Pre-teens vs Child
Have been being around and dealing with kids between the age of 11-12 for almost a year as a 6th-grade teacher, has led me came to know that, they are not less challenging than younger students under the age of 10. Despite the absence of noises, tantrums or common daily drama scenes, Subhanallah.
Pre-teen students are definitely different in how they perceive and how they react, like; while repeated direct orders or cautions are still needed in lower grades it less likely work on pre-teen students, rather it more likely develop reluctance on them. You would hardly find crying students or obvious fighting in a 6th-grade classroom because they are more able to take care of the situation among their peers than the lower grades. No wonder, those distinctions have to do with their transformation stage, from child to adolescent.
No more chaos and fighting. Instead, these common issues are likely to take place among the pre-teen students as per my experience, such as:
Bullying. It is sometimes so subtle. A student started being avoided by her/her entire classmates in the classroom and sometimes the matter is taken in the form of verbal attack through social media platforms
Cliques conflict among girls. This one is so complicated
Oh, and -this exists too- early opposite gender interest which involved texting (Sigh!), my classroom is mixed anyway.
There are so many causes behind students’ problems. The biggest influence comes from their closest ones; parents, family and then, their adult surroundings. Parents are responsible for providing good spiritual upbringing for their children. Furthermore, Islamic School should not only put importance on ritual worships (salah, shaum, hajj) and memorize the Quran and dua for assignments purpose, while Islamic Education is supposed to reach student’s souls to build Islamic values for their lifetime.
What actually is their conflict?
I sensed strange atmosphere in my classroom that recent week, there was a female student who usually is the chatter among her peers. She was silently seated in a corner and enjoying her own time during recesses, none of them spoke to her, but she pretended to be fine. Then another day followed another female student got the same treatment from her peers. Until I found the fact that apparently, they were attacking each other through social media platforms, with inappropriate words and apparently it had something to do with the third problem I mentioned above as well. (Sigh)
There was almost a similar conflict that had happened earlier than this, but it was another different student. Based on previous teacher’s information it had been happening since they were in 5th grade that one of my female students had been being ostracized, so they brought it until they entered in 6th grade. This was upsetting to me. But Alhamdulillah, she no longer being ostracized after entering 2nd semester. Those problems that arose were usually triggered by a misunderstanding among them, so did the recent one.
When Teens TV dramas and Social media have become pre-teen students’ daily consumption, it’s no wonder if they gain its negative impact on their attitudes. Those dramas usually promote under-age romance, superiority and aggressive behavior, which are opposite of virtuous Islamic values. While social media misuse would occupy their time. I understood how most of their parents are not aware of the danger, by giving their kids freedom to watch TV dramas and handing over them a smartphone.
Conventional approach that only works on the surface
Once I could fathom what was going on, I ask Allah SWT for the best way to reconcile them because I believe that conventional way (by direct advising and warnings) we were using before, won’t solve the problem and can’t guarantee such conflict from recurrence. The conventional approach tends to judge, warn and tell them what they should do as good students while their heart is still in annoyance. So, the students may involuntarily apologize and end the conflict to avoid the consequences, while behind their teacher/parent’s presence they may develop resentment. So it would only bring the matter even worse. I don’t want their temporary peace, only for the sake of teacher and parents. I believe advice only can be accepted when their heart has softened and opened with relief.
The following day after I could figure the problem out, on the morning, I called four particular students to the school’s mushola. I start the approach with leading them Dhuha prayer in a congregation (Dhuha prayer is part of our school daily program which conducted in a congregation, leads by a scheduled male student. I called these four girls earlier, apart from the rest big number of students, because I need a private time with these students). Then continued by dhikr and dua, I asked them to do Istighfaar a lot -quietly- and make a silent dua by themselves. Remained in shaf with my students, I whispered asking Allah SWT to open their hearts. After that, I handed them Quran to be read. My purpose was that I hoped it would soften their heart and they would gain peace and comfort before I addressed the main point. I recited the Quran as well.
Then, I started addressing the issue;
“Dear my students, I have already known everything what is going on between you all recently. I won’t be angry with or blame you. I know as human, sometimes we make mistakes but we should realize it soon and repent.”
