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Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Horowitz Responds’

Teens And “Long” Motzai Shabbosos

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

For the past few years, my wife and I have dreaded one aspect of Eastern Standard Time’s fall arrival.

Here’s our dilemma: We have three teenage children, two girls and a boy, 14-18 years of age. Every Motzai Shabbos, we have major negotiating sessions with each of them regarding curfew and the appropriateness of the venues they and their friends are looking to go to.Any suggestions, please? There has got to be a better way!

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

Dear Yitzi:

Reading your letter generated flashbacks – and sweaty palms – as it brought back memories of a few short years ago when my wife and I were raising four teenagers simultaneously (there is a six-year spread between our four married children). Nearly every Motzai Shabbos was a blur of post-havdalah phone calls to and from friends, with my wife and I trying to keep a handle on where each of the kids was going.

On a communal level, there is unfortunately an acute shortage of “kosher” recreation for “normal, on-the-derech” boys and girls. And that often leads to all sorts of friction in homes like yours, as you find yourself vetoing destinations for your children without having anything to replace them with. (I always tell parents to do everything possible not to take away something from their children that they cannot replace. That’s why it is so difficult to separate your children from friends that you do not approve of. It is very difficult to replace the friend due to a whole host of social reasons.)

With that in mind, my first suggestion is to do everything in your power to find or help create enjoyable, kosher and, if possible, supervised entertainment for your children. It may seem daunting, but with some support and cooperation from your friends with children of similar ages, there is quite a bit you can do. Make arrangements to rent a local gym or pool, or better yet organize a league where the children can play sports and compete with each other. Don’t be intimidated. Just call a meeting in your home and get things rolling. In my hometown of Monsey a friend of mine, David Newman, started a Pirchei baseball league about 10 years ago for a relatively small group of kids. It has grown exponentially since then, and hundreds of frum boys now play baseball Sunday afternoons with their fathers coaching and attending. (David has graciously offered to share his experiences with any parents who wish to start similar programs in their communities. He can be reached at dnewlnew@aol.com.)

Now is also the time to establish a relationship built on trust with your growing sons and daughters. Speak to them in easy-to-understand terms about how trust is built between adults, and encourage them to always be honest with you about where they are going. This will require you to be more tolerant and flexible, because should you veto too many places, your kids will ask, “Why can’t we be like our friends who don’t tell their parents, or are untruthful with them?” And that is a tough question to answer. Establish a curfew time for them, and clearly set out the consequences for ignoring the time that they must return. As always, try to be flexible and cut your children some slack if they can respectfully make the case why they would like to be out later.

One thing that I found very helpful as a parent (and long before that as the head counselor of a summer camp where I supervised dozens of older teens on their days and nights off camp grounds) was to set a designated time when your children must call in. For example, if curfew for your child is 11 p.m., inform him or her that you would like a call or text message at 1) 10 p.m. – just to let you know that things are well; and 2) at 11 p.m. – should he or she be running late. I have found that kids who need to call in to parents at specific times are often more aware of the precise time, and what their responsibilities are as far as informing their parents.

Please remember this phrase: Only the boss negotiates!

That means you should always remind yourself not to get flustered by your child’s negotiations with you over the details of your house rules. Always keep in mind that when people wish to negotiate for a raise at work, the only person they will go to is the boss – the one who can grant them the additional pay they seek. Thus, imbedded in the often-grueling give-and-take with your teen(s) is the acknowledgment that they accept your authority as “the boss” of your home. Of course, as normal teenagers they will rarely – if ever – thank you for your concern. But deep down, they appreciate it.

Believe it or not, I occasionally get bitter complaints from teenagers that they do not have a curfew – meaning that their parents are uninvolved and don’t care enough to parent them. In fact, study after study shows that hands-on parents who set limits for their kids have closer and more meaningful relationships with their children than hands-off parents.

Finally, remember to keep to the shvil hazahav (the golden path of moderation) and allow your teens to gradually assume responsibility for their lives – all the while keeping a watchful and caring eye on them.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and director of Project Y.E.S. To purchase Rabbi Horowitz’s D’var Torah Sefer, Growing With the Parsha, or his popular parenting tapes and CDs – including his 4-CD set, What Matters Most – please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mail udi528@aol.com, or call 845-426-2243.

