Sunday, January 14, 2007

Paranoid Control Freaks

I have to say that one of the most challenging, and strangely self-transformative aspects of living in Qatar was the extreme polar opposite in parenting style there. We lived in a compound with approximately 30 families, almost all of whom had at least 2 children or more. There were only 3-4 households that weren’t Arabic families, with the majority of the families being Egyptian.

Since it was inhumanely hot outside, (I’m presuming this was the reason), the children didn’t come outside to play until after sunset. On a weekend night, they came out en masse by 8 or 9pm, and usually were playing out there until 11+pm; a totally taboo thing for Americans. At first, this was insane to me. I was putting my kids to bed while the rest of the neighborhood kids were raising holy $#!$ outside our window! It was common to see 2 and 3 year olds accompanied only by a slightly older sibling, usually a sister, and never (ok maybe 1x or twice in 2 years I saw a parent) was there a parent or “responsible adult” outside with these kids.

So many thoughts came to mind; How irresponsible, how negligent these parents are! This is savagery! How uncivilized and what an utter abomination! These kids are so deprived, they aren’t learning that their actions have consequences because a responsible adult isn’t here coaching them and proctoring them when they’re wrong! How sad!

After quite a few visits with ladies that lived outside my compound, and observing my son in his non-Western school, I soon realized that this was not specific to my compound’s environment, but in general a cultural thing for that part of the world.

I really struggled with this issue the whole time I was in Doha. I never really got used to it. After all, the behavior of the kids in our compound seemed like Lord of the Flies to me; a lot of property was destroyed in the compound by those kids and nobody enforced any consequences on them for any of it. Graffitti was all over the outside wall of the compound; a bench on the playground was melted by our neighborhood’s teenage pyromaniac; as well as the destruction of some of my childrens’ toys. The final straw for me was when they murdered our cat out of jealousy.

I’ve been back in America for 6 months now. For a while, even up until a couple of months ago, I basked in the glory of what seemed like the apparent supremecy of our fabulous American parenting style. It was great this summer to be in Disney in Orlando and actually see kids taking turns and not pushing and shoving each other. While playing on the playground in one area, they actually lined up to use the rope-swing, totally un-prompted to do so by any adults who were standing by! How fabulous, I thought! We Americans are really civilized and the third world are all still such heathens. My Ego basked in it’s all-too-Nationalistic glory at the wonder of it all.

Well, I’m emerging from my nationalistic delusion and I think I am seeing the hard cold reality of this place.

We are paranoid control freaks. We are so fearful of each other, our community, and what comes naturally to us and to our children that we have as a society become so distrustful and fearful that we are in fact evil.

I’m sure most folks have heard that American children spend too much time in front of the TV, computer, and video games. This is making them more obese, etc. I totally believe that this is partly because these electronic wonders are so compelling, but mostly because American parents are such goddamn control freaks, who are unrealistically afraid of letting them just run around outside and play! Play with EACH OTHER! For goodness’ sakes, go knock on the neighbor kid’s door and ask ‘em to come OUT and play!

Our nation is collectively brainwashed by too many crime shows on television and the corporate media’s mass delusion of fear that screams it’s absolutely unsafe for kids to play outside- that pedophiles, murderers and psychos are everywhere – and the kids will surely meet their untimely demise unless mom and/or dad or a “responsible adult” (well I say poppycock!) is hovering nastily over them. For instance, my neighbor won’t let her son come over to our house unless SHE comes too! He’s NINE for the love of God!!!! And I’m here, as well as my husband!

Omigawd, maybe I look like an axe-murderer!


American children are also over-programmed, overscheduled, and on their way to burnout at an astoundingly young age. Many children are so programmed (ie used to the activity coming from the outside; watching the TV, protocols on the computer, going to lessons where the teacher or coach tells them what to do next etc.) that they are losing the ability to be self-directed in their play; they actually NEED someone or something to “tell them what to do now”???

Apparently this idea is becoming institutionalized. Check out
this link on the new playground systems just installed in NYC, which is also apparently “all the rage” in Japan and in Europe.
Take back our lifestyles!

I think the first thing we need to do is turn off the g$#@!d$$#@ TV. I affectionately call it the “eye of Mordor” around my household!

Secondly, we need to get our kids outside. Check out
this article. So eloquently written!

Children don’t need fancy - schmancy Leap pad learning systems to stimulate their brains; they need nature! I remember when I was a kid, I could play for hours, even by myself (I was an only child) in our woods. I would make mud pies, leaf stews, play in our creek and mold a million different things from the natural blue clay, and I had secret hide-outs in certain areas of the forest. It was a kids’ utopia!

I am hoping and praying that we can buy a spot of land along with our house this spring, in a rural location. I really struggle with how to raise my kids in the suburbs. We could have goats, they could take care of them. I think that taking care of farm animals is a really meaningful life experience for kids. They can play in the woods, and do the things they were born to do instead of try to cope with living in this un-natural environment of the suburbs.

What has happened to America?
My husband says that when he as a kid, there were packs of kids that roamed and ruled his neighborhood. Where is that here?
I saw it still alive and happening in Qatar. Although it was a bit over-done (I certainly am not condoning letting kids kill each other’s pets and destroy property), it seems like the Arabic culture is a lot closer to the natural state of the human being than we are.


Cairogal said...

It's not just the Middle East-kids in Spain wandered in and out of bars while their parents enjoyed a cocktail...cultural, really. Bars have a family feel to them up until a certain part of the evening. The worst was the fact that the parents never bothered to control them. In order to stop their child, there would have to be a complete and utter infringement on another customer, and even then they wouldn't necessarily interfer.

It's true: American kids are fat, most likely from poor diet, processed foods, and inactivity, as are most Middle Eastern children, perhaps for some of the same reasons. As a teacher, the lunchboxes that came into school were sometimes filled w/ the candy, and not just one or two pieces, but often a whole bag. A lunch included no fruits or vegetables (and the cantine didn't sell them any), but a Nutella sandwich and some Ho-Ho-like dessert. Don't forget the chocolate or nectar juice box! Perhaps the lunchtime football matches made up for some of that, but the energy levels of students was remarkably low-a very strong corrolation between diet and learning.

Please tell me those kids did not kill your cat...this has become a big problem in Dubai. My friend said many families are hanging up signs in the local grocery store looking for the missing animals. In some cultures we'd say kids that kill animals are set up for life of psychotic behaviour...(thanks for visiting my blog!)

Rockin' Hejabi said...

Sad but true- they killed our cat out of pure envy (al - Hasad). I totally believe in the "evil eye" now, subhanallah.

Yes, the candy thing was terrible in Qatar. My son attended an arabic preschool ("Rotha"), and I experienced it first-hand. The other children thought he was insane for actually eating a tuna sandwich, juice and yoghurt for lunch instead of a box of chocolate to drink with ho-ho's!!!

They sold the kids candy at snack time in the snack hut - the school sold the children candy, and there was enormous peer pressure on my son to buy from it - now we're paying in the real sense, he has 7 hudge cavities, and one tooth has already been extracted. Poor little habibi.