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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Kids @ Risk Revisited"
Some observations of the latest edition of the Jewish Observer

The latest edition of the Jewish Observer was excellent overall. The cover story and its many related articles addressed the hot button topic of "Children-At-Risk." The many articles covered a host of subjects and gave a host of advice that I never though I would see in this publication. For example, the articles spoke about the "overemphasis on conformity," a subject about which I am compassionate. Being that this is the "Orthonomics" blog, I must state, as a tangent, that many of the economic issues in the frum community could alleviated if people felt free do do what they wanted to do and could afford to do. The articles also addressed the idea that one should not be too rigid in their restrictions (although I am unsure how the article that stated such fits in with the article that lauds Lakewood's Internet Ban for which "the schools would not accept a child whose home had a computer with access to the Internet"). To make it brief, the numerous articles are a worthwhile read, especially as they do not seem to make an attempt to shove issues under a rug.

However, there were some rather odd moments and omissions that I would like to note:

1. Parnasa, Why mentioned only in passing? While the issue of parnasa (and tuition) was briefly touched upon, it seems to only be touched upon in passing and as an aside. In my opinion, the issue of parnasah and tuition deserves more than a mention in passing, it deserves it's own article, if not its own issue. In my opinion, it is clear that today's family environment is different than that of past generations, and not just because of the technological advancements like the internet!

It used to be that young children were cared for by their mothers, or by other family members when absolutely necessary. It used to be that young ladies would not even consider dating a young man who could not provide for them. A young man who showed little to no signs that he would ever be able to provide certainly was not headed for the proverbial alter. It used to be that school children would walk in the door to the loving smile of their mother. It used to be that mothers would show up randomly at school or at social gatherings to "check in." Being that I grew up in a household where my parents were likely to show up wherever I was, I can certainly say in all honesty that it kept me out of a lot of trouble that I might have found if they were not so watchful.

In today's Orthodox communities, a full time homemaker is the exception rather than the rule. Many young ladies will not even consider dating a young man who can provide for them. A young man who shows little to no signs that he will ever be able to provide doesn't seem to have less of a chance of marrying than anyone else. School children are greeted at the door by caregivers who share very little in common with the children and certainly have no long term interest in them. And, mothers rarely have the time to check in randomly.

While it is unlikely that we will ever be able to go back in time and re-create a society of a different generation, I think that we need to acknowledge that lack of parental time is an underlying issue and that "quality" time cannot replace "quantity" time. I think we should not idealize the "supermom" as much and make our children believe that this is the ideal. While the "supermom" may appear to "do it all," that is probably not the case. The "average mom" who sets limits and sets her priorities is a fine role model also and should be acknowledged as such. I think we also need to teach our children good financial habits early. While it may be impossible to place mothers back in the home when their children get home from school, or even keep mothers in the home throughout the first year of their children's lives (especially in large, large families), the choices that might have been available are often not because of poor decisions made in one's youth.

2. Couples need not overextend themselves: The issue of the "supermom" and the "average mom" brings me to my next observation: couples need not "do it all." As was noted above, time is limited. In the first article of the Jewish Observer where parnasa was mentioned in passing, it says [in the name of Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky] "that a child needs to always know that his parents are always ready to listen to him. But, sadly, we are often too busy to listen to our children. Sometimes it is due to the crush of parnassa - other times it is the result of the constant stream of simchos and mitzvos that seem to have taken over our lives. (Seriously, between chasunos and Sheva Berachos, Bar and Bas mitzvahs, lechayims, vorts, Pidyon Habens, shul and yeshiva dinners, PTAs and shidduch and chessed meetings, all of which we must attend, is it any wonder that we have children at risk? They are raising themselves!)

While I'm pretty sure that the part in parenthesis was tongue-in-cheek and that the point was that we don't need to be involved with every event, nor every simcha, I would have made sure to emphasis that is was tongue-in-cheek. Orthomom touched on this issue in her post "Nanny Park." Nevertheless, I think it is important to emphasize that one need not "do it all" and that it is important to set limits. Baruch Hashem there is a constant stream of events, which shows that the frum community is alive and well. But, there is no requirement to attend every simcha. Certain smachot could definitely take a back seat, especially lechayims and vorts. I await the day that the Yeshivot and Day schools allow parents to opt to donate the full amount of their seats at the dinner in lew of going and having to hire a babysitter to boot!