Helping Our Children Deal With Tragedy (Conclusion)

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

We are all aware of the terrible churban that recently took place in Yerushalayim’s Merkaz HaRav yeshiva, where eight precious neshamas were taken from us.

How can I explain and respond to my children when they ask why Hashem has punished these young innocent bachurim, who were the “cream of the crop?” What is going on in Eretz Yisrael (and in Sderot and Ashkelon in particular) is very frightening to kids, especially when young children are suffering so much.

How can we explain the right hashkafah to children who are questioning Hashem’s ways?

TZ

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

Perhaps the simplest way of explaining “tzaddik v’ra lo” (loosely translated as, “Why bad things seemingly happen to good people”) is to frame things as many sifrei machshavah do in terms of a linear timeline. The underlying theme is that one cannot properly comprehend events unless they can view the entire time frame associated with that occurrence. There are many variations of a common mashal (analogy) used by our chachamim to drive home this concept.

A well-known one tells the story of a city dweller who needed to spend time in the fresh-air environment of a farm while convalescing from an illness. As he had no understanding of the farming cycle, he was shocked and distraught to see a beautiful field plowed. “Why are you making this grass into mud?” he asked. The farmer told him to be patient if he wants to understand things. Things really turned south when he saw the farmer throwing wheat seeds into the ground. More waste and insanity, he thought. Again, the farmer told him to be patient. The city dweller felt better when he saw beautiful sheaves growing, but that quickly dissipated when he saw the threshing and grinding. On and on the story goes until the city dweller finally saw freshly baked bread. At that point, it all made sense to him.

The nimshal is simple but profound. In order to understand things, we need to see a full story. In the case of the farmer, it was a six-month event. In the case of making a scrambled egg, it is a five-minute timeline (Why did you break those perfectly good eggs?) However, Hashem’s world is timeless and mere humans cannot understand events in this world – as the timeline of our lives is so short compared to Hashem’s eternity.

This would explain the dialogue between Moshe and Hashem after the sin of the egel (Golden Calf). Moshe asked Hashem, “Hodi’eini na es derachecha – Please make your ways known to me” (Shemos 33:13). The Gemara (Berachos 7a) explains that Moshe wanted to understand the age-old question of why so many righteous people suffer while it often seems that the wicked are prospering. This understanding was the “derech” of Hashem that Moshe wanted to understand. Hashem informed him, “Lo suchal lir’os es pa’nai – You shall not be able to see My face” (Shemos 33:20).

Several pesukim later, Hashem informed Moshe that He would permit him to see the “back” of Hashem. To see one’s face is to examine every detail of their being. Moshe wanted a clear understanding of what transpires in this world. Hashem denied his request, not because He did not wish to grant it to Moshe, but rather because it is simply impossible for a human to understand all the details of Hashem’s world.

Hashem was explaining to Moshe that humans have a limited life span, and cannot always understand Hashem’s world. We cannot see the “face” of Hashem, as we are unable to see the larger picture. Just as flying in an airplane affords people a different view of the earth, so too Hashem, in His infinite wisdom and global view, sees things in a way that we humans cannot. Hashem, however, did grant Moshe the ability to see things in retrospect – to see the “back” of Hashem.

It is still extremely difficult to make sense of such a terrible tragedy even with this insight. Therefore, it may be helpful to offer another thought that many sifrei machshavah expand on. This relates to the concept of an exemplary person fulfilling his or her life mission in a shorter period of time. Once that mission is completed, Hashem calls that neshamah back to the heavens.

Whatever twists and turns this discussion takes, one theme that parents should stress to their children is that after all is said and done, we must have emunah (faith) in Hashem. I do not think that we ought to tell our children that we can explain everything – because we cannot.

While writing this column, a mashal was dropped on me by my son. He asked for some driving directions. It turned out that my directions were in conflict with both GPS and MapQuest (gasp!) I told my son, “Trust me.” And since I have given him good driving directions over a period of 10 years, he did.

Ultimately, it all boils down to bitachon. And it may be helpful to explain to our children that, just like we trust our parents because we have a reservoir of good faith, so too we need to place our faith in Hashem – who provides for our every need.

The tragic event in Merkaz HaRav yeshiva is really a microcosm of the history of our people. From the initial sale of Yosef that was so hard to understand when it occurred (but eventually resulted in the salvation of Yaakov’s children) and throughout the many generations, we have gone through very difficult times filled with seemingly inexplicable tragedies. And what sustained us though all those difficult times was our faith in Hashem.

