Incidents of bad behaviour by so-called “bobos,” or economically privileged young people, have shaken Egyptian society in recent months, causing many to wonder about the parental role in disciplining children and the role of schools, clubs and universities in instilling proper norms of behaviour into sometimes unruly teenagers.
It all started when a video went viral on Facebook of a 14-year-old boy driving a car in the Maadi district of Cairo, where he was stopped by a police officer. Not only was the boy underage, he was also not wearing a mask and was driving very badly. When he was stopped, he answered the officer rudely.
After confirming the incident, the police referred the boy to the Public Prosecution Office. He was released on the same day after his parents had apologised and said he would not do the same thing again. But the following day, the same child and his friends could be seen behaving badly on social media, including by answering back to another police officer.
The Prosecution ordered the child to be placed in an observation centre for a period not exceeding one week, though this might be extended as the law provides, while his friends who were accompanying him were also placed in another observation centre for a week.
Though the victims in both cases were police officers, millions of Egyptians sympathised with them and praised them for how they had controlled their temper and had left the matter for the courts to decide. Interior Minister Mahmoud Tawfik honoured the police officer concerned, saying that he had shown characteristic civility and prudent judgement in handling the situation.
The incident shocked Egyptian society, however, since it seemed to show the children of powerful parents flouting the law and a lack of proper parenting by the parents concerned. “As a parent myself, I know that children can take power from their parents, and this is exactly what happened in this incident,” Asmaa Mahfouz, a Cairo mother of two teenage boys, said.
Mahfouz can also relate to the incident as two years ago her own 17-year-old son was bullied by others in his school. Unfortunately, such behaviour is becoming more common and is related to the bad behaviour teenagers may see by others at school or in clubs.
“We had some of these bobos at his school, who used their parents’ power as a way of bullying their classmates. Cigarettes, alcohol, underage driving – these are all things that are going on among these bobos, and they are making the rest of us suffer,” Mahfouz said.
She recalls an incident where there was even a violent assault on another teenager outside her son’s school in Alexandria. “My son and some of his classmates experienced bullying inside and outside his school, and the school management could not stop it because there is a lack of the kind of specialists who might be able to do better in these sorts of situations,” she said.
Mahfouz was forced to transfer her son to another school where there was more discipline and control over the students.
“Sometimes parents do not even know what their youngsters are doing outside their homes. These teenagers can be masters of lying, deceiving and playing the victim in front of their parents. I myself know one mother who does not know that her son is using drugs,” she added.
Mahfouz brought up her own two teenagers to have freedom with responsibility. She allows them to do what they want, as long as they are responsible for their actions so that they can learn from them.
“I left my daughter for a whole year in Cairo when she began her first year at the Faculty of Medicine because I raised her to be independent, and I never doubted her decisions or her actions,” Mahfouz said.
Disciplining a child or teenager is not about “putting rules” in place, she said. “It is the result of years of advice on the behaviour that you are trying to instill in your child as a parent. This is why when I gave them their freedom, I knew that they would behave well in every circumstance, with me and their dad always being there for them as well, of course,” she added.
Positive communication is the key to any parent-child relationship. “There must be an ongoing conversation between youngsters and their parents. This ongoing conversation will lead a parent to know about their children, the problems they face, their challenges, their inner thoughts and what they spend their time doing,” Amel Mohamed, a professor at the Faculty of Education at Alexandria University, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
“Don’t be impulsive towards your children or start shouting and screaming. Having a role model is important to any child’s well-being. This role model can be a teacher, a parent, a trainer, even a celebrity. Don’t think that your acts do not set them examples. Every act you do, every word you say, they watch and may copy it, not only at a young age but also in adolescence,” Mohamed said.
While some aggressive behaviours can result in emotionally and socially distressing others, Egyptian society has also witnessed in recent years a few cases of criminal acts carried out by teenagers, including acts of violence and sexual harassment.
“Parents are responsible for their children’s criminal acts. We cannot separate how you bring up a child and how he or she behaves in society. It is a parent’s responsibility to make sure that their children grow up to be well-behaved citizens,” she added.
“The aim is to make sure that children and teenagers think twice before committing any misdemeanors and that parents focus on bringing up well-behaved citizens who can take their full place in society,” Mohamed concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 November, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly