20 November 2018Last updated

Real Women

How generation gap affects relationships

We met four Dubai-based mums and their teenage children and asked them how different it is to be a teen today

Louisa Wilkins
5 Aug 2015 | 12:00 am
  • Ritika, Manaswni and Tanishq.

    Source:Aiza Castillo-Domingo/ANM

Ritika Dhingra from India is mum to Manaswni (17)and Tanishq (15), who are at school in Dubai

Mum Ritika: They’ve got a lot more freedom, teens these days. I grew up in India, and we didn’t have much freedom – although it is different there now. We weren’t allowed to go away every weekend, like these guys do for sleepovers and parties.

My parents were just that, parents. But my kids are like my friends. We like to hang out, the four of us together… we always spend Fridays together as a family. I feel like I might have spoilt them a little bit in terms of cooking and cleaning. But other than that, I feel they respect me and listen to me.

We don’t really have arguments. Sometimes they stay up until 4am and then don’t want to wake up until 1pm... this really bugs me. But other than that, they are responsible kids. They make their own healthy breakfasts and smoothies and they have interests and hobbies. Tanishq is really into photography and is learning from tutorials on YouTube and online and doing really well. As of now, I don’t have any problems with my kids’ teenage years. We have very open relationships.

Tanishq: There are a lot of social pressures on teenagers in Dubai, in terms of being a certain way, wearing certain clothes, or acting in certain ways. And while most adults don’t really understand why we use social media so much, it isn’t all bad… it can be used in good ways. Parents don’t understand that not having access to social media is a handicap in life.

Manaswni: I think social media gets a lot of unfair negative press. We spend 80 per cent of our lives on it so obviously issues and arguments will erupt there… it isn’t the fault of the social media. The arguments and fallouts would happen anyway. Even adults are addicted to them now… my grandma is on Candy Crush and my mum uses Skype. It’s just a part of life.

Saira Farooqi and daughter Shayan

Mum Saira Farooqi and daughter Shayan (19) 
Originally Pakistani-American, the Farooqi family moved to Dubai from the US eight years ago. Shayan is currently studying law at University College London

Mum Saira: I realise I have developed many habits from my own mother. I hear myself telling Shayan many things that my mum would say to me. Even though there is a generation gap, I am giving her the same advice.

My time was very different… I grew up in Lahore, whereas my kids were born and brought up in the US. We had no Facebook, or internet, we weren’t allowed to go on sleepovers or have boyfriends. When I was at college I could go to my friend’s house and stay out until 10pm, maybe. I graduated at 20, got married and when I was 23 we moved to the US. Things haven’t changed in Pakistan, but living in the US has changed our mentality. But I still say to Shayan, ‘No boyfriends. If you find a man you like, let’s meet him, and if he is a good man, you can marry him.’ I want her to focus on her studies and career right now.

It was really hard for me when Shayan moved to London. I would go into her room and cry. Even though I was excited for her and proud of her, I was nervous about her going to live in a new city. We had communication struggles at first… It takes a lot of effort from my side for us to stay in touch and stay close. She’s always so busy and doesn’t always message me back straight away. When she goes out, I always tell her to text me when she gets home. I can’t sleep until I know she is safe in the house… For me, staying in touch with family is very important. I tell her, ‘Religion first. Then family. Then studies.’

We are Muslim. It’s a challenge when kids go to school and university and meet people with different values. They see kids their age having different freedoms. We aren’t comfortable with sleepovers, for example. But we believe that the basic values we have instilled in her will not change no matter where she lives. If she does something wrong in the future, it means we have done something wrong. If she stays on the right track, we have done our job.

Shayan: When my mum was young, it was all about family and community. In my generation, it’s more about egoism, individualism and self-determination. The narrative is that if you are not doing what makes you happy, you shouldn’t be doing it.

This is a notable period of my life. I’m building my identity and shaping my personality. It’s better for me to do that away from home. At home it’s easy to feel like you are perpetually 13. Living away from home, I am learning about myself every day. I feel like I have my family’s values but that I am also developing my own. There are a lot of changes in this generation’s perspectives… politically, ideologically and culturally. I’d rather say ’This is who I am. This is what I have done.’ 
I don’t want to be defined by family, and religion, and family values and family honour. At the same time, I wouldn’t want my mum to feel like she has failed.

Saira: When Shayan gets married, she shouldn’t have to give up her career. But her husband should look after her financially… she should only work because she wants to, not because she has to just to survive.

Shayan: This is the point we disagree on most regularly. I’ve always wanted to make my own way and not be dependent on a man. I feel like I should keep my husband on his toes. I wouldn’t mind postponing marriage until I am 33 or 34.

Saira: I disagree. As soon as she has finished her studies she needs to get married. It’s fine if she wants to pursue her career after her studies. But after three or four years she needs to settle down.

Shayan: I don’t think I’ll ever settle down.

Saira: Shayan! I want to see her married to a good man. He has to be Muslim and compatible with her. But we have no restrictions on nationality.

Shayan: From my perspective that is all irrelevant. Love is blind.

Saira: After a few years, love is not blind.

