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Methods of upbringing by Muslim and non-Muslim parents

An interview with Prof. Dr. Hacı-Halil Uslucan

Not only do Muslim schoolchildren have to find their way in German society when compared to their classmates. They also try to reconcile their everyday life with the moral values of Islam passed on to them by their parents. This is the conclusion of a report that has compared methods of upbringing by Muslim and non-Muslim parents in Germany. An interview with the author of the report, psychologist Prof. Dr. Hacı-Halil Uslucan.

If we compare upbringing in German and Muslim families, are we talking about two different worlds?

Uslucan: No, that would be an exaggeration. After all, children are equally influenced by their peers, the media and by their own goals. Parental upbringing is only a part of all this.

What are the differences in upbringing?

Uslucan: What is striking about German parents is that they really support their children - that's how they see it anyway. However, we also questioned young people in both groups ourselves. They perceive the support of their parents to be significantly lower. The parents obviously overestimate themselves here! What stands out among Turkish families is the particular emphasis on discipline. And they admit that they often behave inconsistently in their upbringing. We cannot, however, just talk about "Turkish families". We once compared only German and Turkish parents who have a Hauptschule [secondary school] leaving certificate. It emerged that the Turkish families offer their children greater support than the German ones. Levels of education therefore play an important role.

But - apart from education - are there not also different values?

Uslucan: Absolutely. It is important to German parents that their children are independent and genuine. If a child is sad, for example, then he should show his sadness. Turkish families pay more attention to what others think of them. They therefore want an obedient and well-behaved child. Different forms of society lie behind this: Germany is characterised by individuality, whereas the collective is at the fore in Turkey. Modern Turkey, however, is moving away from this image - they even mock the Turks in Germany for being so old-fashioned! This change is unsettling for the German Turks. On top of this, many fathers are unemployed. As a result, they feel that their identity is under attack and seek the stability of religious values, in parenting as well.

What is an Islamic upbringing like?

Uslucan: You must be obedient - to God, Creation and your parents. Humility and gratitude are important. You should empathise with others and show solidarity.

How do young people deal with these demands?

Uslucan: First of all they try to find their way in our society. That's not even easy for young German people. On top of that, Turkish adolescents also have to justify their individualist lifestyle to their parents. The subject of "education" is a particular source of conflict. Turkish parents want their children to be successful at school and train for a profession such as a doctor or lawyer. If the children then fail to do well at school, they disappoint their parents and themselves. This places great pressure on boys in particular. The load is taken off them so that they can get a good education. If it doesn't work out for a girl career-wise, she can always become a wife and mother.

Are Turkish children following in their parents' footsteps - or are they breaking away?

Uslucan: The transmission of values is especially strong in Turkish families. A Turkish daughter, for example, takes after her mother more than would be the case in a German family. A longing for stability lies behind this, because there are no longer any "normal" role models. The diversity of lifestyle choices in Germany is intransparent and unsettling for migrants. This is why young Turkish people occasionally seek refuge in the conservative world view of their parents.

What influence does an Islamic upbringing have on the actual behaviour of young people?

Uslucan: It should not be overestimated. Some of the media go so far as to attribute violent behaviour to Islam. This is nonsense of course. A 13 or 14-year-old is not guided by religion, their actions always stem from actual situations. The experience of being excluded from society, for example, is more important than religion.

What conclusions can be drawn from your findings? Is there an ideal parenting style?

Uslucan: Educational psychologists generally recommend an "authoritative style": the child is shown warmth, but clear boundaries are also set. This is a model for western Europe, whereby particular heed is paid to the independence of the child. It is also to be recommended for the German-Turkish middle class. Other aims of parenting, such as obedience, are also important in both the Turkish and German lower classes, however. Nor should we forget that a one-size-fits-all approach does not apply to parenting. You also need to be mindful of the individual child's temperament, age and stage of development.

What is your recommendation to educators and teachers?

Uslucan: Teachers often complain that Turkish parents have little involvement with school because they cannot speak German very well. Proposals that are easily implemented are to be recommended here. Turkish parents could have their own children read to them in order to learn German. Turkish parents should also be encouraged to include their children more fully in decision making.

The interview was conducted by Thilo Guschas.

Personal details:
Hacı-Halil Uslucan was born in Turkey and grew up in Germany. In Berlin he studied psychology, philosophy and general and comparative literature. He did his doctorate in the field of psychology. In 2006 he was promoted to professor at Otto-von-Guericke University in Magdeburg with his work "Jugendliche Gewalt und familiale Erziehung in inter- und intrakulturellen Kontexten" [Youth violence and family upbringing in inter and intracultural contexts". Uslucan made a leading contribution to several studies including, in 2002-2005, the subject of "Gewalt in Familien türkischer Herkunft" [Violence in families of Turkish origin]. He is the author of several textbooks and has done freelance work for the FAZ, for whom he has written over 100 columns on the German-Turkish press scene. At present he is Acting Professor of Educational Psychology at Helmut-Schmidt University in Hamburg.

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