| Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Parenting in Dubai

Does our ‘have it all’ environment produce little demanding princes and princesses? Time Out investigates

What got us talking…
These days, kids seem to be growing up faster than ever. Tots as young as three can be seen whining in stores for designer togs, while parents complain their teens are under huge pressure from their peers to look the part. When it comes to helping with the washing up, making their own beds, or settling back into their own culture after a childhood in the UAE, they often don’t have a clue. We debate Dubai family life with four mums over some amazing Thai entrees at the Mango Tree Bistro in Mirdif City Centre.

How do your children react to Dubai’s ‘have it all’ environment?
Mary: My children aren’t that aware of it because we don’t live that lifestyle. A big influence is schools, and we specifically chose a school that didn’t have all that glitz and glamour and gloss. And other parents who have their kids there were looking for the same things too, so generally, it’s not a problem. I’m not into shopping at all either, so, very often, our recreation time is spent doing other things. When they were little and we were in shops, of course they asked for things. But I’d tell them, ‘No, that’s not for us. That’s for the “other” kids’. So, they stopped asking. Therese: I do that. They’ve never met the ‘others’. They’re these mysterious kids who get it all.

Mary: We also have a family policy of, ‘do you need it? Or do you want it?’ And if you need it, we’ll provide it for you. But if you just want it, you’ll have to ask Santa for it. Because it’s always been that way from day one, they don’t really question it.

Reshma: I belong to the category where we live a simple life. The exposure to the razzamatazz has been fairly limited. Our oldest son is 15 and he’s not demanding, he doesn’t ask for things all the time and because his demands are very small, when he does ask for things, we meet those requests. Recently he asked for a mobile phone with Wi-fi and we gave it to him for his birthday.

Nada: It’s not only about age, though. Dimitri is quite demanding and I think school has been a big influence on that. The fact that I’m a working mum also has an effect. For example, on the weekends I spend all my time with the children, and often we’ll do the shopping together. However, we’re taking a lot of care with Dimitri to instill in him a sense of value. He has to wait for treats. And the philosophy of wanting rather than needing also works well.

As parents, how do you make sure your children aren’t influenced by Dubai’s affluence?
Mary: I think children are influenced by whatever their parents are interested in, and since we’re both into landscape architecture, when we’re at a park, we’re showing them the drainage details!

Nada: For sure. I’m certain that’s part of the problem because I work in retail, so of course, I go to malls quite often. And although in Lebanon we don’t have as many malls as Dubai, culturally we are still very into shopping. We are always visiting souks and shops etc, but it’s all about managing the exposure. Just because you see these things around you, doesn’t mean you are supposed to have it all.

Therese: They need to learn what ‘no’ feels like, and that they can’t have everything. I think it comes down to parents and how they feel about it. Some kids can really turn on the emotion when you refuse them. But if you’re the kind of parent who can say ‘Okay, I’m saying no and you’re crying and tantruming and I’m managing that and dealing with it,’ it’s positive. If you can’t manage that and you give in, then that teaches children that if they cry, they get what they want.

Is Dubai’s retail sector particularly guilty when it comes to targeting kids?
Therese: Not at all. In Australia, Christmas starts in October and you are bombarded. Everything is in the shops and every commercial on TV is designed to get kids harassing their parents into spending money. That doesn’t happen here. They might see the odd ad in 7Days, or get excited when they get an Early Learning Centre catalogue to look at. Despite the large numbers of malls here, the sheer pressure to spend just doesn’t happen in the same way.

Mary: In fact, because it’s all satellite TV – it’s very different. My kids watch Jim Jam, and Jim Jam doesn’t advertise toys, they advertise other shows, so you don’t get the blatant exposure. In Dubai you are more protected from it than you would be at home.

But what about when they get older?
Reshma: What worked for me was explaining to my son that I had a limited amount of money in my wallet that had to pay for the bills and the food and the petrol for the car. So there really wasn’t much left over for toys. He grasped that concept and to this day is very economically minded. Even when I buy things for myself, he’ll say ‘Mum, you have so many blouses already. Why do you need another one?’

Nada: If you don’t spoil them in the beginning, they are less likely to be demanding when they’re older. My son sees that I work hard and I’ve explained that I work for him and his little brother. That sets him an example. When I say ‘no’ to him, I do explain that money is a limited commodity and he understands that. He even said to me the other day, ‘Thank you for working so hard for me Mummy. I’m really proud of you.’

Therese: I do take my kids to toy shops, but I explain to them that it’s a looking trip. And I will have reinforced that in the car on the way there at least five times. ‘We’re looking. We’re not buying anything. It’s a looking day.’ And I use that when we’re out looking for presents for their friends. Setting the tone before they go really seems to help. Of course, they do see things and ask for them occasionally, but that’s when they get told they have to ask Santa.

By Joanna England
Time Out Dubai,

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