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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘MA’

Responding To Smoking, Rude Behavior, Drug And Alcohol Abuse

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Smoking

Scenario: your teenager starts smoking and you detect it by smelling it on his or her breath or by finding packs of cigarettes in his or her bedroom.

Possible inner issues: control, self-esteem, lack of relationships.

The attractiveness of cigarette smoking is more than just the high teenagers receive through inhaling nicotine. When teenagers smoke, they are often trying to accomplish three objectives:

To gain control by making their own decisions, To gain the social status of adults, To gain acceptance into a popular group of teenagers who smoke.

Teenagers who smoke often believe that smoking will make them look older and that they will be treated in an adult-like way. Smoking, therefore, is a statement by teenagers that they can take control of their own lives and be independent from their parents.

Teenagers also use smoking as a means of achieving social acceptance. By smoking, a teenager can gain entry to a selective club of teens who are willing to take chances and make their own choices independent of what their parents want from them.

Possible relationship-based strategies include:

Empowering your teenager with healthy levels of control.

Working to build your teenager’s self-esteem.

Highlighting and nurturing your teenager’s unique qualities and talents.

Arranging a meeting with a mental health professional to discuss ways of quitting smoking that may include group therapy and/or pharmaceutical drugs to help wean your teenager off cigarettes.

Rude Behavior

Scenario: Your teenager is rude and insulting.

Possible inner issues: control, self-esteem.

One of the most common issues facing parents with teenagers at risk is the teenager’s use of rude and offensive language. Unfortunately parents tend to fight fire with fire and respond by yelling back. According to Relationship Theory, parents need to avoid power struggles and instead work to understand the inner issues motivating their teenager’s behavior.

Most of the time, rude behavior is a symptom of extreme frustration. Teenagers who haven’t learned how to express their needs tend to bottle up their emotions and let them loose on their parents and teachers.

Other possible causes of rude behavior include feelings of loss of control and poor self-esteem. When teenagers feel bad about their self-image, they sometimes project their feelings onto their parents by blaming them for their frustration and feelings of anger and resentment.

Instead of confronting their teenagers’ behavior, it’s best for parents to tell their teenagers that they are unable to speak with them under the current circumstances. Rather, parents should wait for an appropriate occasion when their teenager will be more open to discuss their inner issues in a calm and respectful manner.

Relationship-based strategies include:

Actively listening to your teenager’s inner messages,

Empowering your teenager with healthy levels of control,

Investing in your relationship with your teenager,

Highlighting and nurturing your teenager’s unique qualities and talents.

Drug and Alcohol Use and Abuse

Scenario: you suspect that your teenager is drinking alcohol or using drugs.

Possible inner issues: control, self-esteem.

Alcoholism and drug abuse are clearly rough challenges to deal with. Yet nobody is too young (or too old) to have trouble with alcohol or drugs. That’s because alcoholism and drug abuse are illnesses. They can effect anyone – including orthodox teenagers.

What causes certain teenagers to experiment with alcohol and drugs? As a certified alcohol and substance abuse professional, I have found that lack of parental support, monitoring and communication and low self-esteem are significantly related to frequency of drinking, heavy drinking and drunkenness among teenagers. Harsh, inconsistent discipline and hostility or a parent’s rejection have also been found to significantly predict adolescent drinking and alcohol-related problems.

If you suspect alcohol or drug abuse, several relationship-based strategies include:

Working to improve your relationship with your teenager.

Empowering your teenager with healthy levels of control.

Working on building your teenager’s sense of self-esteem.

Seeking counseling (individual and/or group) and behavioral therapies that are critical components of effective treatment. In therapy, teenagers look at issues of motivation, build skills to resist drug use, replace drug-using activities with constructive and rewarding behaviors, and improve problem-solving skills.

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is the Executive Director of Shalom Task Force. He is the author of “At Risk – Never Beyond Reach” and “First Aid for Jewish Marriages.” To order a copy, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com. For an appointment call 646-428-4723 or email rabbischonbuch@yahoo.com.

Responding To Problems With Prayer, School, Secular Music *

Friday, April 1st, 2011

The principles of Relationship Theory (where the greater the relationship, the greater the ability parents have to connect to their teenager) can help address some of the key issues facing teenagers today including: problems concentrating during prayers, difficulty in school, listening to secular music, smoking, rude behavior and alcohol and drug abuse.

It is important to note, however, that the suggested solutions do not offer black and white answers for these problems; rather, they provide an overall strategy for parenting that focuses on some of the inner issues that often hide below the surface and may be the underlying cause of a teenager’s at-risk behavior.

 

Problems with Prayer

Scenario: Your teenager doesn’t like to pray and won’t go to synagogue.

Possible inner issues: Control, meaning, learning disabilities, individuality

Difficulty in prayer may be rooted in several underlying issues. One common cause is that praying in synagogue can become an issue of control, especially when teenagers feel forced to go pray with their parents and siblings. Prayer can be viewed by teenagers as another obligation or chore they have to perform to make their parents happy.

