Sixth Edition December 2002 - Azar 1381 
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School Counselors: Clichéd and Useless?

 

 

 

The Towering Wall Confronting Youth

Roya Karimi Majd

Negar is a fourteen-year old high school student with a good gpa. She’s been using computers since grade school and her fluent English betrays years of private lessons. Of the three boyfriends she’s had so far, two she met at parties, and one through the Internet, but only her last boyfriend, Amir Ali was allowed to kiss her. Her contact with the others was limited to conversation and dancing at parties. Although she sometimes smokes, she refuses drugs like marijuana, acid, and ecstasy. Her favorite drink is gin mixed with tomato juice.

Negar sees herself as an ordinary girl, but slightly doomed. She thinks she’s doomed because her mother will kill her if she finds out about her extracurricular activities. She’s recently been feeling especially bad because her father refused to buy her a pair of $250 Timberlands. For Negar, going to college is not a future goal. She imagines she will either move abroad or marry a rich man. She’s convinced that she’s pretty enough to bring any man to his knees.

Negar’s mother, Arezou, is 48 and has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. Her oldest daughter was born immediately after graduation, and has worked only part-time since. She says that raising her three daughters has been more important than attaining financial independence.  

Arezou enjoyed a fabulous and exciting youth. Her freedom unrestricted by her family, her weekends were spent entirely with friends. She believes her clean and wholesome youth cannot be compared with the conditions under which young people live today. She married her first and only boyfriend whom she met at a party they both attended with their families. Arezou was 21 and Ahmad was 27. During their two-year courtship, their physical contact was limited to the occasional handholding. Arezou has never smoked and upon Ahmad’s insistence has only tasted alcohol once, a glass of champagne.

For such a mother, a daughter like Negar is a nightmare.  

Arezou explains, “Negar doesn’t come out of her room on the weekends. It is only when the taxi appears out front that I discover that she’s made plans for the evening. She comes out of her room already wearing her manteau and headscarf. When I look at her heavily made up face, I realize her behavior isn’t right for a girl her age. She never says whose house she’s going to and what time she will return. Once when Negar returned near dawn, Ahmad was so angry he slapped her in the face. I wasn’t able to calm him down that time. But by the next weekend, Negar was doing the same old things. Her behavior hadn’t changed at all. I just don’t know what to do with her anymore.”

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In Iran, there is much debate about youth and the generation gap. State television and radio feature psychologists who admonish children to speak respectfully to their elders, and advise parents to be friends to their children and not automatically assume the worst of their daughters. Intergenerational misunderstandings, mistrust, poor communication, and frustration are common themes. They speak to the nagging fear that the younger generation’s priorities and tastes have become so different that they are completely estranged from their parents.

While some believe that the gap does not exceed the normal fissures that arise between generations, there is a less sanguine perspective that sees today’s youth as beguiled by outside influences, namely Western culture. For the former, change and fluctuation are natural and organic, and cultural influences are to be expected. For the latter, expanded media communication is effecting a cultural metamorphosis that is increasingly steering youth further away from their roots.

While it may seem that current conditions signal a break from Iran’s past, in many ways, the youth are continuing a legacy that began a generation before. The intense political and religious climates of the 1979 Revolution split families both horizontally and vertically in a manner that was unprecedented in Iranian society. 

Marjan’s case is one such example, “I was 18 years old and from an affluent family. My father was a doctor and my mother a nurse. I was opposed to my parents’ opulent lifestyle. My mother wore light makeup but I wore a headscarf and objected to wearing makeup. I threw away all my music tapes. I read religious writings and prayed at the mosque. My brother wouldn’t go in public with me because he was embarrassed by my appearance.”

Marjan’s objections were many, “After February of 1979, I refused to eat with the family. I believed that meat was the food of the self-indulgent rich and as my family ate their meals, I would sit in a corner eating bread with cheese or yogurt. My last act of defiance was marriage to a pasdar (Revolutionary Guard).”

Marjan may be an exception in that she never returned to her family fold, but there were many households torn apart by conflicting ideologies and beliefs. Before Iranian society could recover from the flush of revolution, the war against Iraq began, and again, generations responded differently. In the early zeal, some of the young joined the war without telling their parents and those not of age either tried to secure their parents’ permission or forged their permission slips. 