It is interesting to note that when Hashem informed Moshe that he cannot see His “face,” chazal tell us that Hashem showed Moshe the knot of the tefillin. I would like to suggest that the image of a kesher is one of two individual straps joining together to form a knot. What happens is that the two straps become hidden from view at times, and actually reverse direction at times. But both straps emerge as a stronger and firmer unit. Perhaps this was the deep understanding that Hashem shared with Moshe; that although humans cannot understand why bad things seemingly happen to good people, eventually we become stronger as a result of these events.

Helping Our Children Deal With Tragedy (Part I)

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

We are all aware of the terrible churban that recently took place in Yerushalayim’s Merkaz HaRav yeshiva, where eight precious neshamas were taken from us.

How can I explain and respond to my children when they ask why Hashem has punished these young innocent bachurim, who were the “cream of the crop?” What is going on in Eretz Yisrael (and in Sderot and Ashkelon in particular) is very frightening to kids, especially when young children are suffering so much.

How can we explain the right hashkafah to children who are questioning Hashem’s ways?

TZ

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

There is a timeless Yiddish saying, “Vos es feilt in hasbarah, feilt in havanah,” that is probably most appropriate in analyzing your dilemma in responding to your child’s questions. Loosely translated, it expresses the stark truth that when we find it difficult to explain concepts to others (hasbarah means to explain, while havanah denotes understanding) it is often because we ourselves don’t understand them fully.

This adage often rings true in the arena of parenting, as so many of the challenges we face when raising our children are really issues that we as parents are in the midst of grappling with. So I guess we ought to discuss both of the following issues simultaneously: How do we process tragedies through a Torah lens, and how do we respond to the questions that our children pose in trying to understand them?

Since this is such a difficult subject I will start with the don’ts before the do’s, as it is a far easier place to begin.

Do not suppress the questions of your children – about this topic or any other.

Always keep in mind that you never solve anything by taking that easy route. As I often note, an unasked question is an unresolved one. Creating an environment where your child can freely ask you anything that is on his or her mind means that you are positioned to properly be mechanech him or her.

Do not be intimidated or frightened to admit that you don’t have “all the answers” – especially to questions as difficult as these. It will, in all likelihood, be very refreshing for your child to see that you are also finding this challenging. In fact, you will have the opportunity to model appropriate behavior when you are stumped or find yourself looking for answers that are over your pay grade – by posing the question to a rav, rebbitzen or gadol with whom you are comfortable. This can perhaps be done even in the presence of your child.

Do not verbalize or even imply that respectfully asking for answers to questions like these is disrespectful or represent a lack of emunah in Hashem. To the contrary, you ought to explain that looking to gain insight into the workings of Hashem is really a sign of closeness to Him.

It might not be a bad idea to mention that the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is one that has been asked by our greatest leaders and nevi’im over the centuries. According to the Gemara (Brachos 7a), when Moshe Rabbeinu implored Hashem, “Hodieini na es drachecha – Please make Your way known to me” (Shemos 33:13), Moshe wanted to understand the age-old question of why so many righteous people suffer while it often seems that the wicked are prospering. This was the “derech” of Hashem that Moshe wanted to understand.

In fact, according to Rashi, it seems that this was something Moshe had wanted to ask previously, and waited until the opportunity presented itself – namely when Hashem’s mercy was granted to the Jews when He forgave them for the sin of the eigel (golden calf). It would seem that Rashi was wondering why Moshe chose that specific time to ask Hashem for the understanding of His “derachim,” for this request – at least at first glance – does not seem to follow the logical thread of Moshe’s beseeching Hashem to forgive klal Yisrael.

What is noteworthy and perhaps worthwhile mentioning to your child is that a simple reading of those pesukim would indicate that even our greatest leader and navi, Moshe Rabbeinu, was told by Hashem that a full and complete understanding of His “derachim” cannot be granted to humans during their lifetime.

You may worry that your child (and you) may be distressed to find out that there are no easy answers to these questions. But in all likelihood, the fact that our greatest tzaddikim were preoccupied with these thoughts will be comforting to him or her and not leave them feeling like they are on the outside looking in just because they are bothered by these questions.

Next: Some practical things you can tell your children (the do’s) to help them get their hands around this most difficult matter.

Drinking On Purim

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

As the parents of three teenage boys, we are frightened each Purim that our kids will drink heavily and, chas v’shalom, get violently ill – or worse, get hurt in a car crash.