When teenagers find it difficult to pray, it may also point to an underlying attention disorder. Some teenagers simply have trouble concentrating for long periods and may say, “I hate shul.” or “It’s boring!” What they really mean is “I can’t sit for a long time” or “I’m crawling out of my skin because I don’t like being in group settings for a long time.”

Some teenagers stop praying because they don’t find prayer meaningful. And this may not be their fault. Unfortunately our schools often neglect to teach the “whys” of prayer. Many teenagers have grown up learning only about the obligations of communal prayer and have not developed an appreciation for the beauty, structure and meaning behind the words.

As alternatives to confronting teenagers on the issue of prayer, possible relationship-based strategies include:

· Having your teenager assessed for attention difficulties. · Studying with your teenager the meaning and symbolism behind prayer. · Empowering your teenager by offering him or her choices about where and when to pray. For instance, a different minyan may be more enjoyable. · Spending quality time alone with your teenager instead of relating to one another only during synagogue services and at family meals.

 

Difficulty In School

Scenario: A teenager is having trouble in school and is failing in one or more subjects.

Possible inner issues: Learning disabilities, control, individuality.

Few challenges are as frustrating and difficult to deal with as a teenager who is having trouble in school. Often parents become agitated when they receive a disheartening report card or a call from their teenager’s principal to discuss the teen’s behavior. The most important strategy parents can try to adopt in this situation is to resist the temptation to blame teachers, the school or their teenager but rather seek out the cause of their teenager’s difficulties in learning.

One possible cause for failure in school is an undetected learning disability. Teenagers who struggle with learning are especially vulnerable to feelings of depression and despair. Many experience the embarrassment, confusion and humiliation that go hand in hand with falling behind their peers in school. Behavioral and adjustment difficulties – from isolation or withdrawal to clowning or acting out – can mask less visible signs of learning difficulties. The following signs may also be clues that an individual is experiencing difficulties with learning:

· Having difficulty paying attention · Hiding, losing or avoiding schoolwork or homework · Being especially sensitive to criticism, mistakes or poor grades · Giving up easily or appearing poorly motivated · Showing anger and frustration when engaged in schoolwork, homework or similar settings · Having attendance problems or developing school-induced sickness · Avoiding schoolwork through over involvement in other activities

Parents, however, can become catalysts for change when they begin to address the key issues that are affecting their teenager’s performance. Relationship-based strategies include:

· Having your teenager evaluated for possible learning disabilities · Hiring tutors to supplement your teenager’s learning · Highlighting your teenager’s positive qualities · Working with your teenager’s teachers to utilize his or her unique interests and abilities · Empowering your teenager with healthy levels of control

 

Listening To Secular Music

Scenario: Your teenager likes listening to popular music on an mp3 player.

Possible inner issues: Control, individuality, lack of satisfying relationships.

Music is one of the most inspirational forms of fine art. In its rhythm, melody and its variety of sounds, music transmits many exciting feelings and sensations. Its power is in its ability to penetrate straight into a person’s soul and to manipulate a person’s feelings. Depending on its content, music can evoke the most elevated and noble feelings or produce quite the opposite by arousing self-destructive or impulsive feelings.

Mirror Your Child’s Feelings

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

One of the most important skills good listeners have is the ability to put themselves in the shoes of others or to empathize with the speaker by attempting to understand his or her thoughts and feelings. As a parent, try to mirror your teenagers’ feelings by repeating them. You might reflect a teenager’s feelings by commenting, “It sounds as if you’re angry at your math teacher.” Restating or rephrasing what teenagers have said is useful when they are experiencing powerful emotions they may not be fully aware of.

A common battle parents have with their teenagers is about how much time they spend watching videos or playing computer games. Let’s look at two different modes of communication. In the first conversation, the parent is unable to deal with the inner needs of the child.

Mom: Sam, are you watching those ridiculous videos again? It’s time to turn off the TV and do your homework!

Sam: Mom, I need to watch my videos! All my friends watch this many videos in their homes!

Mom: I don’t care. You have to get your life together and stop wasting time!

Sam: Yes! Then I’ll be the big loser who doesn’t know what everyone else is talking about!

Mom: So what? I don’t care what other kids talk about. You have to take responsibility for your own actions.

Sam: I don’t care what you want. I have got to watch them.

Mom: That’s it. I’m taking the video machine away!

In the following conversation, Sam’s mother has learned the skills needed to be a good active listener and mirror her son’s feelings while also helping him change the type of videos he watches.

Mom: Sam, I’m concerned about how many videos you have been watching lately. I think we need to set up some kind of schedule to make sure you are doing your homework and participating in other activities.

Sam: Mom, I need to watch my videos! All my friends watch this many videos in their homes!

Mom: You’ll feel like you’re missing out on something if you don’t watch all the videos your friends watch.

Sam: Yes! Then I’ll be the big loser who doesn’t know what everyone else is talking about!

Mom: If you don’t know what your friends are talking about, you’re afraid you’ll look dumb and they’ll make fun of you.