3. The Israel Experience: In a discussion about seminaries and Yeshivot in Israel an article brings to light a number of issues students face. I really cannot address the issue of the "year in Israel" as I was never zoche to be able to spend a year learning. But, it seemed that the Jewish Observer accepted the answer from educators that they cannot do anything more to protect the children. The article states [in regards to boys in "top" Yeshivot] that "they are treated as adults in many of these yeshivos, with no supervision in basic aspects of their daily routine. There is no accountability for davening with a minyan and keeping sedarim." It seems to me that at the very least that attendance could be taken and any gaps in attendance be reported back to the parents. Being that the parents are paying upwards of $14,000 a year for this experience, it seems that the least that could be done is to let the parents know when a kid is cutting class.

Readers--please chime it.


queeniesmom said...

Is the mag/newspaper available in the metro area or is it an outside NYC publication?

Parnassa is a major issue - I must work in order to maintain our ortho. lifestyle. no vacations or going away for all school holidays/yom tovs. Like most of our community, we drive an older car and pay tuition, no luxuries.

You're right this leaves one tired but you do what you have to and my kids come 1st. hence, we pay but don't go to the school dinner. unless it is a very close friend all the other things mentioned are missed, we frequently send gifts but respond no. as my mom keeps saying you can only dance under one chupah at a time.

I see a lot of at risk kids at work, many are that way due to self esteem issues, learning issues and parents who think because they're teens they don't need the supervision that they needed when they were younger.

These same issues exist in our communities but very few want to recognize it. we need to wake up and take our heads out of the sand. Drugs can be bought anywhere, all you have to do is ask!

Schools/parents need to relax a little. stop the pressure cooker atmoshphere and start valuing the individual child, warts and all. Not everyone needs to be a genius or the best at ..... Conformity isn't the goal, yet that is what is valued and stressed. Individual thought/questioning is frowned on.

These issues directly relate to your other topic of parenting.

Shavoah Tov!

SephardiLady said...

Queeniesmom--Here is the link for subscriptions. I'd save yourself the money and ask around. Your neighbors probably have a copy. It is an Agudah publication I believe.

Thanks for your great insights.

Jack Davidov said...

There are more sociological issues that produce the problem of "kids/teens at risk." A lot of frum schools present things in very monolithic terms. If a frum teenage girl attends a school where if she wears nailpolish, or open-toed shoes - she is often labeled a "bad" kid. If a typical frum teenage boy wants to listen to typical teenager music,or wearing a colored shirt (gasp)- he is also considered a "bad" kid.

These kids will often feel that it is impossible to be a "good" Orthodox Jew. Once a kid feels that he or she has been labeled by the administration as bad and that he or she cannot ever redeem themself, they start to think - "why not try drugs, why not break Shabbos?" What we have to concentrate our effors on as a community is to stop labeling people and judging them by such superficial standards.

Ezzie said...

Just to focus on the last part... the reason many places in Israel* don't (at least officially) take attendance and the like is to encourage the freedom of the students. Overall, it's a successful approach in letting them mature on their own. The rabbeim generally have a very good idea of who's around and who isn't, and if there's a problem they address it.

* I'd say that's more in the yeshivos and not the seminaries, who are far stricter.

Jewboy said...

Great points, Sephardilady, as well as a very accurate staement by Jack Davidov. Jack, you've stolen my thunder as I want to post about that topic as well. All I can say is that I wish we had more people in the Orthodox world with their heads screwed on straight like you, Sephardilady.

Anonymous said...

By top yeshivas they mean brisk and mir, both places don't charge tuition, and thier students are mature enough to be responsible for themselves. Most of them end up married within a year of the israel experience so the let them take care of themselves attitude is warranted.

orthomom said...

Let me preface my statement by saying that I think that the openness with which the Orthodox world has begun to discuss the "teens at risk" issue can only be seen a positive development. That said, I still have to wonder if all this frequent and open discussion about the topic has actually removed much of the stigma from "going off the derech". When I was growing up, there was much more emotional baggage involved in stepping away from the community. There was no popular term to describe it (the "at risk" designation), people didn't have regular meetings and lectures to discuss being supportive of those teens who might be heading in that direction, the Jewish publications didn't address it in every issue. A friend of mine who has a teenaged daughter said that she sees a tremendous amount of defiance in her daughter and her daughters friends when they push the envelope of the guidelines their parents set for them. My friend says it's almost as if their attitude is "I'm at risk, the Rabbis say not to alienate me, whaddaya gonna do about it?". And the conventional wisdom these days is NOT to ratchet up the level of strictness, as opposed to how it would have been twenty years ago. I don't doubt that that attitude is well-advised, as I'm sure ratcheting up the restrictions would push these teens further away. But again, I wonder if all this acceptance and discussion has only made it a more, rather thyan less attractive way to attempt a teenage rebellion.

SephardiLady said...

