Seeing how teenagers dress and act today is becoming more of a challenge for many adults. All the international influences seem to have taken a hold of our younger generations in the UAE and the Arab world in general. All the celebrities and models they see in fashion magazines, walking around in high heels and with iPhones in their hands; let alone the sexual education they learn at school. All of these aspects are expressions of their individual lifestyle. A lot has changed from when I was a teenager, but what surprises me the most is that they know so much more about “the birds and the bees” than I did at their age. Now, why is that?
In our culture, it becomes apparent that holding onto our traditions plays a major role in our everyday lives. For generations, we have always tried to keep sex and everything that has to do with puberty as a taboo subject with the good intention to protect our youngsters from any dangers. The question is: is it still considered effective guidance if some parents “overprotect” their teenagers, believing by completely not talking about these issues, which teenagers are struggling with, that no harm can be done? Unfortunately, this behaviour can make matters worse and often causes teenagers to feel frustrated. The reason is simply because teenagers do not perceive this as a way of wanting to protect them; instead they interpret it as a sign of ignorance.
Now try to think about what would happen if, instead of not talking about it, we very openly pass on our knowledge about sex and our own experiences to our children? Would that be a more useful source of protection? Well, I would agree to the extent that it is always good for a young girl to be informed about what menstruation means, for example, before she starts to menstruate. However, the question is also how we approach them with this subject. If we are able to turn it into a respectful dialogue – instead of a parent’s preaching – then we might be more successful in helping them with their individual transition to adulthood.
We can’t deny the fact that we live in a time where the younger generations have easier access to information compared with 10 or 15 years ago. They can read about everything online, discuss matters in chat rooms or forums and watch YouTube videos instead of turning to their parents for advice. This poses problems, but is understandable behaviour if parents continue to treat sex and puberty as a taboo and teenagers see no other way to find the answers that they are looking for.
Our younger generations need to remain encouraged to talk with their parents about anything. If the parents have discussed these issues before their children turn into teenagers, then this could help facilitate a relationship of trust between the parent and the child without fearing too much embarrassment. To know that someone is there in case they don’t know what to do is very important at that age. Their parents know how to get through that stage of life – they’ve already been through it – and the more they are relaxed about talking about it, the easier both sides can get along with each other during their “times of change”.
Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.
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