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
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 email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 845-426-2243.