Sam: Exactly, Mom! You see why I just have to watch all these videos.

Mom: Hmm, I can see that videos are important to you. Why don’t we talk more about what specific videos you feel you need to watch and see if we can’t come up with a compromise?

Through active listening, this parent was able to avoid an argument with her son while at the same time she negotiated with him about watching fewer videos. Practicing this kind of communication helps build a more caring relationship, one that will enable more positive interactions and dialogue on many important matters.

Empathize with Your Teenager

Finally, empathizing with your teenager may be the greatest emotional gift you can share with him or her. To empathize, parents need to listen to their children’s feelings, thoughts, and desires. Here is a good example of a parent using empathy to deepen his relationship with his teenager.

Andrea: Rachel’s Grandma died yesterday.

Dad: I’m sure Rachel is really sad that she lost her Grandma.

Andrea: She was always so nice when we went to visit her.

Dad: Your visits meant so much to her.

Andrea: I can’t believe she died.

Dad: You really enjoyed knowing her.

Andrea: I loved her so much. What will I do without her?

Dad: You loved her so much.

Andrea: When Moshiach comes, we will see her again. Right, Dad?

Dad: For sure. I love you.

Here are some examples of parents who are unaware of the rules of Relationship Theory contrasted with parents who are actively listening. Read carefully as the actively listening parent keeps the key principles in mind and builds a closer relationship with the teenager.

Rebecca Is Angry

In this conversation, Rebecca’s mother is unaware of the techniques of active listening.

Rebecca: My teacher says that she’s canceling our school trip because our class isn’t behaving well.

Mom: I guess it’s time to start behaving better.

Rebecca: Yeah, just because some kids don’t behave, we all have to get punished!

Mom: Maybe you do.

Rebecca: I can’t believe my teacher. She is really an idiot.

Mom: Don’t talk like that about your teacher.

Rebecca: Why do we all have to suffer because of a few stupid girls?

Mom: Because you probably all behave badly.

Rebecca: Oh, I hate school.

In this example, Rebecca’s mother uses active listening techniques.

Rebecca: My teacher says that she’s canceling our school trip because our class isn’t behaving well.

Teenage Internet Addiction

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Is Internet addiction the main cause of today’s at-risk crisis? It’s a topic most people shy away from, but it’s one that needs to be addressed. Everyday more and more teens are getting hooked on the Internet and the effect of surfing may be taking its toll on our youth.

 

The Internet has quickly become the number one media pre-occupation our children are busy with each day. Worse, not only are teens spending one to several hours a day surfing the web, the content they are viewing has become progressively more violent and contains more explicit material than ever before. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, a groundbreaking national survey of 1,500 youth aged 10 to 17 documented that:

 

*More than one-third of youth Internet users (34%) saw “inappropriate” material online they did not want to see.

 

*The increase in exposure to unwanted material occurred despite the use of filtering, blocking and monitoring software in households of youth Internet users.

 

*Online harassment of youth has increased by 9% over the last five years.

 

These statistics should sound an alarm for parents concerned about their children’s development. Here’s why: For many teens Internet use has become an addiction, and, like all other addictive substances and activities, Internet addiction requires a therapeutic approach to wean its adherents away from this self-destructive behavior.

 

I know it may take a slight leap of creativity to connect the Internet to drug abuse but here are the similarities: Like addiction to drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or caffeine, Internet addiction is marked by symptoms of increasing tolerance, withdrawal, mood changes and interruption of social relationships. Children and adolescents who have become addicted to the Internet will require increasing amounts of time online in order to feel satisfied. When they do not have access they may have symptoms of withdrawal including anxiety, depression, irritability, trembling hands, restlessness and obsessive thinking or fantasizing about the Internet.

 

Independent of the depressing effects of excessive Internet use, the most devastating impact of Internet addiction may be the decreased amount of quality time teenagers have with their parents. Just like other addictions, the Internet addict probably suffers from feelings of emotional and physical isolation from his or her friends and family and spends little time involved in healthy relationships which are the basis for positive emotional development.

 

The lack of quality time spent with parents may also be the most significant factor leading to at-risk behavior. In fact, I once asked a group of high school juniors and seniors at a well-known Jewish day school what they felt were the most important issues teens face. These were the students’ answers according to their own ranking, starting with the most important:

 

Disappointment and anger with parents

Dislike of teachers

The intense desire to be accepted and fit in with friends

The desire to be adults and the fact that they were still under parents’ control

The internal pressures of trying to develop and act on personal values as opposed to those of parents and friends

The powerful forces of media encouraging experimentation with sex and alcohol

The enormous physical and psychological changes that occur at this time of life

 

Surprisingly, issues like physical changes, peer pressure and drug use were placed low on the students’ list, whereas poor relationships with their parents and teachers were ranked highest. In general, these teenagers seemed alienated from their parents and felt that their teachers had somehow let them down. Add to this a teenager’s sense of isolation from parents and family members and the connection between Internet use and the at-crisis becomes more and more apparent.

