Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Parents Gone Crazy; Entitlement Gone Wild

The New York Jewish Week published a letter to the editor decrying unsupervised vacations of Jewish High schoolers which includes public drunkenness, sexual behavior and other breaches in tzniut, drugs, and more. Based on the comments from the authors of this article on different blogs it appears that the scene is not just one of teens acting stupidly, but one of teens engaging in highly destructive behavior that is probably beyond the wildest imaginations of most of us (it is certainly beyond my imagination).

Orthomom worries she won't be able to strike the right balance, Ezzie is scared too, Harry Maryles believes this is a failing of Modern Orthodox, and Jewboy asks the obvious: where are the parents?

While I normally agree with Rabbi Maryles, in this instance I take issue with his conclusions. In my opinion, this is not a matter of one Orthodoxy vs. another Orthodoxy. In fact, I'm not sure that this has much to do with Orthodoxy. While one manifestation might be most prominent amongst Orthodox Jews of the more modern stripe, another manifestation might be more prominent amongst Orthodox Jews of a darker stripe. We are not protected from self-destructive behavior because we have Jewish blood.

And quite frankly I don't care to sort out one stripe from another when there is an underlying disease that has a common thread So what is that disease? I'm sure I will get flamed, but I believe we are finally witnessing the lethal combination of under/uninvolved parenting, parental irresponsibility, and entitlement. And it isn't a pretty sight.

Too many of our children are demonstrating to us that they have voids in their lives that are so deep and so painful. They are experiences estrangement from those they should be connected to. They are lonely and empty inside and they are trying to fill their void with "love" or "potions." The increase in self-destructive behavior can be witnessed in nearly every sizable community. I've seen it. I'm sure you have too. I don't want to believe it is there. But it is.

In my opinion this report is a sign that all of us in the Orthodox Community (the so-called MO-Lite, MO, Yeshivish, Chareidi, Chassidish, Chabad, etc) need to get back to the drawing table as parents and as a community and make an honest assessment, a real cheshbon hanefesh. We need to start from the ground up and evaluate where and why we are failing. Even if we are still "better," there is no need to be smug when we are witness to such self-destructive behavior (especially mass self-destructive behavior, as the authors of the Jewish Week article were witness to). And when we are witness to this type of behavior, does it really matter if we are better?

Many of us loosing our connection to our children. Some of us never established strong connections to begin with because we erroneously believe that all we need to do as parents is meet the physical needs of our children. Too many of us believe that parenting (make that taking care of kids) is "menial" work that involves no more than feeding a kid and changing diapers for the younger, and carpooling and providing funds for the older. I've seen this attitude expressed by the very Modern and by the quite Yeshivish and by everyone else in between.

Many of us lack confidence in our jobs as parents. We are afraid of our own kids. We are afraid of setting limits, giving guidance, and being the authority figures that we are. In short, we can't say no and our kids need us to say no. Afraid of parenting ourselves, we figure that we will write a check and put the ball in someone else's court. Yet we cannot be replaced by hired help. And who is to say that those contracted to raise our children are any more confident in setting reasonable limits and being authority figures?

And if we are afraid of our own kids, we even more terrified by our neighbors. We don't want to do anything different. We don't want to educate our children differently, we don't want to dress differently, we don't want to marry our children off in a different fashion, we don't want to vacation differently.

Speaking of vacations, maybe we need to re-evaluate how we vacation (!). Vacation can and should be an opportunity to re-connect with our children. By getting away from it all, we can force ourselves to reconnect. But, judging by the advertisements in nearly every Jewish publication, a vacation appears to be an opportunity to surround ourselves with other people, not "get away from it all," and many of these vacation packages come complete with the opportunity to send our children away from us. While we enjoy whatever it is that the vacation offers, we can send our children to day camps to be taken care of by someone else.

And lastly, I have never heard of sending away high schoolers on vacation sans parents. My parents never allowed me to attend a function without first speaking to the supervising parents directly. Let's just say that I was never invited to any inappropriate parties because my parents where known to be a constant presence. Are we known to be a presence in our children's lives or do we feel the need to be "cool parents?" The fact that there are masses of children on winter break without parents present is just downright shocking. It is entitlement gone wild; pure lunacy.

Independent Frum Thinker, one of my new favorite bloggers, states "Any perceived criticism of any aspect of the Frum community that may appear on this blog, should not be viewed as such in any way whatsoever. It is simply a plea and call for our community’s self- improvement and self-betterment." This post is harsh, but please don't view it as a criticism as much as a plea for an honest cheshbon hanefesh. Your comments?

Apologies for such a miserable post during Adar.


mother in israel said...

Terrific post. No flames from me.

Anonymous said...

"Apologies for such a miserable post during Adar."

What's miserable about it ? It's great ! You are following in the venerable tradition of Sepharadic baalei mussar (yes, musar is not an Ashkenazic or Litvish invention). Kol Hakavod !

Mussar and teshuvah are in season in Adar as they are always. Even more than at other times perhaps. Purim is a time when klal Yisroel did teshuvoh. So mussar which hopefully will lead in that direction is very timely and appropriate, meinyan hachag.

Keep it up, keep it coming !

Married and Navigating Jewish Brooklyn said...

You were lucky then, we knew plenty of parents that let their HS children go away in large groups...

