Today, people in Iran are accustomed to signs of wealth and luxurious life across the country’s different cities. From expensive cars cruising along the streets of Iranzamin Street in Tehran to high-end coffee shops with menus more expensive than their counterparts in London or Paris and shopping malls where customers frequently spend several thousand dollars on extravagant goods, privilege is part of every day life, even for those who do not experience it firsthand. Alongside this is the increasing inequality and a widening gap between the poor and the rich, something that is openly accepted and acknowledged. And, depending on where a family stands within this financial hierarchy, it has a huge impact on that family’s life experiences. Iranian children who grew up in Iran in the 2100s have perhaps had the most surprising of experiences.
The lives of Iranian children who grew up during this era are markedly different to those who grew up in the 1980s, 1990s or even 2000s. Nobody is more aware of this trend than Fatemeh, a psychologist who specializes in family and child therapy. Fatemah was born before the revolution of 1979. She became an adult in 1970s Tehran, and then during the 1980s, she started her career and professional life working with children and their parents. The majority of her patients are children and parents from high income households. Fatemeh has keenly observed how these children develop.
Throughout her career, Fatemah has observed that “Parents are the main reason in many cases, especially those who grew up in the late 1970s and 1980s, for a child’s bad behaviour — the reason being they want their kids to have things they were denied because of war and revolution.” These parents send their children to expensive private schools, give them private ballet and piano lessons and take them abroad once or twice a year. Children’s’ rooms are full of toys, expensive outfits and gadgets. The outcome isn’t a happy child though, says Fatemeh. “Children don’t feel anything anymore. They have so much that they don’t know what it means to want anything and their chances of ever being independent disappear.”
Parents tend to be most concerned with their children’s happiness or lack of motivation when it comes to work or studying. But Fatemeh explains that parents have destroyed any incentive their child might have through their actions. “Parents don’t understand that their children might not want these things [material belongings]. Just because they themselves didn’t have them in the eighties, it doesn’t mean their kids want them,” she says. “These kids don’t know what they want and they don’t know how to want. They have everything. They lost their purpose in life when they were teenagers.”
Fatemeh suggests to parents that they try to act more “middle class,” and to create a reward system with their children. However, parents tend to ignore this advice.
Often, when a child is suffering from a lack of purpose in life, they demonstrate aggressive behavior when they are teenagers, experiencing sudden mood swings and having angry outbursts. In Iran, it is customary for children to live with their families well into adulthood. Many young men and women are financially dependent on their families well into their twenties, and unload their frustration at having to do so on their parents and relatives. Part of the reason for this, says Fatemeh, is that these individuals are unable to understand life in the real world.
During the last week in November, Fatemeh was called upon for advice during a family drama in which a 19-year old male ran away from home after threatening to commit suicide when he found out that his mother had used his SUV and scratched it. For two whole days, his family did not know his whereabouts as he refused to answer his cellphone. He eventually returned home after his parents promised to buy him a brand new car. Fatemeh believes this is just one of many similar episodes this person will go through in life. She says “This won’t be the last time he does something like this,” explains Fatemeh. “How is he ever going to know how to act appropriately in a relationship or marriage where his partner has acted disloyally?”
Fatemeh adds, “These children grow up in families who use money to resolve all their problems and that’s the biggest issue.” The parents’ emphasis on the importance of money is not something that escapes the child. Ironically, many of the Iranian parents who use money in this way are connected in some way to the political establishment or at the very least work closely with it. This behavior is not in accordance with the values of the Islamic Republic. “The founders of the Islamic Republic have grandchildren who don’t resemble anything of the image they once envisioned.”
For Fatemeh, the behavior of these children should be blamed on the parents and grandparents, not the kids themselves, but unfortunately it is the latter who will will pay the price for the rest of their lives. She says, “No one pays attention to the fact that these children will eventually pay for their parents’ excesses.”