Fascinating comment Orthomom. I have to wonder if the trend of acceptance mirrors that of the general society. I know that growing up, if I or my friends had pushed the limits of acceptable behavior (returning late at night, e.g.) there would have been a lot less acceptance and a lot more punishment.

I think there should be room in the frum community to find one's own (Shomer Shabbat) path. I think we need to let parents and teachers know that it is acceptable for a child to have aspirations that differ from their parents' and Rebbeim's aspirations. But, in my eyes, anti-social behavior is just unacceptable and I'm much more likely to yell and scream at a kid that walks in at the break of day, rather than offer him or her a cup of tea.

Anonymous said...

There are many portions of your post which I disagree with, but due to time constraints, I have to take them one at a time. firstly:
1)"The articles also addressed the idea that one should not be too rigid in their restrictions (although I am unsure how the article that stated such fits in with the article that lauds Lakewood's Internet Ban for which "the schools would not accept a child whose home had a computer with access to the Internet")"
Not being rigid in restrictions, does not mean that the community as a whole should not have limits of what the chidren within the community are exposed to. Would you not agree that if a child was a recreational drug user, that the child should not be allowed into the yeshiva that your child goes to? How about if the parents of one of the children was a known pornographer, who had pictures of his subjects hanging in his living room, would you not feel that you have a right not to have your child exposed to this? I'm not going to get into a debate about whether or not the internet ban is right or wrong, but those who instituted it, did so with the realization that exposure to the internet for their children was, at the least,as dangerous to their spiritual health as pot use is to their physical health. just as you wouldn't consider a no-drug policy as too rigid, their no internet policy is on the same level, spiritually speaking.

SephardiLady said...

Anon, I'd be curious to hear all of the other areas that you disagree with me about. It certainly would add some fire to the thread.

Regarding the Lakewood Internet Ban: I see no real purpose for children to access the internet. But, the Lakewood ban is not just about keeping the internet away from kids. The ban is on the internet in all homes where there is no business purpose. And, a parent running a home business must seek permission to have the internet. A parent with other puposes like shopping from home, banking from home, etc is not allowed to make the decision for themselves and will have their kids booted from school (or will have to lie). In addition, according to the wording of the ban, even those with internet for a home business are not allowed to let their children *see* them working on the internet. One of the purposes of working from home is to be home. I work from home very part-time. If I were to (live in Lakewood), I would have to hide my computer usage least my kids be kicked out of school. In that case, I might as well leave home and leave the kids with a sitter because I would be unable to work. Part of working at home is to be home for your children.

Of course we don't want recreational drug users and children of pornographers around our children. But, I certainly don't mind my children being friends with the kids of the mother of 5 kids under the age of 6 who works fulltime and is unable to get any banking or shopping done without an internet connection.

Please get back to us on all the other areas of disagreement.

gabe said...

In keeping with the drug analogy:
There are those that need certain drugs for their physical well being, If one needs a certain drug, then there is a method, a prescription from one trained in that area. And one must stick to the dosage provided by the physician. In the same vein, there's a method for those that must use the internet for buisness related purposes, however just as in the drug arena, misuse and danger has caused our leaders to institute ever increasing regulation, so too in the spiritual arena, the devastation that the internet has caused to so many neshomos, has awoken our leaders (at least those of the lakewood community) to start regulating. There are those that say the FDA is being overzealous in regulating Marijuana, whose detrimental affects are questionable. But I understand that the fact that it is a "gateway" to harder drugs and there is a prediliction to err on the side of caution when there is so much at risk. The internet is a gateway for many teens, and the rabbanim are being no more cautious than the FDA. You say:

"IOf course we don't want recreational drug users and children of pornographers around our children. But, I certainly don't mind my children being friends with the kids of the mother of 5 kids under the age of 6 who works fulltime and is unable to get any banking or shopping done without an internet connection."

Therein lies the problem, you'd never alow your children into a house where the owner kept a gun on the living room table, for fear of the very off chance that a mishap could occur, but you have no problem with allowing your children into the home where there is a loaded, spiritual gun on that same table.
BTW have 7 children, and my wife works full time, and when she wants to bank and shop on the internet, I watch the kids at night while she goes to my office or an internet cafe to do what she has to do. Yes, it's somewhat of an inconvienience, but who said raising children was convienient? The term 'tzar gidul banim' was not just invented, it has existed for thousands of years. You're going to argue that the parents are streched to the limit as it is, with simchos, functions, etc. Show me the parent that needs to shop on the internet, and bank on the nternet, but has no time for ANY other extra curricular activities (vorts, weddings-other than immediate family, school functions, tennis, manicures, etc.) Again you'll argue that there are priorities, well those rabbanim are determining where the priorities of the parents in their community must lie. One thing is for certain, one cannot say that these are "too rigid restrictions".

kasamba said...