What are your thoughts on the Purim drinking “scene,” and what can we do as parents when our kids tell us to, “Chill out, everyone is doing it (drinking)?”

Respectfully,

Dovid and Chanie

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

Dear Dovid and Chanie:

I commend you for being hands-on parents and wanting to become more educated on this subject. I have found over the years that the cognitive dissonance in our community is such a powerful force that many or most parents are blissfully unaware about the level of drinking and smoking among our teenagers. What is far more dangerous is that our street-smart teenagers are very well aware of that fact.

For over a decade, The Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse (C.A.S.A. – www.casacolumbia.org) has conducted dozens of studies on the dangers of teen smoking and drinking, and what techniques are most effective in preventing these scourges. Here are two of the most powerful findings of their voluminous research:

1) “A child who gets through age 21 without smoking, using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol is virtually certain never to do so.”

2) “Teens who smoke cigarettes are 12 times likelier to use marijuana and more than 19 times likelier to use cocaine.”

With statistics like these, it is unfortunate that we have not done more to stop the rising tide of teen drinking and smoking. Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, shlita, one of the most visionary and courageous people of our time, has been speaking about this subject for decades. He pleads with educators and parents to put an end to this plague adversely affecting our kids.

Thankfully, people are starting to take notice. Over the past few years, there has been a trend toward alcohol-free Purim parties, less adults offering children drinks, and an overall awareness regarding the dangers of teen drinking. But we still have a very long way to go.

When I mention drinking, I am not discussing having a glass of wine or even a small drink of whiskey. From my vantage point, there are two acceptable schools of thought regarding (older) teens and alcohol. One is to completely ban its use, while others claim that adults can show teenagers who are above the legal drinking age that drinking in moderation is OK by modeling appropriate behavior. I believe that either of those approaches is reasonable. But allowing kids – especially minors – to smoke and/or get flat-out drunk on Purim is simply unwise.

From the standpoint of both halachah and minhag (Jewish law and accepted practice, respectively), there is absolutely no basis for smoking of any kind as it relates to Purim. Case closed!

Drinking, on the other hand, does have a substantive source in halachah. Our chazal (sages) note that on Purim, one is “obligated to reach a state where one cannot discern (ad d’lo yoda) between [the wicked] Haman and [the blessed] Mordechai. Additionally, there are established minhagim in many kehilos for people – even distinguished talmidei chachamim – to drink heavily on Purim. So how can one arrive at the conclusion that one should not engage in heavy drinking on Purim? The answer is that our chazal clearly indicate that one can fulfill the requirement of ad d’lo yoda by drinking in moderation and then napping – because when one is sleeping, he cannot discern between Haman and Mordechai.

In light of the current challenging times and the dramatic increase over the past 10-15 years of the number of our teens who are drinking regularly, it may be appropriate for even those with the minhag to drink heavily on Purim to strongly consider asking their rav whether it is wise to continue this practice.

It is extraordinarily difficult to try getting your teens to buck peer pressure, and there is a stage in their lives when you cannot make these choices for them. And that is why it is encouraging that so many yeshivos have gone to alcohol-free Purim gatherings. But as parents, research clearly indicates that the two factors that help children make good choices and resist the seduction of these dangerous vices are parents who “get it” – those who are knowledgeable about the dangers that their children face – and parents who consistently speak to their children about avoiding these substances.

In a Jewish Press column I ran last year on Purim drinking, I mentioned a study on teen drug and alcohol use that was commissioned by school district superintendents and elected officials in affluent suburban areas of New York City. They were alarmed by the growing incidence of substance abuse in their communities, and puzzled by the fact that during the same time period drug use was dropping dramatically in the inner city.

Research revealed that the inner-city parents and schools were succeeding in reversing the trend of rising drug use because they were far more realistic in their assessment of the facts on the ground than were the more affluent suburbanites. Inner-city schools had “healthy living” curricula in the very early grades and hard-hitting substance abuse prevention programs beginning as early as the middle school grades. Parents regularly spoke to their children (as early as ages five and six) about the dangers of smoking, drinking and drug use. Affluent suburbanites, on the other hand, were oblivious to the realities of drug use among the kids in their own communities. In fact, most suburban teens interviewed for the study felt that their parents were “clueless” as to the number of kids who were “using” and the hard-core nature of the substances that were being used. Inner-city kids, meanwhile, reported that they felt their parents “really get it.”