 

A comprehensive research brief published by Child Trends, entitled Parent-Teen Relationships and Interactions Far More Positive Than Not, showed a direct correlation between the quality of the parent-teen relationship and the impact the relationship has on a teenager’s life.

 

In addition to the damage the Internet may cause to family relationships, excessive Internet usage can also be masking more difficult problems that teenagers are facing. It may therefore be necessary to seek outside help for a child with Internet addiction.

 

How much Internet use is too much? Parents can ask the following questions that can be answered in one of three possible ways: rarely, frequently or always:

 

-How often do they find that they stay online longer than they intended?

-How often do they form new relationships with unknown fellow online users?

-How often do their grades suffer because of the amount of time they spend online?

-How often do they find themselves anticipating when they will go online again?

-How often do they choose to spend more time on-line rather than going out with others?

 

If they answer “frequently” or “always” to at least four out of the five questions, then it may be a sign that they are hooked on the Internet and could use some help weaning themselves away from constant use.

 

How can I wean my teen off the Internet?

 

The first suggestion is for parents to end their child’s isolation and check up on them every 15 minutes to see what they are watching. They can also surf together with the child on various sites and turn “alone” time into “family” time. The trick is to come up with something fun and engaging that places both you and your child in the same environment.

 

While you sit together in front of the computer screen, you could casually discuss some of the dangers of the Internet and the sites that may be damaging to their emotional well being. A good place to start is to discuss the dangers of chat rooms and to speak openly about who may be online and what possible predators may be looking for.

 

Another helpful strategy is to gently wean your child away from the Internet. If, for example, your child surfs for two hours a night, you can make the first move by saying, “I think surfing every night for two hours is too much. You can keep on surfing, but from now on, you can pick three nights a week if you want to go online. Which night do you prefer? It’s your choice.” You don’t have to abruptly cut off all Internet use; rather you can start by limiting their constant exposure and empower them with a choice of when they want to be online.

 

Many parents seem apprehensive about butting in on their teen’s computer time. I have found, however, that when someone is hooked online and asked to cut back they may be initially reluctant, but in the end they will be thankful to you for reducing their dependence. Often teens get carried away and will appreciate having someone help them renew their sense of balance and proportion.

 

By far, the most effective tool against Internet addiction is to schedule quality time with your child away from the computer. That means parents and teens should schedule a “date night” each week.  Taking a walk together to the park, going out to eat, ice skating, volunteering, doing chesed, learning a hobby or just throwing a ball around are some of the activities that make life fun and bind families together.

 

When life gets hectic and time is limited, you can spend a few minutes alone just schmoozing in a quiet room of your house – without a computer or video screen. Most importantly, during your “dates,” try to talk about matters that they think are important. What matters most is to give your teenager a feeling that he or she is the most important person in the world. These moments of relationship building can give your child the proper amount of emotional nourishment needed to end their dependence and wean themselves off the addictive effects of the Internet.

 

As Rabbi Abraham Twerski points out in the introduction to my book, At Risk – Never Beyond Reach, “It has been shown that the single most effective intervention for the widest variety of teen and adolescent problems was also the easiest, speediest and least expensive: The implementation of family mealtimes.” This is because family mealtime fosters relationships. If your child is spending his or her entire evening surfing the web, then there’s no way he is gaining the positive benefits of quality time with his family.

 

 

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is a marriage and family therapist and maintains a private practice in Brooklyn. He is the author of “At Risk – Never Beyond Reach”. To make an appointment call 646 428 4723, email: rabbbischonbuch@yahoo.com or visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com

 

 

Online Infidelity: A New Challenge For The Frum Community

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Online infidelity may be the next upcoming challenge facing the Orthodox world. In the last 12 months, I have seen 11 Orthodox couples where one spouse has reported an online affair that has caused serious distress in their marriage. I now believe that an epidemic of online infidelity may be causing the breakup of countless Jewish marriages.

 

There’s no question that online relationships are the new trend in infidelity and extramarital affairs. Unfortunately, in the Orthodox community, online affairs provide a convenient and inconspicuous cover, whereby someone who would not usually be seen in public committing an aveira will now do so in the privacy of their office or on their cell phone.  Worse, I have heard of cases where an Internet or cyber affair was easily initiated and conducted from the privacy of the cheater’s home, with their unsuspecting spouse in the same room, oblivious to what was going on.

 

But the fact that a physical relationship hasn’t occurred does not mean that cyber affairs are not “real affairs.” I believe that they pose even more of a threat to a marriage or relationship than physical infidelity, because emotions are involved.

 

But what really is online infidelity?

 

Online cheating occurs when two people participate in online communication that is outside the scope of appropriate behavior, even if they haven’t met in real life. According to recent studies, it doesn’t necessarily involve physical relationship but it usually leads to physical cheating. Communicating intimately with someone other than your spouse is considered betrayal.

 

Online affairs should be treated as seriously as physical affairs, because that’s how many of them eventually end up. In fact, according to a recent survey, at least half of the people who engage in Internet chats have made phone contact with someone with whom they have chatted with online. The survey also found that:

 

*Only 46% of men believe that online affairs are adultery.

