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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities

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Dear Rachel,

In the early part of December you ran a column by a man who had once been diagnosed as bisexual by a therapist (one apparently unqualified to be one).

It ended up that this poor man had been bullied as a child and had looked up to the strong and tougher kids, yearning to be like them. Sadly, this adoration was interpreted as a gay or bisexual tendency.

I actually write to address the bullying part; to make the public aware that bullying is not only done by kids. Believe it or not, an adult can be devastatingly effective at bullying a child, and parents need to be made aware of this.

Unfortunately, I would know. I am a seasoned mom, baruch Hashem, which makes me keenly aware that each child has his/her own temperament and way of dealing with things. One of my sons happens to be (always was, even as a toddler) an extremely sensitive child. He has a heart of mush and cannot stand to see anyone hurting.

For obvious reasons, I don’t wish to give away too many personal details; let’s just say that life doesn’t always unfold according to one’s expectations and hardships of any kind in a family are bound to have some effect on the children.

Our super-bright son took our tough times to heart and let it out in ways that displeased his high-school principal. Before any reader is tempted to jump to conclusions, this is a soft-spoken, somewhat shy teenager who has always been a good kid, both in class and at home. He doesn’t drink, drive, or smoke (anything).

So what is his “sin,” the reader may be wondering. A less than enthusiastic attitude towards subjects he doesn’t have a yen for, and some resistance to matters of religion as defined by minhagim of the community or school (needless to say, a stage many teenagers go through).

As parents, my husband and I recognize our son’s individuality and his super sensitive nature, and our instincts concur with the advice from rabbis and therapists: with patience, love and acceptance he will outgrow this phase.

A red flag went up when our son seemed to be developing a chronic aversion to going to school. It seemed that the principal had taken to “picking on him” relentlessly, for no good reason. At first we were inclined to believe that if a respected person of authority had some beef with a student, it would most likely be warranted; after all, a student can’t simply do what he wants on the school watch.

Gradually, however, it became clear that our son was being hounded and bullied on a consistent basis, to the point where he was begging us to transfer him to a different yeshiva. Suffice it to say that he was mercilessly teased, subjected to attempts to “trip him up” (unsuccessfully) and was senselessly singled out for drug testing. (Nothing panned out of course, for as I indicated earlier, our son is squeaky clean.)

As a mother, my heart ached for the torment he was suffering. The final straw came when we discovered that this principal had badmouthed our son to a new kid in the neighborhood who was advised to stay away from him.

That did it. I knew that if we didn’t put a stop to this craziness, our son would be “tripped” chas v’sholom right off the derech. To make a long story short, my husband and I arranged to meet with those in charge and I got straight to the point. Confronting this “person of authority” I minced no words in letting him know that his modus operandi was a highly dangerous one and a complete contradiction of a school’s desired objective. There was a lot of denial on the other side, but I wasn’t letting up.

Fast forward, I am happy to say that my son has since undergone a total transformation. Today he goes to school eagerly, gets straight A’s and has stopped pestering us to place him in another yeshiva. To his credit, the principal took my words to heart. Evidently realizing the colossal error of his way, he has embraced our son and taken to treating him like one of his own. My son is basking in the adulation and is committed to prove himself worthy of the attention.

Rachel, as I am writing this letter it occurs to me that many parents tend to believe the “school” instead of their child. This is not to say that there aren’t kids who misbehave. But parents whose children are sullen and unhappy must make it their business to look into why this is so. Some children need to be prodded, and some parents are seen by their children as being “too busy” to be bothered.

The bottom line is that parents who care about their children need to be tuned into them and should always play it safe when something doesn’t seem right. It will never hurt to pick up a phone and make that call to try to straighten things out.

I did, and we’re all better off for it.

Not sorry I lost my cool Dear Cool,

Much too often we take things for granted and don’t realize our missed opportunities until it’s woefully too late. Our children are our most precious commodities, but they need to be honed and polished for their illustrious shine to emerge. The schools help to fine-tune them, but it’s a parent’s love, care and dedication that will ultimately make all the difference in bringing out the best in them.

To be fair, teachers and principals are human too and are hardly infallible. Many will attest to having “learned on the job,” but the biggest test may be to concede one’s blunder. Your son’s principal seems to have come around in a most admirable way — thanks to you who takes the prize for the courage to speak up. Your children are indeed lucky to have you as their Mom.

* * * * *

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.

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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