Ironically, the fact that we, baruch Hashem, shelter our children from the secular world may add an element of risk to them taking up smoking and drinking. Why? Because we, as parents, may have the mindset of the suburban parents noted above that think their kids are immune to these dangers. Further, our children do not hear all the public health commercials and school awareness campaigns alerting children to the dangers of smoking and drinking. I am certainly not advocating that we overexpose our children to the secular world so that they hear “smoking-is-not-cool” or “this-is-your-brain-on-drugs” advertisements. But we need to be aware of the fact that our kids are not hearing this important information. And it is our job to share these messages with them – early and often.

For years, I have been writing columns in this newspaper bemoaning the fact that we are paying a steep price for reducing or entirely discouraging recreational/sports activities for normal, healthy teenagers who badly need exercise. One of the things driving me batty is when parents and/or educators excuse away drinking and smoking by explaining that, “The boys have a brutal schedule and need to blow a little steam.”

My response usually is, “Hello! Did you ever hear of a basketball?”

Best wishes for a safe, enjoyable and meaningful Purim.

© 2008 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the director of Project Y.E.S. To purchase Rabbi Horowitz’s d’var Torah sefer, Growing With theParsha, or his popular parenting tapes and CDs – including his 2-CD set on “Raising your Adolescent Children” – please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mail udi528@aol.com, or call 845-352-7100 x 133.

Should We Keep Our At-Risk Child At Home?

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

We have six children ranging in age from a married daughter of 22 to a son of eight. Baruch Hashem, things are well with us regarding shalom bayis, parnassah and other areas of our lives.

Our 17-year-old son is a very at-risk teenager. We have been supporting him with testing, tutors, etc. throughout his school years, but nothing seems to have worked. He’s been in several schools since 9th grade, but dropped out and is currently working full time. We have an excellent relationship with him, as he is respectful and does not violate Shabbos/kashrus in front of our family members. But he is, at this point in his life, completely non-observant.

Our dilemma regards his four siblings still in our home. We are terribly worried that they will pick up his habits and lifestyle. Here are our questions:

1) Should we ask him to leave our home, as many of our friends suggest? (We don’t think this is a good idea.)

2) How can we allow him to remain in our home while turning his back on all we hold dear?

3) What do we tell our other children? They all know, to some degree and depending on their age, what is really going on.

We are so torn over this situation. Adding to the confusion is all the diverse and conflicting advice we are being given by others. We are hearing, “be firm, be flexible, give him an ultimatum, always keep the lines of communication open,” etc.

We would be most grateful for your advice. Thank you very much.

Names Withheld

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

The first thing that struck me about your letter was the part about your confusion over getting conflicting advice from many different people. I hear that from so many parents who are in your excruciating situation. I hope this column helps you sort things out and not add to the swirl of information.

Based on your letter, I have a strong hunch that you are doing exactly what you should be doing since you describe your relationship with your son as excellent. Trust me, if your relationship survived his rocky school experience and crisis of faith, you should be giving guidance to parents yourselves.

While there is little I can do to completely allay your fears about your other children picking up your son’s rebellious behaviors, I can tell you that in my 25 years of dealing with at-risk kids and their families, I have found it extremely rare that a child went off the derech because he or she followed a sibling who strayed from Yiddishkeit. What often skews the data and leads people to believe that off the derech is “contagious” are situations where there are significant flaws in the family dynamics that are left unaddressed and uncorrected despite the fact that a child exhibited signs of rebellion.

Now for some answers to your questions:

1) I am usually reluctant to give advice to people I do not know, but there does not seem to be any reason for you to even consider asking him to leave your home. I would respond differently if you mentioned that he was self-destructing (i.e. substance abuse) or undermining your authority or the quality of life at home, or if you felt there was a clear and present danger of another child going off the derech. But none of these seem to apply, so I don’t think sending him away is open for discussion in your situation.

For parents who have one or more of those three conditions present regarding a rebellious child, I usually recommend that they first go for counseling to try and improve things, and to gain a clearer understanding of the issues at hand. Then, armed with that information, they should visit their rav for guidance regarding sending a child away from home. I do not think parents should make that dinei nefashos (life-or-death) decision without both components – medical and rabbinic advice.