Shayan: There’s more to it than categories. When I meet the right person, I’ll know. I hope when that happens, my parents respect my decision.

Saira: A few things are very important. We have told her what those are. But at the end of the day, it is down to her.

Vanessa and Oscar

Vanessa Woodthorpe-Wright from the UK is mum to four children aged 21, 17, seven and four. Here she is with 17-year-old Oscar, who studies at boarding school in the UK

Mum Vanessa: I would say the biggest difference between my teenage era and Oscar’s is social media. Teens today have quick, easy access to information and to the world in a way that we never had. I think in some ways they are missing out on real life, nature and face-to-face friendships. When I was young, if I didn’t know something I had to look it up in an encyclopedia. Now we just ask Google. Does that put added pressure on children and young people to have a wider knowledge? Yes and no. They have no excuse not to be fully aware because it’s so easy to access information, but this can lead to an attitude of indifference.

Teenage years are definitely harder work than the younger years. Little ones keep you up at night, but at least you know where they are! The thing is that teenagers will be teenagers – and we want them to be… it’s such a wonderful time in life. Some parents act like their teenagers are angels, but we all know that teens rebel. It’s just what they do.

It was really hard to send Oscar to boarding school in the UK. On the day we dropped him off, I felt like there was a rip in my chest and I actually wanted to howl… He is now back in Dubai for the summer and, the day after he arrived, I walked into the kitchen and he was standing there making a sandwich and I shed a few tears. It is because I have little ones too, so I look at Oz and think ‘Wow, kids grow so fast!’ I do believe children need to break free from their parents at some point, a chance to test their wings. Otherwise it can cause issues in the parent-teen relationship. I’m hoping that Oscar being abroad means we can avoid that difficult phase.

Oscar: My mum is really down-to-earth. She has already had a teenager move through the ranks, so she should get it right with me! We get on really well and I can tell her anything. We laugh a lot together. There isn’t really anything that I would say she doesn’t understand about me.

One thing I think she has forgotten is how expensive it is to live in England. I think she needs to increase my allowance! It’s hard not having enough money to do what we teenagers need to do… I would get a part-time job but my school won’t allow me. Now it’s the summer holidays I am trying to get a job here in Dubai to make some money over the summer, but it seems impossible. I’ve been offered part-time work without pay. Mum tells me I should do the work for experience. I guess it would be good to have it on my CV, but I would still like to earn some cash.

Chantelle and Caitlin

Chantelle Innes from South Africa is mum to 16-year-old twins Caitlin and Connor. Connor studies abroad in South Africa, while Caitlin has remained here in Dubai to finish her studies

Mum Chantelle: I think there is a lot more peer pressure on teens today because of social media. And they seem to have a lot more insecurities because of that. I don’t find them to be as confident as my friends and I used to be when I was their age. They hide behind social media so much. They are less expressive and communicative. I know they need to know about technology to be able to get by in the future, but things are so different now. I think the fun has been taken out of childhood. We used to ride our bikes for fun, not just for exercise.

I grew up in a very religious home. My parents controlled the music I listened to, the films I watched, the clothes I wore, the friends I spent time with and my social life. I wasn’t allowed to go on sleepovers, for example. I thank my parents for that today. I think I am lenient on Caitlin and Connor, compared with what my parents were like, but they would probably say I am quite strict. One thing I have always told them is to be themselves, not to look to others, or to the media, or social media, for guidance. The scariest bit about having teenagers is whether they will make the right decisions – about drugs, drinking, smoking... Until recently I was very careful about what parties I let them go to, but I am relaxing a bit now they are more mature. It’s about their safety rather than anything else.

Cailtin: Mum is becoming more lenient as I get older. I guess I am getting more mature so there is trust there. But I still have a curfew and we have rules. 
I have friends who don’t have curfews and have more freedom. But I don’t mind mum being strict. A lot of my friends are older than me and I’m known as Miss Innocent in my friendship group – it isn’t an issue for me. Some of my friends will say, ‘Why don’t you stay out later?’ But a lot of their parents will just go to sleep, whereas I know my mum waits up for me. Mum and I used to fall out a lot more about me eating junk food, and not exercising and not sleeping. Now we mainly fall out about what I’m wearing, as mum says my clothes are too short.

When it comes to social media, I think Mum thinks Connor and I are the only teens on Facebook and Instagram. But if social media was around at the time she was a teen, she would have been on it too.

Chantelle: I think social media dictates what is and is not acceptable today – as if there wasn’t already enough peer pressure! Social media condones being super skinny, having affairs etc. Who says it is right?

Caitlin: We are the same as every other teenager. It is today’s society. We have to use social media. It is not a choice.

Chantelle: I’ve read articles about kids and youngsters accessing inappropriate and pornographic material online. Also I read the younger generation has such bad communication issues that companies are trying not to employ people under the age of 30. I keep their phones out of their rooms at nighttime and the Wi-Fi turned off in my house.

Caitlin: I’m in my last year at school. I don’t know anybody who has their internet turned off at night.

Chantelle: If they don’t want to do that when they have kids, that’s fine. But this is what I want to do with my children.

Louisa Wilkins

By Louisa Wilkins