I've got to say that to say 'no' too many times to a child is to push the child away.I have seen too many incredibly fine families lose their children to repression.
As far as internet is concerned, the schools here in London discourage internet use, yet set homework that can only be done through use of the internet!

gabe said...

"kasamba said...
I've got to say that to say 'no' too many times to a child is to push the child away."

The only instance in which 'no' pushes the child away, is when the 'no' also is in response to the childs request for time and attention. If when the the answer is 'yes' to the childs needs in that area, all the 'no's in the world won't push them away.

I'm Haaretz, Ph.D. said...

Isn't there a self-fulfilling prophecy concern in labeling kids "at risk"?

kasamba said...

Gabe, Gabe, come on- you know exactly what I meant.

I was actually referring to a quote from Rabbi Dovid Kaplan, the noted educator and lecturer who specializes in teaching parents and teachers how to deal with kids so they don't go off the derech.

We live in a different world today, where discipline MUST be tempered with love and affection. Nowadays not to spend time communicating with your children is tantamount to pushing them away.

gabe said...

"kasamba said...
Gabe, Gabe, come on- you know exactly what I meant."

Actually you responded to a post about being too rigid with teens, with the comment:
"I've got to say that to say 'no' too many times to a child is to push the child away.I have seen too many incredibly fine families lose their children to repression."

That to me doesn't translate to mean "not spending time communicating", it translates to mean saying no to "deviations of the path of religious observance a parent set out for the child". I'm not saying that a parent should lock his child into a box, but as long as the restrictions are tempered with love, affection, and hefty dose of quality time, all the 'no's in the world won't push the child away. Your origional comment did not give the impression that this is what you meant. I'm glad you clarified.

FrumHypocrisy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
FrumHypocrisy said...

Prohibiting children from using the internet (supervised & filtered of course) is fine if you want your children to remain in a bubble and grow up to live off society. If you want your children to attend college and to better their education, then the internet is the tool to do just that. I find it hard to believe that kids become "at-riskers" from using the internet. Banning the internet will just further pique their interest as they are inevitably exposed to the internet from their friends.

I believe there are two strong reasons for kids "turning off."

1. Lack of Shalom Bayis in the home.

2. Instances of abuse at home and IN YESHIVA - often times sexual (gasp!)

Yes, believe it or not many, many kids are abused and nobody cares to know or do anything about it. There is a controversial blogger that brought this issue to the forefront of concern and has been surprisingly met with fierce opponents to exposing this issue. abuse is prevalent in our society.

I an many others were abused by school principals and teachers in yeshivah.

Young men in their 20s and 30s has experienced abuse in many mainstream charedi, Brooklyn yeshivas.

I am acquainted with people who have been sexually abused in camp. There is evidence that in the past decades, hundreds of boys were sexually abused in camp.

As long as this issue is swept under the rug and school/camp administrations refuse to deal with this issue, it will mushroom into the biggest explosion of youth-at-riskers we will ever know.

Anonymous said...

FrumHypocrisy said...
Prohibiting children from using the internet (supervised & filtered of course) is fine if you want your children to remain in a bubble and grow up to live off society. If you want your children to attend college and to better their education, then the internet is the tool to do just that

I find it amazing how people feel that only college graduates can earn their way in society, and that anyone who doesn't attend college, will "live off society"

I never attended college, didn't go out to work until I got married, had my first child less than a year after I was married. (now have seven kayh"ra). My father was a college graduate, and could never make ends meet, while I earn over $300k a year, and own 2 homes. I went to a yeshivah which allowed college attendance, but decided to dedicate my time to learning full time instead. Among my classmates, the ones who got degrees, the same percentage are unemployed, or struggling as those who went the 'learning' route. The only difference, is that the percentage of those doing very well financially (earning more than $250k/year) is far greater amongst those who didn't attend college.
It is my theory, that those who don't have the college degrees are forced into becoming entrepeneurs, where there are more OPPORTUNITIES to excell, while those with degrees buttonhole themselves into dead end corporate situations. Either way, my children are growing up without the internet, are honor roll students, and are amazingly well informed about the world.

FrumHypocrisy said...

I did not mean that all who do not attend college end up living off society, but those in our community who attend college are less likely to “live off society.”

You are an exception. The fact remains that the average person (who is not taken in by the shver) is not going to be a successful entrepreneur like yourself.