2) Several years ago, one of our leading gedolim told me that a father in your situation should inform his child that he ought not feel disenfranchised from Hashem’s Torah and its eternal lessons just because he does not fully understand it all at the young age of 17. This is because growing close to Hashem and comprehending His Torah is a lifelong mission. You, as parents, can be most helpful in reframing your son’s “no” to a “not yet.”

3) What should you tell your children? Tell them simply that you love them all unconditionally – always and forever. And that means giving each of them what they need when they need it. Period!

Explain to them that, above all, at this juncture in his life your 17-year-old needs understanding and acceptance – and as difficult as this is, you are committed to provide this to him. This is the most honest and beautiful thing you can tell them; that they would get the same measure of unconditional love, time and acceptance from you if they had a crisis of any sort in their lives. Tell them that they, too, should love their brother unconditionally and not withdraw their emotional support for him due to his eroding faith in Hashem.

I cannot predict the future, but I can assure you that the best chance you have that your son will find his way back to Hashem is to follow the darchei noam approach I suggested. The bedrock of your unconditional love will hopefully provide the platform upon which your son can gently and slowly build upon – and return to Torah and mitzvos.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and director of Agudath Israel’s Project Y.E.S. To purchase Rabbi Horowitz’s D’var Torah sefer, Growing With the Parsha, or his popular parenting tapes and CDs – including his 2-CD set on “Raising your Adolescent Children” – please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mail udi528@aol.com, or call 845-352-7100 x 133.

Changing Schools (Conclusion)

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Our 12-year-old son is not doing well in his 7th grade local yeshiva class.

We are considering moving him to another local yeshiva in mid-year, as things are rapidly deteriorating. We are not asking for specific advice, as you do not know him or us. But can you share with us what questions to ask and answers to give when making this difficult decision?

Names Withheld

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

Here are some final suggestions:

Come prepared:

I would suggest you come prepared for your first interview with the potential new school, armed with all relevant documentation that the Head of School may request. Bring at least one year of Hebrew and General Studies report cards, and any educational testing reports that may have been done over the past few years. Coming prepared is a sign of respect for the Head of School. You will present yourselves as thoughtful, hands-on parents; in short, people an educator would love to partner with.

Be honest with the prospective school:

It is often tempting to suppress information that will impact negatively on your son from the prospective school’s view. Bad move! The Head of School will, in all likelihood, find out what you were trying to hide, and this will put a significant damper on your application. Even if you slip this by and get your son accepted by withholding critical information, you are getting your new partnership started on the proverbial wrong foot. Please keep in mind that getting your child accepted to the new school is not as important as getting him into a school that will work with you. With this in mind, duping the Head of School is not a recipe for future synergistic cooperation. On the other hand, being candid with him or her will set the stage for a relationship based on trust and mutual respect.

Be gracious:

When discussing your son’s current setting with the prospective school head, please make sure that you are gracious and respectful. You may think that a school head would enjoy hearing negative information about a competing school, but trust me when I say that there are few things that will derail your application as quickly as when parents speak poorly about their current school. After all, a reasonable school head will assume that sooner or later you will speak disparagingly about their school, as well. (I know this sounds elementary, but you would be surprised to hear how many people put their worst foot forward in this fashion in school or job interviews.) The best thing you can say is something like, “His current school is good, but the chemistry was just not right.”

To tell or not to tell:

It is tough to decide when to inform the current Head of School that you are considering or actually making a school change. A balanced approach might be to keep things confidential while you are doing your due diligence, but be prepared to inform your current Head of School once things go beyond the initial interview with the “new” school.

The head of the “new” school will invariably ask to speak to faculty members at your child’s current school. And once that happens, it will become public knowledge. It is much better for you to break the news to the school head yourself. If at all possible, I recommend that you do so in person.

Timing is everything:

You mentioned that as things are deteriorating, you would like to make the move mid-year. I encourage you to carefully consider if this is something you must do in mid-year. Generally speaking, it is more difficult for a child to make the adjustment to a new school in mid-year, as all of his or her classmates are settled into the rebbe’s/teacher’s routines. Additionally, friendships tend to be more established at this time.

In your particular case, with your son in 7th grade, a better case could be made for a mid-year move, as many schools are understandably reluctant to accept a transfer student for an incoming 8th grade graduating class. (The same applies for high school seniors.)

