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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘GED’

When Children Fall Through The Cracks

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

As a regular follower of your columns, I am aware you are writing about your recent journeys that took you throughout the world on a mission to bring Torah to our people. I truly appreciate the importance of your work and have personally met many people who have become Jewishly committed after hearing you speak or reading your book. Nevertheless, may I be so presumptuous as to ask you to interrupt your series and respond to my letter, which is critically urgent?

I am involved in a situation that cannot wait, since it is so drastic that, if allowed to proceed, the damage could be irreparable. One of my best friends has a daughter who “went off the derech,” which nowadays is referred to as “falling through the cracks.” We have had many differences about it and she has become very resentful of me, to the point where our relationship has become very strained.

To give you some background: my friend has five children – three girls and two boys. The oldest is now eighteen and ready for a shidduch. She has a sister who is two years younger and is causing tremendous problems. This sixteen year old is one of those children who has “fallen through the cracks.” She was expelled from the yeshiva high school she attended, and with great difficulty my friend found another school for her – and now she is making trouble there. Her manner of dress, her conduct, her attitude – all are, to say the least, not befitting a yeshiva girl. My friend’s greatest problem however, is that this daughter will prevent her sister from finding a proper shidduch.

Yesterday my friend cried to me on the phone and told me many people advised her to send her daughter away to a special school that deals with problem children. My friend even confided to me that one relative told her it was time to face reality, to realize she lost a child and look upon herself as one who is in mourning.

When she told me this, I was appalled. How could a Jewish woman say such a thing? As a matter of fact, how could anyone make such a terrible, cruel statement regarding a living child? Instead of, G-d forbid, confronting reality by mourning for a child, she would do better by realizing that yeshivas are not cookie-cutters that produce children that are all the same. Every child is different and parents have to learn how to deal with that. I know full well that this is very difficult and painful. The suffering of Jewish parents committed to Torah who see their children spurn that legacy is beyond description, but to give up on that child and mourn for him or her – I find the very thought reprehensible.

When I told this to my friend, she started to sob and between her tears she told me she was afraid her older daughter would never even find a good date,because when people would see her younger sister they would not consider marrying into such a family. So she and her husband decided to follow the suggestion of some family members who felt that the best solution would be to send this daughter to a far-off school where she wouldn’t be in everyone’s face and would be among other girls just like her. In this way, she would not handicap her older sister.

I told her she should never – never – consider doing this; that, if anything, her daughter would deteriorate in such an environment. She would feel abandoned and loveless and, bereft of positive role models, she could slip to an even lower level. I also told her I was not just speaking glibly – that I had gone through a similar situation with my own child, so I was speaking from personal experience. To be sure, every case is different; nevertheless, there is a common denominator that connects them all. These children cannot find themselves in the normal yeshiva environment. They are like round pegs in square holes, so they rebel. Of course, other factors come into play as well, but the bottom line is that they just don’t feel they fit in.

I also told my friend I knew some people who did send their sons and daughters to one of these institutions only to regret it, because as devastating as their problem was, it became more so with that decision. I also related to her the story of a renowned rabbi whose son went through a similar situation. Nevertheless, this rabbi held his head high and walked down the street with his rebellious son and introduced him to everyone he met as “My son.” His love for him was above fear of what people might say. Life experience has taught me that parents who did send their children away created for themselves a scenario that went from bad to worse. Their children felt they had been cast away, that their parents were ashamed of them – and that very thought caused them to hate themselves as well as to hate them.

Someone else I know sent her daughter away and several years later I asked her if there was anything she’d do differently. Without a moment’s hesitation she said, “Absolutely!” She went on to explain, “I wouldn’t have made my home into an inferno with quarrels day and night, and instead of sending her away, I would have been more patient and showered her with love.”

I think the time has come for parents to accept the fact that all children are not the same and not every child can reflect that which his parents envisioned their sons and daughters should be.

My friend became terribly upset with me and accused me of adding salt to her wounds by making her feel guilty. Our conversation became very tense, and at this point we hardly talk. I mentioned earlier that I am a mother who underwent a similar experience, but instead of dumping my son and berating him, I told him, “I love you and will always stand by you no matter what and despite what people will say.”

After numerous unpleasant letters from the yeshiva in which he was studying, I decided not to prolong the agony any longer and found him a job. Today, years later, I can tell you that this son has become a great source of naches to us. He finished his GED, went to college, graduated with honors, and married. Today he is the father of two adorable children who go to yeshiva. His home is a true Jewish home where Shabbos, Yom Tovim and kashrus are observed, and I must tell you that my daughter-in-law, a lovely girl, is careful about the laws of taharas hamishpocha. I thank Hashem every day for the wisdom He granted my husband and me in not casting our son away in his time of crisis.

I would truly appreciate it if you would publish this letter as soon as you receive it because my friend is about to make her decision and she is a great fan of yours who reads your column regularly.

