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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities

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Sympathetic to A Sympathetic Bubby
(Chronicles June 8 )

Dear Rachel,

I just finished reading your response to the worried bubby and was very disappointed with your answer. This bubby is right on. We are seeing an alarming increase in childhood anxiety. We also have kids being diagnosed with ADHD and all kinds of learning disabilities. Medication is given out like candy, without any thought of the immediate side effects and long-term effects it can have.

Today, in addition to the tremendous financial demands of sending a child (or numerous children) to yeshiva, most families are spending money on tutors and therapists as well. And yet with all of this, we are at a loss as to why our kids are having so many behavioral issues (kids off the derech, mood disorders, bullying, OCD, etc.).

It’s time to take our heads out of the sand. Our children are being deprived of normal childhood activities because of the demands of the yeshiva system. Our children should be coming home from school and taking their bikes out for a ride or playing ball, but there’s almost no time for anything, not even sleep.

We all grew up in a different era where the demands were not as great. Kids at risk or many of the issues we are seeing today, such as bullying, etc., were almost unheard of. We are making unrealistic demands of young children, and much of the time they aren’t given a constructive outlet for their stress. These demands transmit to the parents as well; we are unable to have positive communication with our children, since we are frantically trying to help them complete all their homework instead of spending quality time with them after their long day at school.

Recently a friend told me that half of her son’s high school class – he is now in college – was on medication. We are asking our kids to sit for 10-hour days with almost no movement, and then to come home for hours more of studying and homework. That’s a ridiculous expectation. Where do they turn? Social media, computers and phones are being used as a means of distraction from the day-to-day pressures.

In some cases, kids are displaying real at-risk behaviors in trying to cope with the pressures that face them. My girls are having bekius tests as early as third grade. This is stressing kids out and for what? They don’t need to be rebbetzins; they need to develop into happy, well-adjusted adults. There are girls in my daughter’s class who are exhibiting real behavioral issues, such as bullying, and are displaying a real lack of middos.

Why is our focus so off? We need to make school fun and give our children constructive positive ways to enjoy themselves minus the Internet, cell phones and TV. We would not need an asifa to fix the problem if we start using some basic common sense. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Midwest because some of my kids compete on a professional level in certain sports. I have been so impressed with these non-Jewish kids. They have tremendous focus, discipline and respect. They are seriously involved in wholesome sports that they love. I speak to their coaches and I see that they have almost no drug issues and very little behavioral issues. They have found a way to give their kids positive outlets for their energy and stress.

Why can’t we learn from them? If we are able to reduce the demands made on our kids and make more time to communicate with them positively, teaching them basic derech eretz, kavod habriosand positive forms of enjoyment, we will see happy well-adjusted adults who will not have to resort to deviant distorted behaviors to find themselves.

We can do better!

Dear Can Do,

Your points are well taken, however your letter addresses multiple issues that are not necessarily linked. For instance, can we really pin the blame for children’s learning disabilities on the burden of homework overload? Does a demanding itinerary inevitably result in a sedentary lifestyle? Do kids act out in unhealthy ways because of a lack of physical recreation that some of our schools fail to provide for their student body?

Concerning academia, there is no “one size fits all” to suit each child equally. If you’d take a survey you’d find countless young people who are out of school (having completed the 12th grade) longing to be back in the classroom. Plenty of others, on the other hand, wouldn’t be able to adequately express their relief at finally having those school years behind them and done with.

At one end we have the high-achievers who breeze through a grueling study regimen and find the pressure of exams stimulating and gratifying, while at the other we have those who are satisfied with the status quo (it is what it is) and are relieved to score a passing grade. The former mostly aspire to a higher calling in the way of a professional career, while the latter wouldn’t mind dispensing with the mind-challenging courses that they can’t fathom having any use for, ever.

Then there’s the home environment — a large part of the big picture. Given unrestricted access to a computer (Internet) or a television, how many children would settle for a basketball game or a bike ride as an alternative? Even if a recreation period was a mandatory part of every school curriculum, it is the parents who are in charge at home and they can make a huge difference in their children’s lives and wellbeing.

Take the parents who are slovenly in appearance and fail to show interest in their physical upkeep; their children are bound to follow suit, and vice-versa. Moreover, many problems arise when parents cannot be bothered with the input involved in raising their kids and rely too heavily on the schools to make mentchen out of their children. Even well meaning parents can get caught up in their own troubles, to the detriment of their children who yearn to be noticed and who silently cry out for a parent’s guidance.

Yes, it is imperative that our children be taught basic derech eretz, kavod habrios and positive forms of enjoyment… but competing in “sports on a professional level” is hardly the cure-all. Non-Jewish youth, whose focus on athletic accomplishments bodes positively for them, enthrall you. But let’s get real: their responsibilities do not begin to measure up to ours. Our lifestyle, our goals and our duty as orthodox Jews place us in a league of our own.

Thank you for weighing in with your insightful comments.

* * * * *

We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.

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About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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