Prepare your child for the move:

If and when your application is accepted and you decide to make the move, you would be well served to consider the interpersonal aspect of a school change. Socialization is such an important component of a child’s school experience that you should do whatever possible to ease the transition. One way to do this would be to get a list of his future classmates and invite one or two to your home for Shabbos or a Sunday afternoon.

And don’t forget to daven to Hashem for hatzlachah!

Best wishes for a successful resolution of this matter.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and director of Agudath Israel’s Project Y.E.S.

To purchase Rabbi Horowitz’s D’var Torah sefer, Growing With the Parsha, or his popular parenting tapes and CDs – including his 2-CD set on “Raising your Adolescent Children” – please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mail udi528@aol.com or call 845-352-7100 x 133.

Changing Schools (Part III)

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

Our 12-year-old son is not doing well in his 7th grade local yeshiva class.

We are considering moving him to another local yeshiva in mid-year, as things are rapidly deteriorating. We are not asking for specific advice, as you do not know him or us. But can you share with us what questions to ask and answers to give when making this difficult decision?

Names Withheld

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

We will begin Part III with the following question: How well does our child adjust to change?

A very important component of the school change issue is the social aspect. Attending school is far more than the X’s and O’s of what children learn in their Jewish and General Studies classrooms. It is also about socialization, namely developing friendships and navigating the (what often seems like) minefields of personal relationships. When a child switches schools, it is a very big deal for him or her. I have found that parents often think in adult terms and mistakenly compare a child’s school change to an adult who is faced with the prospect of switching shuls or jobs. This is not the case. It is far more traumatic for a child to change school settings because at that age, peer pressure is so much stronger.

Before you get into fourth gear and speed forward with the school change concept, I very strongly suggest that you think about your child’s adaptation to change in terms of a risk factor. Thus if your child has a difficult time making friends, you should keep in mind that he or she is at a significant risk of not “making it” in the new setting, which can be very painful and might potentially undermine any educational gains realized by the move.

Parents will often observe that their child is unhappy in the current setting and assume that the other children are to blame. That might be the case. Or it might be shortcomings in their own child’s social skills that are causing the friction. If the second scenario is the correct one, changing a socially awkward child to a new setting could prove to be an unmitigated disaster.

Here’s another question to be considered: Are we open to exploring the way we parent our children?

A friend of mine, who is a prominent mental health professional, often says that the vast majority of the people coming to his office do so because they don’t want to change, while only a small percentage of the people come because they really want to transform themselves. Once I digested his sentiments, I found that comment to be profound and powerful.

When we experience difficulty in life – with coworkers, spouses or children – we tend to assume that the “significant others” are always to blame for the discord. Rarely do we have the courage to turn inward and engage in the type of cheshbon hanefesh that will allow us to proactively improve things. That destructive pattern often kicks into overdrive when parents are confronted with significant problems regarding a preteen or teenage child. The result? Parents bring children to mechanchim or therapists with the mindset of people who bring broken appliances to customer service for repair.

My friend was expressing his frustration that most people come to him hoping that he can give them “pain relief” from their difficult teenager – the type that will not require them to change.

That doesn’t exist!

Having dealt with this issue for over 25 years, I believe that the best thing you can do as parents facing a school change for your child (or other variations of parenting challenges) is to take a few steps back and ask yourself, “What can we, as the adults in this equation, do differently to improve the schooling experience and quality of life for our child(ren)?”

In the case of school change, it means exploring some hard questions:

· Are we giving our children enough of our time?

· Should we severely curtail our social obligations for a few years while our kids need us during homework time?

· How are we responding to our child when he/she brings home a poor grade?

· Do we have unrealistic expectations?

· Should we consider going for professional counseling to help us raise this challenging child?

· Would we have the courage to do what may be right for our child even if it is not the “politically correct” thing to do?

Please be open to doing things differently than you have in the past. That does not mean that you are currently doing things “wrong.” But it does mean that you ought to be open to positive change, as that is the best shot you have to improve things.

As the saying goes, “If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you are likely to keep getting what you’ve been getting.”

(To be continued)

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and director of Agudath Israel’s Project Y.E.S. To purchase Rabbi Horowitz’s D’var Torah sefer, Growing With the Parshah, or his popular parenting tapes and CD’s – including his 2-CD set on “Raising your Adolescent Children” – please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mail udi528@aol.com or call 845-352-7100 x 133.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/parenting-our-children/changing-schools-part-iii/2008/01/09/

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