 

*80% think it’s OK to talk with a stranger identified as the opposite sex.

 

*Approximately 70% of time on-line is spent in chat rooms or sending e-mail; of these interactions, the vast majority are romantic in nature.

 

Divorce attorneys are also reporting that the number of divorces and separations resulting from online infidelity has grown significantly.

 

Regardless of the concealed nature of online affairs, these should be considered a serious threat to the institution of Jewish marriage.

 

In the Orthodox Jewish world the kedusha of marriage has always been the basic unit of the community. Our leaders have worked hard to guard the safety of the family against infidelity. Yet, currently, we find that the family unit is under more attack than at any time, and the safeguards, which had up until now served to defend it, are weakening.

 

How Can We Safeguard Marriage From Online Affairs?

 

There are many people who believe that the affairs are the root cause of divorce. According to the latest research, it’s actually the other way around.  Problems in the marriage that send the couple on a trajectory to divorce also send one or both of them looking for intimate connection outside the marriage.  Most marriage therapists who write about extramarital affairs find that these trysts are usually not about physical relationships but about seeking friendship, support, understanding, respect, attention, caring, and concern – the kind of things that marriage is supposed to offer.

 

What I’m trying to say is that infidelity is not a cause, but rather a symptom. As a marriage and family therapist helping Orthodox couples save their marriages, I believe that most of the time infidelity happens to people who want to satisfy some basic needs that are not met in their marriages. If some of these basic emotional needs are not met, people will turn elsewhere.

 

Over the last five years I have counseled hundreds of frum couples who are struggling with relationship and commitment issues. Not a day passes when I don’t hear about a marriage issue or a divorce in the community. Remember, divorce used to be something that happened to “other” people; not “our” family, “our” friends and even “our” community leaders. Today, it could be a cousin, friend or someone you know from shul. Divorce has become all too common.  These are signs that relationships are becoming harder to solidify and more difficult to maintain.

 

Take the latest studies on divorce. A recent study called “The Effects of Divorce In America” showed a significant increase in divorce over the last seven decades. The report found that: “In 1935, there were 16 divorces for each 100 marriages. By 1998, the number had risen to 51 divorces per 100 marriages.”

 

In addition, “over a twenty year period the number of divorced Americans rose from 4.3 million in 1970 to 18.3 million in 1996.” It is true that the Torah community does not share these same statistics; our marriages tend to last longer and the viability of Jewish marriage is one of the great examples of the power and the wisdom of the Torah. However, over the last few years, we are beginning to see a new trend – one that may be difficult to reverse.

 

Why Do Couples Get Divorced?

 

Take Mordechai, 36, and Chani, 35, who were married for six years when they came to ask me for advice on how to save their relationship. They seemed to have everything going for them. They were working professionals, successful and upwardly mobile; they shared many common factors including similar religious beliefs, intelligence levels – and both were pleasantly extroverted. Yet, soon after marriage, it was apparent that Mordechai and Chani didn’t get along very well. Little things like the cleanliness of the house, or who made dinner, became mountain-sized issues that were often blown out of proportion.

 

The quality of their relationship was going downhill and their marriage was in crisis. Only six years had passed since their chuppah and they were beginning to feel  unequipped to deal with each other’s emotional needs. Instead, they tended to withdraw from one another and were avoiding taking the obvious step of working together to solve their issues. Eventually, Chani also discovered that Mordechai was spending time accessing inappropriate websites and chatting with other women.

 

What was causing their marital stress? Did they share some deeply-rooted negative patterns? Was it a question of personality differences? Did they have trouble managing their anger? Before I offered them some emotional first aid, I asked them to draw an imaginary circle in the middle of the room, to represent their relationship. I then asked them to take their chairs and sit in the middle of the circle if they were committed to their relationship. My feeling was that if they weren’t able to sit in the circle together, their marriage would have little chance of succeeding.

 

I also made it clear to them that, statistically, the overwhelming majority of failed marriages (between two emotionally healthy individuals) end because couples are having trouble building and staying committed to their overall relationship. In fact, many of the negative statistics appearing about marriage boil down to the prevalence of couples losing interest in developing the quality of their marriage.

 

A 1995 survey examining why marriages end in divorce, found that the lack of commitment to the relationship was the top reason for the growing phenomenon. Specifically, the survey asked couples who had been divorced to answer the following: “There are many reasons why marriages fail. I’m going to read a list of possible reasons. Looking back at your most recent divorce, tell me whether or not each factor was a major contributor to your divorce. You can say, ‘yes,’ or ‘no,’ to each factor.” The following responses show the percentages of those respondents who answered “yes,” to each factor that they felt was a major contributor to their divorce:

 

Lack of commitment: 87%Too much conflict and arguing: 48%Financial problems or economic hardship: 31%Lack of support from family members: 21%Little or no helpful premarital education: 19%Domestic violence: 22%

 

The findings of the survey revealed what couples who have experienced divorce perceive: that the lack of commitment was the number one contributing factor to their divorces. Commitment often involves making one’s spouse and relationship a priority, investing in the marriage and having a long-term view of the relationship.

