While once it may have seemed possible to shelter our children from inappropriate exposure to sexuality, today it seems to be an impossible goal. While some families have been successful in insulating their children from the Internet, movies, and other harmful aspects of secular culture, many families have not been as successful. And, even those parents have made every effort to appropriately safeguard their children may find themselves unhappily surprised at what they have been exposed to by their friends. In addition, outdoor secular media such as billboards, bus ads and newspaper covers portray disturbingly graphic images that force us to confront the fact that our children are being exposed to ideas and ways of life we may consider to be harmful to their souls and their mental health.
Chaya's older yeshiva-bochur brother told her that there was no problem with his touching her body. He told her it wasn't against the Torah, and he seemed to know a lot more Torah than she did at the tender age of 6. He continued to touch her first over her clothes, but as the years passed, the abuse progressed to actual rape. Eventually he got married and started a family, appearing to function just fine to nearly everyone in the community. However, he left his younger sister, now in her late twenties, crippled - emotionally, sexually and spiritually.
One of the leading factors influencing family life is the intellectual and emotional development of the children. In most families, the children grow up healthy, happy and able to fulfill their academic or Torah-based goals. But what happens when a child is perpetually falling behind and is then diagnosed with a learning disability?
Have you ever experienced a scenario similar to the following? "My son, Ari (fictitious name) had been making an effort to study so he could get good grades. We arranged for twice a week tutoring in the evening, and that was after a long day at school. He wants to succeed. All children want to succeed. He'd like to see comments such as "great job" at the top of his homework. He'd also prefer having test sheets with fewer red X's and "F's" at the top of his papers (circled for emphasis in the event the "F" goes unnoticed).
After returning from a year of studying in seminary in Eretz Yisrael, Feigi was ready to join the "real world." Seminary had been a wonderful, spiritually uplifting experience, but now it was time to settle down, find a job, and think about what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. Feigi started job hunting. She had excellent credentials and was perfectly qualified to start a career in any of a variety of fields. Yet despite her intelligence and willingness to work, she was unable to focus on a clear sense of direction.
Like medical doctors, every therapist is tormented at times with the question of the hopelessness or hopefulness of a marriage or any other relationship. Everyone is anxious to know if the "broken" spouse/child/parent/sibling can be fixed. With desperation in their voices, they ask, "Can medication, therapy or other interventions turn him/her around and stop him/her from being so depressed, anxious, addicted or angry?" How can a therapist say, "There is no hope."?
I entered the room and saw the body. There were also two men in the room. When they saw me, one asked, "Are you Stan's son?" I was silent. "I guess you are," he said, "You look like he probably did." And then he floored me. "Do you want to identify the body?" The words hit me like a ton of bricks. How could I identify the body of a man who walked out of my life 42 years ago? Would he look anything like the millions of images I conjured up over the years? Would he look like a devil? A demon? I had stopped believing in him when I was about 16. He was a phantom who appeared every now and then in conversation. He got me into a good college - writing about him in my application essay had generated some sympathy.
Flip Wilson was a famous comedian and television actor who once used the line, "The Devil made me do it." At the time it was funny, though pretty soon completely overused. In hindsight, the quote can be a pretty accurate description of the misguidance of our youth, as well as many adults. Could this be another means of blaming the yetzer ha'ra for our misdeeds? Can we really get away with anything if it's not our fault or was an accident? What about the concept of "responsibility," how do we teach that to our children?
There are theories to help explain how change occurs. The Stages of Change Model (SCM), which was introduced in the late 1970s by researchers James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente*, has been used to help us understand the mind/body stages we go through when we change. The model also provides us with the sense as to the complexity and chaos involved in the process. With this awareness, there is greater potential for us to generate more patience, understanding and compassion - towards others and towards ourselves - as we navigate the struggles within each stage.
At different points in their lives, many people will attempt to make behavioral changes. Whether the changes are temporary or lasting will depend greatly upon several factors. For example: Does the person want to change? Does the individual have the resources and knowledge to successfully make a lasting change? Is there anything preventing the person from changing? Then there is always the expected relapse. What factors will trigger a person's return to a former behavior?
The abbreviated language of text messaging has entered our everyday lives. While texting is an excellent, quick way to communicate with our friends and family, it is a symptom of a greater issue facing today's students: declining writing skills.
Rachel is a bubbly and adorable 8-year-old girl. From a young age, she was afraid of the dark, but after a minimal amount of coaxing, would eventually go to bed. Outside of the home, Rachel loved school, excelled in her classes, and looked forward to going to school each day. Suddenly, one night, all of this changed. Rachel would not go to bed. She claimed she was afraid of the dark. After four hours of her mother sitting beside her bed, Rachel finally fell asleep; however, she awoke an hour later screaming, "Please don't leave me alone. I can't be alone." Rachel's mother, in an effort to calm her down, spent the night on the floor beside the bed. Even so, Rachel woke about every half-hour to check that her mother was still there.