Jumpstarting Your Child’s Life: Parenting An At-Risk Teen

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

Note to readers: I have been flooded with e-mails and calls as a result of the columns that appeared in The Jewish Press op-ed pages over the past two weeks regarding what is taking place in the Catskills. Some addressed the issue from a communal perspective, asking what steps ought to be taken to improve the situation. Many, however, were from parents of at-risk teens pleading for guidance in counseling their children through this stormy phase in their lives. Over the next few weeks, I will be running columns in this space to address these matters from a parenting perspective. I hope you find them helpful.

Imagine going for a walk one winter morning and finding your neighbor sitting in his car vigorously turning the steering wheel while the engine is shut off. When you ask him why he doesn’t start the car, he responds that his battery died, and he will soon get jumper cables to give it a boost. However, before he does that, he would like to turn the front wheels away from the curb so that he can instantly be able to pull out of the parking space once his automobile starts. You may walk away wondering why he is exerting so much energy turning the wheel of a stalled car instead of waiting until the engine starts and the power steering kicks in.

This analogy reflects my thinking of how parents can be most helpful in assisting their at-risk teens get back on track. Very often – and understandably so – parents start helping their struggling children by addressing their antisocial behaviors (partying or drug/alcohol abuse) or the rejection of Torah values (not keeping Shabbos or inappropriate attire). I have found, however, that the most effective thing that parents can do to really help their child is to assist him/her in getting his/her life in order. Once that is accomplished, it is much easier to help him/her with the other matters.

As long as your teen is unhappy and/or unproductive, it is as if his/her life is on hold – as the vehicle of his/her life is stalled. The “power steering” that enables positive change to occur and a sense of spirituality to develop can only kick in when the engine of accomplishment is turned on. You can exert a great deal of force turning the wheel while the engine is off, but you will be draining your energy, shredding the tires and digging trenches in your driveway while this is going on. It is much wiser to work on helping him/her achieve success first. The rest will follow, with the help of Hashem.

I often tell parents of at-risk teens to follow the sage advice of the Kotzker Rebbe (Reb Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, 1787-1859), who noted that the Torah informs us in Shemos 22:30 that “V’anshei kodesh te’heyu li – the people of holiness shall you be to Me.” The rebbe pointed out that the Torah places the word anshei before kodesh, in effect telling us to be a mentsch before attempting to achieve spirituality. (His exact words in Yiddish were, “kodem a mentsch un nach dem heilig – first become a refined human being, and only then strive to become more holy.”)

While the rebbe did not express these thoughts in terms of at-risk teens, I feel that this concept represents the most effective way for parents to chart a course for the lives of their at-risk children. Help them become mentschen – functioning, productive young adults who have a reason to wake up in the morning with the feeling that each day is a gift that ought to be unwrapped as the treasure that it is. This should be done before you work on the at-risk symptoms. For once they become happier and more productive, you will find it so much easier to “turn the wheel.”

In a very practical sense, it means helping him/her get a GED or, better yet, helping your child resume schooling in a mainstream high school, yeshiva or college setting. Send him/her for career counseling and get him/her a job. Tell your child that you are in this together, and you will always love him/her forever. (You may get a roll of the eyes, but I can assure you that your child will be eternally grateful for this.) Get your child into therapy if there are “issues” that need to be resolved. Show leadership and express your love for your child by going for your own counseling to help you effectively parent your child through this challenging stage in their life.

Please print the following saying and affix it to your desk or refrigerator: “No one ever changed the oil in a rented car.” As one of my favorites, I tell it to parents every time I lecture on parenting at-risk teens. This aphorism means that the more ownership your teen feels in their life, the more likely he/she will avoid reckless and life-threatening behaviors. Giving them the keys to their lives will give them the “boost” they need.

I would also suggest that you carefully study the theory of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. (You can read about it online by doing a Google search of Abraham Maslow. It is the third item on the list.) He suggests that there are five sequential “needs” aligned like a pyramid. Once the more basic needs – safety, security and belonging – are met, a person can begin to work on achieving success and self-actualizing. This means that if you lecture an unhappy, unfulfilled teenager about his davening or lack thereof, it is unlikely that your efforts will meet with much success. As with all theories, you need not agree with it in its entirety (I, for one, don’t), but there are profound lessons to be learned from Maslow’s thoughts.

Finally, I implore you to ignore your neighbors and societal pressure, and do what is right for your child. Our patriarch, Yaakov Avinu, had the wisdom and fortitude to acknowledge the diversity of his children’s natures and abilities in his final blessings to them (see Bereshis 49). He celebrated the individual paths charted by Yissacher and Zevulun. Yaakov did not try to force one into the shoes of the other, and was rewarded by having all his children follow his path of serving Hashem. Parents who ignore the sage advice of his living example often pay a horrific price.

Over the years I have seen far too many children sacrificed on the altar of “what will the neighbors say,” when out-of-the-box children are forced into settings that do not match their natures. Keep your eye on doing what is right for your child. That’s all that really matters.

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved.

Next week: What to do if you suspect your child is experimenting with drugs or abusing alcohol.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/parenting-our-children/jumpstarting-your-childs-life-parenting-an-at-risk-teen/2007/08/15/

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