That being said, fostering an environment that precludes college puts most children at a disadvantage and will only augment the likely shortcomings. Tatty won't be around forever.

Esther said...

When a new issue comes up, there seem to be three Orthodox responses -- pretend that there's no issue at all, completely ban the new, or work with rabbis and common sense to establish guidelines. I have seen the idea about using the rules of yichud when online. There are other steps one can take - such as setting Google as the starting page because their main page has no ads.

Sephardilady, I think there's a lot more you could blog on this subject. For example, it relates to the Parenting Crisis - since when is a child allowed to use something automatically just because it's in the house?

Anonymous said...

FrumHypocrisy said...
I did not mean that all who do not attend college end up living off society, but those in our community who attend college are less likely to “live off society"

And I'm telling you that you're wrong. Based on the 200 or so people I attended yeshivah with there are no more people out of work amongst the non-college educated, than amongst those that were college educated.

"That being said, fostering an environment that precludes college puts most children at a disadvantage and will only augment the likely shortcomings"

First of all, by assuming that an enviroment that precludes college automatically begets other shortcomings, I find your true bigotted colors shining through. What "other" likely shortcomings are there for one who doesn't attend college.
Secondly, a persons shortcomings will eventually surface whether or not they are college educated. Those that are bright, resourceful, or just plain lucky, will find success be it in the buisness, or professional world, while those who aren't will fail with or without the diploma

SephardiLady said...

Esther-There is certainly a lot more to say about this subject. And, I agree 100%, just because something is in the house, doesn't give everyone "rights" to it.

I do think there will be another post or two regarding the subject. I'd especially like to touch upon the issue of "al pi darcho." We need more than talk in this area. Visible action is needed. Harry Marles at has a very good post on the issue.

Steve Brizel said...

Great blog! I disagree re the JO issue re "kids at risk." I thought that the articles were geared completely to after-the-fact or bdieved solutions such as "the shmooze", blaming allegedly inattentive or permissive parents and capped off by the notion that banning the net is the panacea to this multi-faceted problem.

As I have posted elsewhere, "Off The Derech", which I purchased and read cover to cover, posits that family, school and community are the keys to Jewish survival, especially in the Torah observant world,regardless of one's hashkafic label.

In this regard, I saw nothing in any of the articles about rethinking our curriculum, especially in boys schools, which function under a success ratio of 1/1000 between entering students and Gdolim produced thereat. The source of that ratio is a Medrash and is defended by R Dessler ZTL despite the fact that an explicit Mishnah ( " a Mfureshe Mishnah") states age appropriate levels and that this age appropriate curriculum was advocated passionately by the Maharal. As of yet, I have yet to see, read or hear an answer to the question as to why we continue to maintain a dysfunctional system that produces revolutionaries, drug abusers and sexually promiscuous adolescents and ER cases. How many must we tolerate before we state that the system is broken? We need a discussion led by the Gdolim on the issue, as opposed to mussar that blames parents and band-aid chizuk/kiruv-type solutions that deal with teens and those who have already survived the system and moved on from there.

SephardiLady said...

Hello Steve,

I am so glad you see you here at my blog. I hope you will continue to come back and add some of your wisdom and experiences.

Seeing just how popular this topic is, I plan to talk about bit about curriculum later. I strongly believe that curriculum offerings in Yeshiva and Day Schools are geared towards one type of student and that a broader curriculum is needed.

Steve Brizel said...

Thanks for your comments. Hopefully, this discussion will expand beyond the blogosphere into real life discussions on this issue before it continues to escalate.

Here is another way not to discuss the issue,. Lander College for Men, Touro's would be competition with YU, has run a series of lectures on the dangers of the net, parenting, horror stories of kids at risk, and shalom bayis. The bottom line of the series and the rabbinic and professional speakers is that parents are the prime culprits. I thought that the film that showed teens off camera recounting their off the derech misadventures was as helpful as a drug abuse center showing of "Reefer Madness". As of this date, we have heard nothing of the roles of the schools and communities. Until we acknowledge that our expectations and desire for an unhealthy conformity in our schools and communities are out of touch, we will continue to suffer from this plague which will be punctuated by occasional articles, an updated sense of shock , forums and assemblies on the issue.

Steve Brizel said...

Re "the Israel experience", part of every parent's "due diligence" in helping their son or daughter decide the yeshiva or seminary should be the supervision in the dorm or dira. The level of supervision runs the gamet from "you are an adult and we trust what you do in your spare time" to a curfew with a late lights out to a curfew with an early and strictly enforced lights out policy. Many schools have different rules for visiting Yehudah and Shomron, Shabbos Chayei Sarah in Chevron, etc.