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October 22, 2014 / 28 Tishri, 5775
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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities

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Dear Rachel,

Going up to the mountains for the summer used to be considered one of the greatest gifts parents could give to their young children. It was unquestionably the healthy alternative to staying put in the city in the sweltering heat. While adults could avail themselves of air-conditioned comfort, kids can’t exactly be confined indoors. Spending the summer season in the country meant that parents could relax since they didn’t need to worry about their children who were playing outside in a far safer environment than the city streets.

I use the past tense because I am not too sure anymore about how terrific or safe this getaway is for kids. Some disturbing stories have been circulating about abuse… and not the kind that immediately comes to the reader’s mind. What I refer to is abuse of children by children.

Last summer a horrific incident played itself out and was hushed up almost immediately. It involved a couple of boys in their early teens who decided to make sport of a five-year old, just for the fun of it. The minute details escape me, but I do recall hearing that by the time the adults were made aware of what was happening, the poor little boy looked like he had gotten caught in a boxing ring during a fighting match. His eyes were swollen shut and his face was battered and bruised beyond recognition.

The sad part in all of this is that the five-year old had not wandered away and was not accosted by strangers. These were all kids from local families known to one another, and the abusers were supposedly “regular” yeshiva boys. Some of the adults on the scene tried to minimize the outrage by blaming it on “childish pranks” gone too far. The mortified parents of the little boy were of a far different opinion, to put it mildly, but in the interest of keeping the peace they decided against making a fuss that might have resulted in ugly confrontations and lashon hora.

Just now I heard of another terrible episode in a similar setting (upstate at a summer resort). A two-year old had apparently gotten hold of a toy that some older (five-year olds) had been playing with. It seems the bigger boys arbitrarily chose to teach the young interloper a lesson. By the time they were done, the toddler was found unconscious on a landing at the bottom of a staircase. This story, I am told, has also been hushed up.

I am writing this with the hope that unsuspecting parents of little ones will be warned to be wary and not assume that leaving the city for the country means their children can safely roam free and play by themselves without adult supervision.

Though I am not and have never been a “country” enthusiast, I do recollect a sense of freedom during a couple of summers I spent up in the mountains in my childhood. But that was long ago and things have changed big time, everywhere.

Pity it’s come to this…

Dear Pity,

“Things have changed” must be the understatement of our time. To let our guard down is to ask for trouble. Adults need to be wary when on their own, let alone parents entrusted with the care of innocents.

That said… virtually all parents of young ones have witnessed any one of their brood express frustration in a potentially harmful way at one time or other. A sibling, a playmate or a parent will have said or done something to trigger feelings of irritation and exasperation in a child, and it would be unreasonable to expect even a five-year old to deal with his or her emotions in a constructive way.

While the grown up is (hopefully) mature enough to handle a volatile situation responsibly, younger sibs and babies are often in harm’s way — as when Riled-Up Junior turns the nearest gadget at hand into a dangerous projectile and the flying object makes a beeline for the baby’s head.

As you say, adults tend to be more relaxed and at ease in a country bungalow setting, and the social atmosphere makes it especially challenging to keep track of a two-year old. Still, adults ought to know better — that it is in their place to practice vigilance when it comes to their young children; notwithstanding, it is never too early for parents to instill acceptable behavior versus unacceptable behavior in their toddlers.

Twelve and thirteen-year olds are an entirely different story. “Pranks,” like the one you refer to above, are inexcusable. True, temperaments and natures vary and not all boys are created equal, so that parents are not necessarily to blame for their offspring’s behavior… but failure to chastise them in the strongest of terms will only lead to more trouble down the line.

Let’s hope that the problematic youngsters were dealt with in a manner that will foster their growth and maturity in the right direction, and that the victim of their aggression has completely recovered from the trauma.

Thank you for caring enough to sound a warning to the oblivious, nonchalant and the most seasoned of parents. We can also stand to be reminded of our awesome responsibility in protecting our innocents.

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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