There is a startling connection between illiteracy and crime. One journalist in The New York Times noted that, "60 percent of the state and federal prison population of 440,000 cannot read above the sixth grade level." In other words, more than half of all criminals would be considered illiterate by modern standards.
Rabbi Horowitz, As parents, we often see that our children have talents that are outside the classic Mitzvah realm. This could be in the area of art, gymnastics, musical instruments, etc. Often times, development of these talents require time, money and sometimes exposure that we would generally not encourage. How does one decide when this is a good idea (or at least necessary) and when these activities are a distraction from spiritual pursuits?
Seven-year-old Naomi* has her teacher stumped. Her reading level is far above second-grade level and her precocious vocabulary often leaves her teacher astounded. She surpasses her peers in almost all language art subjects. Full of zest to learn, she takes an active part in class discussions and is focused and alert in her studies.
The pictures had been removed from the wall a while back. Carefully and methodically, they had been placed in the back of her desk drawer, a spot that could be reached only if one were looking for something intentionally. Other pictures were inconspicuously hanging in the corner, situated on a wall blocked by a large, mismatched piece of furniture. There were also loose photographs, neatly stacked in their original envelope, discreetly placed in an unmarked folder located in the back of her filing cabinet.
With the economy heading south, we are all looking for ways to cut back on our expenses. I guess that's good news for Motel 6, pawnshops and "Dollar Stores," but it's a pretty lousy development for anyone running a nonprofit organization (like me) because practically everyone except bankruptcy attorneys earns less money in times like these. Less money means less charity giving. Gulp!
"What do you mean, 'controlling'? This is called parenting! I'm doing what I'm supposed to do. I'm being responsible. I'm parenting my children the same way my parents parented me. If it worked then, there's nothing to question; it'll work now. Besides, look at me; I turned out okay!"
There is something to be said about hearing a story with a yiddishe ta'am (taste). However, when the context changes, and the cultural inflection and accent are omitted, the panache wanes. Such was my recent experience after having heard a well-known tale modified to suit the eclectic assemblage of the audience. For you, my dear readership, though, I offer the original version as I heard it many years ago (for a deeper experience, as you read the text imagine how these characters would sound and look).
Dear Rabbi Horowitz: Our family is recovering from the terrible, unexpected loss of a loved one who passed away far too young. My husband and I have differing views on seeking professional help to help our children cope with the tragedy. (Thankfully, at least on the surface, they all seem to be doing well.) I am strongly in favor of seeking this help, while my husband, who is an amazing father and has been our bedrock throughout this ordeal, thinks that we should leave well enough alone and not subject our children to the agony of pouring their hearts out to a stranger. We are regular readers of your columns and recently re-read your "Open Letter to Teens Who Lost a Parent," where you very clearly encourage them to seek help if they are having difficulty dealing with their grief. But what if they don't seem to be exhibiting any such signs? We would greatly appreciate your thoughts on this matter. Respectfully, Susan
I recently saw a sign that read: "There are a million reasons for abuse, but not a single excuse." Sharon* (name has been changed) came into my office last week after being a client for almost a year. Over the past few weeks, she has been working towards disclosing a "secret." Finally, through an established trusting relationship, Sharon was ready to tell me her "secret." She is 16 years old and has had a 19-year-old boyfriend for almost a year. She was finally able to disclose to me how abusive this young man has been to her. Having told me of various forms of abuse, she also stated how angry she is at him, while at the same time she says that she cares for him.
Of all the various disorders and syndromes that affect children in our community, I wonder if any is as misunderstood or puzzling as "selective mutism." Until very recently, professionals and educators just assumed that children with selective mutism were actually being silent "on purpose." It is only within the last year or two that we have discovered that it's really not under the child's control.
Dear Rabbi Horowitz: We find ourselves faced with an increasingly challenging experience each year when midwinter break comes around. Some of our children's friends go on expensive vacations with their families, and our kids are asking us to send them on similar trips. Our children are respectful whenever they discuss this with us, but there is a clear sense that they feel "left out" because they don't go to the exotic location like some of their friends.
In Part I, a distinction was made between two relationship methodologies, both of which are discussed in Dr. William Glasser's book, Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom. Glasser compares the use of External Control Psychology (i.e., manipulate, punish, criticize, blame, nag, and even reward) to Choice Theory, an empowering model based on an internal system of values, upgrading one's character traits and allowing natural consequences to "police" behaviors.
It's PTA time again. That means lots of studying for kids, test grading for teachers, and standing in line for parents. It also means lots of opportunities, as the adults in a child's life get together on his or her behalf. There's much more than sore feet on the line at the three-minute conference. PTA can be a catalyst for tremendous growth, if parents and teachers work together.