...but as it is, many adult Jews dont know how to properly go away and vacation. Has anyone heard of the problems many hotels around Niagra Falls have with Frum Jews due to their behavior? We know two friends who have stories of witnessing lewd, untznius, and unbecoming a Jew actions when they went away to Niagra Falls and apparently our other friends have heard such tales as well.

Maybe it has to do with being to 'pressurized' to do good it just explodes when you let it out just a little.

Anonymous said...

I do not know many, if any, parents who would book their high school students a hotel room by themselves, or many hotels who would accept such a reservation. I do not parents who think of vacation as a time to get away from their kids, and I know parents who are afraid that if they are too strict with the kids the latter will rebel completely. I also know people who send there children to Miami to visit their grandparents, and I wonder if some of these kids might be wandering around unserpevised because neither their parents nor their grandparents are ready to admit that the grandparents aren't up to supervising them all day and night anymore.

Esther said...

You know I agree with you about the parenting problem. What are these people thinking? I only have to deal with 5 year olds' birthday parties right now but I would never drop off my son if I thought something inappropriate was going on. My only disagreement with your post is I don't think you needed to be apologetic!

(Hope this isn't a duplicate comment but I think my previous attempt got erased...)

Orthonomics said...

MII-I certainly didn't expect you to flame me. :)

Litvak-I really appreciate your haskama and you are correct. Teshuva is a fulltime activity. I'm happy to partake and have a valid messorah to do so. :)

Married-Sad to hear about Niagra Falls. We've never been but would like to go. Guess I'll add that destination to my list of off season trips only. Our kids have seen badly behaving people, but I'm more sensitive when it comes to those that they automatically think are "Rabbis" because of how they dress.

Mike S-I couldn't agree with you more that many grandparents aren't up to supervising kids. And even if they are, too many of them don't understand the challenges of today or even believe a frum kid could do x, y, or z. I also don't know parents who could send their kids out alone, but I do know parents who feel pressured to make sure their kids are on vacation where "all" of the other kids are. I can't relate in the least. Yet it doesn't particularly surprise me because so much of what we do is based on what others do, even when it is unnecessary.

Esther-We should have formed our own commune long ago. :)

RaggedyMom said...

SL - I'm sure you know that my take on this is pretty much a parallel of yours.

I do think that having the courage to be the odd parents out about some of those key issues is the basis for defining what one's family stands for. Hopefully the surrounding community's values are not so different from the family's so as to make it a constant challenge and struggle. That would be an indication to me to move - this is not de rigeur in every frum community.

I do understand your hesitation to be so bold, though. For me, I hesitate because

a)I was in high school not that long ago (or does it just feel that way) and even as quite a good girl, would not have been able to share everything that I saw or did with my parents like an open book.

and b) Since my oldest is not yet four years old, I do feel like I need to defer somewhat to the "small children, small worries; big children, big worries" school of thought.

All in all, thanks for telling it like it is! Hatzlacha to us in raising our children!

Independent Frum Thinker said...

Great post!
The way I see it, there is nothing more important for the child’s development, both emotionally and spiritually, as having a solid and good relationship with parents. It is the key to everything. We desperately need to get back to basics.

Lion of Zion said...



Chana German said...

In January, I saw a remarkably similar article in the NYT Education Section. The article was reporting on unsupervised trips down to Florida by NY/NJ private school students. The schools were not Jewish, but many of the students interviewed were. I wonder how many of the students that this couple witnessed were actually from yeshivot. It's hard to differentiate if everyone's wearing a bathing suit. (I can't find the article, but it's worth looking for.)

That said, I still agree with your basic premise. We are being lax in our parental roles, by underparenting (no limit-setting) and then compensating for that by overparenting (more music lessons, etc, of course, at the expense of just spending time with parents).

Ariella's blog said...

Nice to hear from Litvak (on any blog ;-)) Quite correct. Jews in the days of Achashverosh erred in attending the grand royal party. A parallel can be drawn for today.
And Sephardi Lady, you are so right about the attitude on vacations that tout activities for the children without parents. I think that for many parents, there is something approaching fear when it comes to the thought of being responsible full-time for their children. (and I don't mean working parents who require childcare) That is why so many children enter programs at the age of 2, then go to camp and mini-camps between school and camp. And I suppose the high price of Pesach in a hotel is worth it for parents who do not want to face having their children on their hands for Yom Tov.

Anonymous said...

It's probably a bit late to weigh in on this, but I want to say something that needs to be said. A lot of these kids were raised in herds by strangers at daycare centers, and later spend ridiculous hours every day at school being raised by more strangers. They have no connection to their parents, and in my opinion (and that of many social scientists) this is not the way children should be raised. There are many screwed up priorities in many frum communities, but the worst is many men's selling their wives into servitude to employers, leaving their children bereft of their mother during their formative years, so they don't have to step up to the plate and support their families like a man should. It's ugly, but there it is. The kids see that they are sacrificed on the altar of their parents "other interests" and react by withdrawing and setting up peer acceptance and attention seeking as substitutes. This is psychology 101, regardless of what anybody thinks about it. And until we take a hard look at what we are doing to our families when we put everything else ahead of our marriage and children, then we're not being honest about what the problem is or how to fix it.

Orthonomics said...

Anon-Well stated.

If you have not read a book called "Day Care Deception" you should get it from your local library.

I'm in agreement with you and hopefully will post on this and related subjects in the not too far future. But, in the meantime, I've got to get back to my regular lineup of activities. My big boy wants to take a trip to the grocery store to get frosting for the cookies we just made together for a party.