledge. Make sincere prayer and duaa asking the Protector to Protect and He will.