“We have bestowed lisan (our tongue) by Allah SWT, we have just used it to read Quran, haven’t we? So, won’t we feel ashamed to use it for evil speech, foul language and mocking others after we recited the words from Allah?”
(they started turning their head down in silence)
“It is easy to be a Muslim. We pray five times a day, fast, and read Quran, because our parents and teachers told us to do so because we are a Muslim, right? And, Alhamdulillah you all already do that all, I know. But, is that enough to makes us (true) believer?……….. Is that enough?”
“We need Emaan in our heart. You know my dear students, Emaan will be reflected in our acts, attitudes, and speeches toward others. A person who has Emaan will be kind toward others, their family, their teachers, their friends, their classmates and people whom they meet. The Prophet Salallahu ‘Alayhi Wa Sallam said: None of you will believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself. [Bukhari & Muslim]. What have you done? Look, my students, who are sitting next to you? she is your sister in Islam, she is your classmates who have been together with you for almost six years since you were in first-Grade.”
(They kept their heads turned down and started weeping)
“Is it right to give a silent treatment to our sisters more than three days? (they shook their heads slowly). Yea, because the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “It is not permissible for a man to forsake his Muslim brother for more than three days, each of them turning away from the other when they meet. The better of them is the one who gives the greeting of salaam first.” (Bukhari and Muslim). You had already known that hadith, hadn’t you?”
“My students, it hurts to be forsaken. Can you imagine if everyone forsook you and left you alone? Or, if everyone bullies you? Now imagine that you are in her situation……(they cried) Well, it’s okay, it’s okay, you may cry just try to remember anything that you have done to your friends”
(They started turning their head down and crying. It made me a bit surprised and relieved at the same time. I let them cried and told them that we have asked Allah’s forgiveness, InshaAllah He would forgive us, Allah is The Most Merciful)
“My dear students, I believe you would never hold grudges towards each other. Can you feel? Actually, deep down you love each other. Those thoughts were just your temporary emotion due to misunderstanding. But, I hope this would never happen again. You are not a child anymore, so you are responsible for any of your action”
“We as your teacher and your parents will never always know anything you do. You might do inappropriate things behind us, like talking rudely towards each other, maybe. But Allah is The All-Knowing, All-Hearing, and Al-Watching. He is watching you. He knows everything you do. If you fear Allah, you would feel that He is watching you”
I felt a heartwarming scene when finally they were apologizing and forgiving each other with tears in their eyes. One by one, I held two students’hands together and told both of them to acknowledge any of their wrong saying or wrongdoing towards the opposite one who sat in front of them. Alhamdulillah.
Joyous and Peaceful Classroom more than before
After that moment I left them alone and allowed them to have some free time if they wanted to. My purpose was to let them start talking to each other. When the recess time had come, I observed them from a distance and, MashaAllah I noticed that the situation had turn 180°. My classroom had turned into spring again.
Seeing how they were overjoyed and seemed celebrated their reconciliation made me realized how was actually only a very thin unseen layer that had separated them. Now, the layer had been broken by sincere apologies and forgiving. Furthermore, they did it purely from their heart instead of being told to do so, no fear of consequence affected their reconciliation.
So, what should parents do with their underage-smartphone-user kids?
After I discussed the issues with the parents, Alhamdulillah they themselves finally decided to be cautious and limit the use of smartphones in their underage-smartphone-user kids. We should think twice before handing smartphone to kids, do they really need it in such age? or it is just to make them happy along with great risks await? Because it can be tools to bring evil for their well-being, both physically and spiritually.
Children’s soul -be it pre-teens, they are children though- is still pure. It is what they hear and what they see that bring either good or adverse effect on their attitude and behavior. They may be in conflict but deep down they would never hold grudges. Judgment, warnings, and lectures are not what they need to solve the problem. There is something that lies inside them that need to be touched. We feed their tummy with food, and brain with knowledge but we should not neglect to feed and water their souls as well.
All praises to Allah Subhanahu wata’ala Who has made everything easy for us.