Thank you so much for your honesty! Since you have bared your soul, I now feel I can do the same. While growing up, the Yomim Tovim were always my favorite times of the year. On Sukkos we always went sukkah hopping, to Simchas Bais Ha’Shoeva, and boy did we dance on Simchas Torah. On Purim we went collecting in fancy cars, danced in the streets to the leibedike music, and had a mesiba in yeshiva where we danced with our rabbeim. On Pesach we ate lots of delicious food and yet we still complained that we had so little to eat. We went on fun Chol Ha’Moed trips and made good wholesome memories together as a family.
Today, I am a father of six bochurim b”ah. While I love and appreciate all of my children, unfortunately the Yomim Tovim aren’t filled with the good memories as in the days of yore. You see, one of my sons got involved with the wrong crowd, and at 16 he looks forward to Shabbos and Yom Tov as simply another opportunity to drink. Now that Sukkos is almost upon us, instead of joyfully anticipating, I am cautiously fearful about what Simchas Torah will bring.
Simchas Torah is a celebration of Klal Yisroel’s completing and re-commencing the cycle of reading the heilige Torah. It is a time when we can reach great heights in our closeness to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. It is a time for parents to enjoy their sons getting an aliyah, dancing with them and watching them be showered with candies to symbolize the sweetness of the words of the Torah. All of this is greatly encouraged!
However, my 16-year-old son has graduated from candies to liquor. Last year someone had to call Hatzolah because he appeared to be so inebriated, we thought he might have had alcohol poisoning. Some of the members of our shul were concerned about adults getting into trouble for giving liquor to minors, so instead he was taken to a local pediatrician who instructed us on what to look for so he wouldn’t have to have his stomach pumped. I was hoping that this scare would make him abstain from liquor for good. Yet now, he simply recounts that incident with pride as if it’s his rite of passage to adulthood. Unfortunately, most of the young adults pat him on the back and give him high fives over this “great accomplishment.”
Just last week, my wife and I told him, in no uncertain terms, that his behavior was unacceptable. We also told him that while we try to look the other way when he takes a drink on Shabbos, we would not permit him to get drunk on Simchas Torah. We also told him that if we saw him drinking, we would be forced to take him home. Boy was I shocked by his reaction! He told us that if he were offered a drink, he would not refuse it. He said that while he will not drink on his own, if others offered him a drink, he would partake.
I know that liquor flows freely in our shul on Simchas Torah and I can’t stop it from happening. I went to discuss this with the rov, who was empathetic, yet said he can’t enforce a change to this tradition. My wife and I even considered going to our married son for the second days of Yom Tov so there would be no temptations, however, our son informed us that in his shul there are plenty of l’chaims on Simchas Torah as well. We have desperately been searching for an alcohol free or alcohol reduced shul and are unable to find one. Why do people think they need alcohol to attain a level of simchas hachaim? Why can’t we get a spiritual high through the kedushas hayom? Where have the days gone, when our primary concern was that there was too much candy being given out in shul?
A Worried Father
Dear Worried Father,
What a terrible way to have to look at Yom Tov! I actually believe that the dilemma you face is far greater than just the issue of Simchas Torah. The teenage years are chock full of episodes of experimenting and asserting one’s independence. As teens transition into adulthood, they often become tempted to partake in what they perceive as adult activities. They want to follow their parents’ lead, try the activities already done by their friends and establish their own identities. Alcohol frequently becomes a factor in this struggle. Many teens will likely turn to alcohol or other substances during their teenage years. Seventy percent of high school students have had at least one alcoholic beverage, and they are often with their friends when they drink.
In 2009, nearly a quarter of surveyed students in grades nine through twelve had been “offered, sold or given an illegal drug by someone on school property,” as reported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. While it is true that this number is still not that high in our community, baruch Hashem, this does not negate the fact that it is growing alarmingly higher every year.
Teenagers and young adults will become involved with alcohol and drugs for many reasons:
• Curiosity: They want to know what it feels like to get high or be drunk.
• Peer pressure: Their friends are doing it.
• Acceptance: Their parents or role models are doing it.
• Defiance: They want to rebel against societal rules.
• Risk-taking behaviors: They need to send out a call for help.
• Thrill-seeking activities: They want to experience something other than numbness.
• Boredom: They feel they have done everything else exciting.
• Independence: They want to make their own decisions.
• Pleasure: They want to feel good.
While the first few instances of alcohol or drug use may seem exciting, the behavior can quickly spiral into substance abuse and addiction, and ultimately may even necessitate intervention or even rehab. Teenagers rarely ever consider the long-term damage they can do to themselves, their families and their communities.
Despite new laws, zero tolerance policies and stronger community education programs, teen exposure to drugs and alcohol is still on the rise. These substances are seen at social gatherings, in shuls and at friends’ homes. They routinely play a pivotal role at our simchas.
At almost any age, individuals desire to be liked and accepted by the people around them. They want to be part of the popular group. Teens especially crave this approval because it makes the difficult teenage years a bit more bearable. This desire to fit in forms one of the key issues for teens. The question that really needs to be considered is how can our bachurim be made to feel like they belong without the drink? How can we teach our children to enjoy life without numbing themselves? Unfortunately, it is apparent that a strong relationship exists between alcohol use amongst teens and many social, emotional, and behavioral problems.
That being said, I would like to offer some practical advice. Your son still seems to think that his drinking won’t develop into a larger problem. Although, given his history of “hanging with the wrong crowd” it appears that he is heading down a road to bigger problems. You should take the time to sit down with him and be open and honest about your fears. Perhaps he will open up as to why he is unhappy with himself and feels the need to impress “the guys.” I would also try positive re-enforcement. You might want to offer to take him on a Father-Son trip if he makes the responsible choice to be alcohol free on Simchas Torah. Allow him to choose something of value. If he chooses the reward, chances are he will be more likely to earn it.
Wishing you much hatzlacha and a Chag ‘Ach’ Somayach!
Please let me know how things turned out.
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