 

That’s why the most important issue in marriage needs to be the couple’s focus on the quality of their relationship. Couples like Mordechai and Chani are a perfect example of a relationship that had migrated onto the back burner and was now facing the detrimental effects of internet infidelity. Mordechai and Chani needed to learn more about how to negotiate their emotions, how to communicate in a more effective way and how to begin to recommit to their relationship.

 

So if you’re concerned about your relationship, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

 

1. Do you view building the relationship a central principle of your marriage?

2. Do you set aside time each day to nurture your relationship?

3. Do you look for the good qualities in your spouse?

4. Do you appreciate the small, kind acts your spouse does for you on a daily basis?

5. Do you spend time thinking about the good moments, and limit time and energy spent focusing on the bad ones?

 

Most couples who evaluate their relationship find that the biggest hole in their marriage is the fact that they don’t spend time and effort building their relationship. They allowed themselves to become complacent. Complacency in marriage allows emotional weeds to grow out of control. It’s catching and it spreads, silently and invisibly, and by the time you realize what is happening, much damage has been done.

 

However, in a case where online infidelity is detected it is a sign that couples need to deal with their underlying problems and seek advice and guidance from a marital therapist. With proper guidance, many more marriages could be saved.

 

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is a marriage and family therapist and maintains a private practice in Brooklyn. He is the author of “At Risk – Never Beyond Reach” and “First Aid for Jewish Marriages”. For a free parenting book or to make an appointment call 646-428-4723, email: rabbbischonbuch@yahoo.com or visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com

Parents At Risk, Teens At Risk

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

When parents come to talk to me about a troubled teenager, I often find it helpful to explore whether or not their marriage is causing their teenager to be at risk.

 

It’s no coincidence that difficult marriages create difficult children.  Children want their parents to be happy and they want their parents to be together. When things are going wrong in the parents’ relationship, children are often the first to sense that Mommy and Daddy are not getting along.  Even if parents say that they are only arguing behind closed doors, children can still sense that something may not be right.

 

The parents’ relationship may be one of the most important factors influencing a teenager’s behavior.  How parents learn to manage conflict between themselves can make a difference in their teenager’s lives.  Unresolved conflict has a tremendous negative impact. It directly affects the parties – the two parents – in the way they go about their daily routines.  And when parents become preoccupied with their own marital discord, teenagers can feel rejected, depressed and isolated from them.

 

Marital conflict affects teenagers in various ways. First, conflict between the parents tends to both change the mood of household interactions and shift the parents’ attention to the negative behaviors of their children. Second, parental conflict leads to parents issuing confusing and threatening commands to their children.  Third, children who are exposed to harsh disciplinary practices at home (which tend to coincide with a negative and hostile relationship between the parents) are more at risk for aggression, internalizing by withdrawing and depressive symptoms.

 

In addition, I have found that when teenagers are exposed to high levels of conflict between their parents, they don’t get used to it. They become more sensitive and reactive to it, which causes many of the symptoms of at-risk behavior. Even moderate amounts of parental conflict can wreak havoc on the lives of children, disrupting their sleep and causing negative feelings in their day-to-day lives.

 

In many instances, parents are unaware that they might channel their anger towards their spouse through their children. This “triangling” is a very dangerous pattern of behavior that can have serious implications for children and teenagers.

 

Here is how triangling works.  Suppose a wife is angry with her husband for not being affectionate towards her.  If she is unable to express her feelings to her husband in a direct way, she may unwittingly begin to use her children to communicate to her husband these feelings of displeasure and anger.  For example, she may turn to her daughter in front of her husband and say, “Oh, Daddy seems very tense today and I guess he has no time for the family.” In this case, the parent is unable to negotiate her own needs and inappropriately begins to involve her child in a private marital issue.

 

The child who is caught in a triangle like this has become an inappropriate conduit for the expression of the mother’s anger towards her husband.  When this happens, children can develop feelings of disillusionment, fear, insecurity and vulnerability. They also may feel that they have to take sides because they can’t manage the internal tension and the anxiety by themselves.  In these cases, they may see one parent as mostly bad and the other parent as mostly good. This is damaging to children because it reinforces an attitude by which they view the world in a “black and white” or in an “all or nothing” way rather than with a more balanced view – that there is good and bad in most people.

 

Here are some of the signs that suggest that family members are engaged in triangling:

 

  • One parent wants you to talk to or do something about his or her relationship with the other.
  • One family member talks to you about another and only in terms of the other’s negative qualities.
  • One or both family members blame you for the problems they have with the other.
  • You believe you are somehow responsible for the problems between two members of your family.
  • You feel anxious when you are around certain members of the family.
  • You think you can bring peace and harmony to members of your family if you only try hard enough.
  • You leave family gatherings feeling tense, anxious and/or emotionally drained.

