Dear Mrs. Bluth,
I am writing to you as I am at a loss for what to do. My twelve-year-old son just returned from his summer in sleep away camp, and he came back a completely different child then the one we sent off just a few weeks ago. His language and his attitude are something we were not prepared for. He left a sweet, well-mannered boy who took pride in his appearance; he came back a cocky, tough-talking kid with an attitude. To say that we were all shocked would be an understatement.
We chose this camp because of it’s wonderful reputation. We were so pleased on visiting day when we met his counselors, as they were extremely nice and very personable. Yes, we did notice that our son was dressed a bit differently then we were used to, he had decorated a sweat jacket with strange emblems and logos, he had on dirty socks and someone else’s sneakers (he said that’s what all the kids did) and his hair was longer and unkempt. We marked it up to his first taste of independence, being away from home and wanting to be “one of the boys.” We also met some of his friends and were distressed to see that they were not the kind of boys our son was friends with in yeshiva. These boys were wild, loud and lacked mentchlichkeit. However, we said nothing and hoped that once he was home, he would revert back to his regular self and leave all else behind as a summer memory. Sadly, that is not the case.
He continues to call and meet up with those boys who live close enough to bike over. When we try to point out that they are not good friends for him, he says, “You don’t understand me, they do!”
What is there to understand? Mrs. Bluth, we are concerned as to what will happen when he starts school and refuses to conform to the regulations about dress and behavior. We mentioned it to him and he says he wants to go to the same school as his friends. We made it clear that is not an option, as it is not a school we are comfortable with.
Yeshiva begins next week and he refuses to go for a haircut or clothes that are suitable for a soon-to-be bar mitzvah boy. Can you help us?
The pre-teen years are the hardest for boy and girls; it is a time of discovery and adventure, particularly once they taste a bit of freedom. Although you made a good choice in the camp you chose, you must understand that it is hard to control what campers do in their off time – what is shared during their down time is not always what we would like. Even the best of counselors would be shocked to learn that some of their charges are not sharing the healthiest or best sort of camaraderie. This type of behavior is often a “right of passage,” when kids shift from naiveté and innocence to puberty, when everything is amplified and often distorted. It is a tough time for parents to navigate and maintain control in without regular arguments.
Here’s my suggestion – I’m sure many of our readers will have other ideas and we look forward to hearing them. Approach your son with very little criticism, he has, after all, tasted the “fruit of the freedom tree” and that is a heady feeling for a very young man who has been away for the first time. Sit him down and quietly explain that although he had a great experience in camp and met a diverse group of new boys, this is not a way of life for him to adopt. Do not come down hard and heavy with him, as it will only make him more determined to stand up for the boys he befriended.
My feeling is that as time goes by and the school term sets in, he will slowly become more like the boy he was, especially with all the preparation and excitement of his upcoming bar mitzvah. Be patient, practical and of strong and consistent resolve and I’m sure that with time he will, of himself, become the young man you have put so much effort, care and love into. May you see much Yiddish nachas from him and all your children.