Although the horrors of war would soon quell the waves of volunteers, it was perhaps during those years that maverick behavior first took hold among the young. In the next generation, it has appeared less in any political or religious commitment as it has in an extreme form of individualism that some fear is veering out of control. The dominant idiom among youth speaks not of collective duty and struggle, but of individual rights and individual struggle. Once the collective memory of Imam Hossein going into battle against all odds to fight injustice spurred on the young. Or of his sister, Zeinab, who survived to tell the battle of Karbala and raise the surviving orphans.

Fourteen years after the end of the eight-year war against Iraq, daughters of the martyred generation effect change by flooding universities, questioning Islamic teachings, and walking out in brightly colored headscarves and pink manteaus. And if some of their fathers are uncomfortable, passivity has become more difficult to enforce on girls who either directly refuse the role of dutiful daughter or indirectly undermine it once out of their fathers’ watchful sight.

In Marjan’s case, her difficulties with her 16-year old son, Amir are of a different sort. A pious Muslim, Amir attends Friday prayers and recites the Komayl prayer every Thursday. Marjan believes that he should be doing sports, reading books, and spending time with his friends. She sees her youthful self in him, a youth she now regrets and cannot undo. She thinks it’s too late for her, but she hasn’t given up on her son. Twenty-three years later, she understands and sympathizes with her mother’s frustrations. Exasperated with his behavior, Marjan says, “Amir is more hardheaded than I was in 1979. He has nothing in common with kids his age.”

Dr. Shahla Ezazi, professor of sociology at the Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran argues that in the past, when parents and children expressed similar goals and aspirations, youthful inquiry and innovation was stifled as children operated within a conformist mold. Not only youth, but also society’s progress as a whole suffered under this “unnatural” state. She views the current generation gap as progress, “If we are currently witnessing divisions, it is because some of our young have stepped out from under the shadow of their parents. They are undergoing a process of differentiation and coming into their own. Their wants are surpassing the scope of their parents’ understanding and thinking.”

One such place is the world of media. Once upon a time, only the wealthy or educated had access to Western culture and as they traveled back and forth, they introduced some of its elements to Iran. Today, travel is less necessary when 250 dollars can provide a satellite hookup and access to over 150 foreign channels. Even in households that cannot afford a satellite dish or computer or that frown upon such pastimes, internet cafés have made media communications publicly accessible to youth. 

In Persian language chat rooms, second and third generation Iranians, both within and without Iran, use Latin alphabet to communicate with one another. These chat rooms are one of the few places inaccessible to parents too confused to decipher the swift punches of Latin keys. The invasion of information technology and the satellite dish, combined with President Khatami’s 1997 election have increased young people’s cravings for different possibilities.

About these newer changes, Dr. Ezazi elaborates, “With the lessening of restrictions after the 1997 elections, young people discovered a new lifestyle that many parents didn’t object to much on principle. Although this new lifestyle is still quite restricted, young kids are making some decisions for themselves. What’s important is that these freedoms presently exist and they are the result of the efforts of several generations.”

Another factor that has been important in forming the younger generation’s perspective and in defining the parent-child relationship are the pressures that the regime has exerted on its young. According to Dr. Ezazi, when even the slightest infraction, such as walking on the street with a boy can be punished with disproportionate severity, it is only natural for parents to defend and support their child. An adolescent who commits a crime by acting her age must withstand harsh treatment, wait hours for a hearing, face a judge much older than herself, and submit to a ruling she deems unjust. The outcome is that teenagers and young people spend less time in public places like parks as they do in the relatively unfettered environment of each other’s homes.

However, not all families are so supportive. In more conservative families, the state’s criminalization of youthful behavior has had especially violent repercussions for girls. A girl who circumvents parental restrictions outside her home, only to get caught by the police will face serious consequences for her disobedience, but also more gravely, for publicly shaming herself and her family by her arrest. A majority of runaway girls cite paternal abuse as the major reason for running away, and for many, the abuse escalated to intolerable degrees after they were picked up by the police and their fathers were informed. For many such girls, the physical abuse and restrictions of their movement become so unbearable that they run away.  

After leaving behind the Revolutionary and War years, generations are trying to come to terms with major social and cultural changes, to say nothing of the far-reaching consequences of Iran’s economic conditions on its youth. Information technology and the media will only spread, but less predictable is the State’s future impact on the reconfiguration of social relations.

To contact the author: k_roya@yahoo.com

transl.: MS

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