 

Parental fighting affects children in varying ways depending on their age.  For example, teenagers around the age of fifteen or sixteen are most likely to involve themselves in their parents’ battles.   Younger children may keep their feelings hidden and may only show signs of depression in late childhood or early adolescence.  Other children may adapt to parental fighting by becoming “too good.” To stop the fighting, they try to become perfect children. These model children try to do everything right while walking on eggshells, fearing their family will collapse if they make a mistake.

Unfortunately more and more children seem to be growing up in families with marital conflict. The number of divorced Americans rose from “4.3 million in 1970 to 18.3 million in 1996,” and the trend is so well established that “40 percent of all children born in the 1970s and 1980s — today’s teenagers and young adults — have experienced the breakup of their family through divorce.” To this large number, add all the children whose parents are unhappy with each other but don’t divorce. It’s not hard to see that a substantial segment of the population grows up in very unhappy homes.

 

The Effects of Divorce on Children and Families

Here are some effects that divorce may have on children and teenagers:

Children whose parents have divorced are increasingly the victims of abuse and neglect. They exhibit more health problems, as well as behavioral and emotional problems, are involved more frequently in crime and drug abuse and have higher rates of suicide.

Children of divorced parents more frequently demonstrate a diminished learning capacity, performing more poorly than their peers from intact two-parent families in reading, spelling, and math. They also are more likely to repeat a grade and to have higher dropout rates and lower rates of college graduation.

Divorce generally reduces the income of the child’s primary household and seriously diminishes the potential of every member of the household to accumulate wealth. For families that were not poor before the divorce, the drop in income can be as much as 50 percent. Moreover, decline in income is intergenerational, since children whose parents divorce are likely to earn less as adults than children raised in intact families.

Religious worship, which has been linked to health and happiness as well as longer marriages and better family life, is less prevalent in divorced families.

Parents usually experience a lot of pain when divorced, and the most common ways of handling that pain are either to withdraw from their children or to become overprotective.  Children are sensitive to their parents’ feelings and have many ways of dealing with this trouble both internally or externally. Children may respond with depression or guilt, that somehow the pain is entirely their fault.  Most children have a never-ending hope that their parents will reconcile, even after one or both parents have remarried.  Therefore, a sense of abandonment by one or both parents is very common for such children and may contribute to at-risk behavior during adolescence.

 

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is a Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in marriage counseling and teens at risk. He is the author of “At Risk – Never Beyond Reach” and “First Aid for Jewish Marriages.” To order a copy, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com. For an appointment call 646-428-4723.

Control Issue

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

In our rapidly changing world, the idea of control has begun to change quicker than anyone can imagine. A metamorphosis of unparalleled proportion is taking place and many parents feel that they are unequipped to deal with the challenges that it will demand.

Not too long ago, parents could maintain a fair amount of control by limiting their children’s access to the outside world. For example, when I was young, a teenager had to watch TV or go to a movie theater to see the latest show.  However, with the advent of home videos, teens could choose their own movies and watch them when their parents were out or asleep.  Then the Internet came along.  For the first time, children of all ages could choose anything they wanted to see or hear.  Some parents chose to fight back by purchasing Internet blockers that filtered out inappropriate content.  But what happened when their child was visiting someone else’s home and wasn’t being supervised?

The story doesn’t end there. Suppose parents can control what their children watch at home and with whom and where they play until they’re adults.  Until recently, that might have worked.  But now with the latest wireless technology that enables rapid transfer of sound, pictures, and movies, the power of control has been taken away from parents and given to teenagers who can watch whatever they want, wherever they want.  As communications become faster and more portable, parents can find themselves losing more and more control every day.

Parents wanting control will have to change their strategy. In order to maintain equilibrium (and their sanity), parents need to shift into a new mode  – a mode beyond the traditional understanding of control and enter the world of Relationship Theory.

The second C of Relationship Theory reminds us that in order to have more emotional impact, parents need to moderate the way they control their teenagers.  This necessitates a shift from using direct control to influencing behavior through indirect control.

Direct control, or what Dr. William Glasser in Unhappy Teenagers: A Way For Parents And Teachers To Reach Them, calls “external control,” is an attempt by parents to impose their will.  For example, if a child refuses to do homework, a parent who uses direct control will say, “If you don’t do your homework, you will not go out with friends, receive an allowance or be allowed any more treats on Shabbos.” Direct control is a powerful mechanism used by parents to get what they want regardless of the emotional effects of their actions.

Indirect control, or influence, however, can be achieved by parents looking into why their teenager isn’t doing homework and trying to address the cause and not merely the symptom.  It’s all about addressing inner needs and being less focused on a teenager’s accomplishments.

As Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D, explains in his book Successful Relationships At Home At Work And With Friends: Bringing Control Issues Under Control, “Everyone may have the need to wield control, and there are many relationships which may indeed require control.  Exceeding an acceptable amount of control invites trouble.”

Parents who aim to wield too much direct control are often viewed by their teenager in a negative light.  Most teenagers would say that a controlling parent is manipulative, destructive and unable to relate to them in a meaningful way.

