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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

My Letter to Rabbi Horowitz

Rabbi Horowitz runs a fantastic column on parenting. I’ve been planning on reviewing some of his answers on my blog, since he brings a unique perspective to the table. . . one that I wish were more common, but more on that at another time.

Since I enjoy the column and find the Rabbi to be a reasonable man, I thought I would write him a letter with some questions about the topic that has, unfortunately, reared its ugly head. (The letter appears below).

It doesn’t appear that much has been put forth on the subject from official Orthodox channels or from Yeshiva educators. But, in the age of instant communication, maybe I have come to expect too much too quickly.

I’d like to believe that I’m not afraid to address abuse with my own children. Yet, I can honestly say that I don’t really don’t know how to go about it. My parents never addressed the subject with me, which was rare since my parents did NOT leave sensitive subjects up to the school to address. And, when my (public) elementary brought in people from the abuse crisis center to address the issue, and my parents saw the information sent home, my parents remarked that these volunteers tend to exaggerate the number of people abused. So, while I feel confident as a parent and I write confidently on the subject, I have to admit I’m a bit afraid of the subject myself.

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Dear Rabbi Horowitz,

I am the proud mother of some very lovely young children who are growing up much too quickly. In general, I’d like to think of myself as a confident parent that tries to approach important issues a healthy balance. But, there are some issues out there for which the proper balance remains a mystery to me. And that is why I am seeking your advice sooner, rather than later.

Recently I have heard a number of stories about abuse in the frum community and would like to know just how prevalent abuse is in the frum community? In general, I’d like to preserve my children’s innocence while dealing with realities that need to be dealt with.

What responsibility do schools have when it comes to addressing children about this issue? And, what responsibility do parents have? At what age should parents begin to address the issue with their children, and in how much detail? And, what is the proper way to even begin the conversation?

Also, while my children are not teenagers yet, what should parents of teenage children say to their children, who are bound to either see headlines in the newspaper or hear about such terrible news through friends?

Sincerely,

A mother looking for balance and perspective

5 comments:

Maven said...

i just blogged about this ... it's a very scary thing. in my post i offered a few tips which i don't want to re-iterate here, but the main thing is COMMUNICATION.

p.s. OHEL children's services in NY has been dealing with this issue since the late 60's. they have a wealth of information on the topic and guidance for parents wanting to keep kids safe(r).

p.p.s. may G-d bless all children with safety and peace.

nachum klafter, MD said...

You should use every opportunity to make your children feel comfortable sharing with you anything that has happenned that made them feel uncomfortable or unhappy. When they tell you about something that happenned at schoold (Chavie picked on me, or Yossi kicked me, whatever) you should praise them for telling you and reiterate that you always want to know if something bad is happning to them.

Very important: No one is allowed to ever tell your children NOT to tell you something. If anyone tells them NOT to tell you something or tries to make them promise not to tell you something, they should just pretend to go along with this and should then immediately tell you what has happenned.

When bathing your children, you should occasionally say, "NO one is allowed to touch you here except your mother and your father when we are giving you baths, changing you, or helping you in some way. Your doctor is also allowed to touch you there only when checking you to make sure you are ok, and while your mother and father are there."

When children go away to camp, the "not touching" and "no secrets from Ima and Abba" must be reiterated numerous times. I would never send my children to a sleepaway camp unless I knew that criminal background checks are performed for ALL employees. I.e., not just camp counselors, but arts and crafts teachers, Rabbis, kitchen staff, mashgichim, etc.

If an incident of sexual abuse occurs in your community, ch"v, or if they hear someone talking about sexual abuse, this is an occasion to talk about sexual abuse with your children. "Most adults are very good people and would never do anything bad to children, but there are unfortunately some very bad rashayim in this world who like to hurt other people. Mr. so-and-so has done some bad things to children in our community...." and then review the "no touching" and "no secrets" rule. Something like that. WE need to find "educatable moments" where we can naturally bring something into the conversation.

Family meetings are usually a good thing for communicaiton. It is a forum where children are invited to share what is on their mind.

Your demeanor during these kinds of talks is probably more important than the substance of what you say. You should be calm and pleasant when you talk about these things. Not anxious, angry, or somber-serious. You want to make your children as comfortable as possible sharing things with you which are, by their nature, extremely uncomfortable. Showing that you are anxious and unhappy will discourage them from sharing these things with you. This is the hardest thing for most parents to learn. When we are anxious and angry, it encourages our childrn to avoid contact with us.

Obvoiusly we all get angry when are kids misbehave, and part of raising them is showing our displeasure for their bad behaviors. However, more important and more effective is to show our pride, praise and pleasure with their good behaviors. This must include when they share things with us. "I love when you talk to me." "I love hearing about your day." "I'm so proud of you for telling me about this." They need to get this kind of encouragement from us.

Ari Kinsberg said...

dr. klafter,

"I would never send my children to a sleepaway camp unless I knew that criminal background checks are performed for ALL employees. I.e., not just camp counselors, but arts and crafts teachers, Rabbis, kitchen staff, mashgichim, etc."

are there camps that conduct such checks?

Steve Brizel said...

I think that one of the keys to successful parenting is being able to maintain your role as an authority figure while simultaneously always being available as a sounding board for your kids to discuss any and all issues that bother them. Too many kids today unfortunately don't talk to their parents and view them as just a two legged bank.

Chana German said...

You wrote: "It doesn’t appear that much has been put forth on the subject from official Orthodox channels or from Yeshiva educators. But, in the age of instant communication, maybe I have come to expect too much too quickly."

Sadly, we've missed the "quick response" a few years ago. Now we just need a response - after all, it can't be ignored forever. On the more practical level, students have to be taught how to protect themselves from a real problem. On a more communal level, does ignoring it mean that we are condoning it?

I've given Jewish educators a chance to respond here -http://schmoozed.lookstein.org/2006/12/community-taboo.html

(Sorry I saw this specific post after I posted mine.)