People, including teenagers, suffering from a controlling relationship are likely to hold one or more of the following illusions:

  • They are stuck with another person’s definition of them.
  • They do not have the right to their own opinions.
  • They can earn love and acceptance by abdicating control to another person.
  • They are “successful” if they fulfill another person’s vision, even when it does not in any way support their own.
  • They must obtain permission to act in matters that are, in fact, their own business.

 

Controllers struggle to shape the lives of others and often destroy the relationships that they want most to preserve. They usually don’t realize the senselessness of their own behavior.

Most parents don’t believe that they are controlling.  This is because they are used to wielding a considerable amount of control over what their children do, so it seems normal.  Control to that degree was appropriate from birth to around age nine or ten, when children need healthy borders and to be pointed in the right direction.  But troubled teens need something different.  They feel that they have grown beyond their parent’s control and that their controlling parents are living in the past.

When direct control is released, parents may experience a different kind of relationship – one that seemed to have been lost a long time ago. Some parents even report that giving up direct control was like giving birth to their child for a second time.  When you give up control, you are actually giving life to a more mature and meaningful relationship.

Toby’s Secret Dating

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Recently Ruth came to my office to talk about her fourteen-year-old daughter. Ruth comes from a mainstream orthodox family and has five children.  Her middle child, Toby, was in her sophomore year at a yeshiva high school for girls in the New York City area.

Ruth had just recently discovered (from another parent) that Toby had been secretly dating a boy for over a year. When she confronted Toby about her boyfriend, Toby had adamantly refused to admit that she was secretly seeing anyone. Ruth was extremely distraught to realize that her daughter would do something against her wishes and asked if I could help.

Since Toby was dating a boy against her parents’ will I was especially interested in understanding Toby’s relationship with her parents. Perhaps Toby’s inner desire for love and friendship was somehow unfulfilled and she was starting to look for love in all the wrong places.

The following is one of the conversations I had with Toby’s mother.

 

Daniel Schonbuch (DS): Could you tell me a little bit more about Toby’s relationships with you and your husband?

Ruth: Well, Toby and I don’t get along very well.  We do have some pleasant moments together – especially when she wants me to give her something like money – but most of the time we are fighting.  It’s impossible to get along with her.  Sometimes she makes me so angry I get a headache.

DS: It sounds rough.  What about your husband?  Are things better or worse with him?

Ruth: Her relationship with him is even worse. They barely talk to one another, and when they do they start yelling at each other.

DS: What are they fighting about?

Ruth: Almost everything.   He fights with her about the way she dresses. He doesn’t like her friends.  And he is very angry that Toby doesn’t join the family at Shabbos meals.

DS: Do you and your husband ever spend any time with her without fighting?

Ruth: Once in a while when we go out for dinner at restaurants, she seems to calm down with us.

DS: I guess she feels that you are treating her to something special.

Ruth: That is true.  When we go shopping together alone, things also seem to calm down slightly, as long as we are doing something out of the house.  But the minute we are home it seems to get worse. When my husband comes home it can be unbearable.

DS: Unbearable? Tell me more about your husband. What is he like with her?  When does he come home at night?

Ruth: My husband is another story.  He is very stressed out and is almost never home. He runs a business — a car dealership.

DS: It sounds like he is very busy.

Ruth: Yes, it’s terrible. Even on Shabbos he is so stressed out and withdrawn. When he comes home after shul, he makes kiddush, eats, and goes to sleep. The kids want to talk to him, but they see that he’s too irritable to deal with. I don’t want to push him too much. I’m worried he’ll explode.

DS: How about Toby? Does she get to spend any time talking to her father?

Ruth: Not really. Even if he had some free time, he doesn’t know how to communicate with her without fighting.

 

As I had suspected, a problem about an outer-world issue – a secret boyfriend – pointed to a hidden inner issue, the lack of love and communication.  I wanted to try to move our discussion in a positive direction by focusing on Toby’s relationships in her family.  We would eventually discuss the boyfriend, but we needed to wait until we could build a sense of trust in the family.

 

DS: Ruth, from what you have described to me, it seems that Toby is lacking something in her relationships. Although she seems to want to do her own thing, I think that what she is really crying out for is a deeper relationship with you and your husband. I know you love her very much and would do anything to help.   I’m sure your husband feels the same way. What I want to try to do is to reduce some of the tension in the house and see if we can improve the quality of the relationship.  Both of you play an important role in her life. You can give her a sense of warmth and security.  It seems that Toby needs her father to be more involved in her life. She needs to feel that she is loved by him and that she can talk to him without feeling judged or criticized.

Ruth: So what can I do?

DS: There’s a way to help Toby. It’s called Relationship Theory.  It means that the most important way for parents to show their love for their teenagers is by developing their relationship with them. Often the emergence of emotional problems like Toby’s is a sign that a child is missing a critical relationship – most likely with a parent. If you can build that relationship, then a lot of pain and stress can be alleviated.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/parenting-our-children/tobys-secret-dating/2010/04/02/

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