Dear Dr. Yael,
Last year Purim, our son came home drunk, vomiting, and barely able to walk. We had no idea what to do with him, so we fearfully put him to sleep and hoped that he would be fine in the morning. I stayed up all night watching him sleep and making sure he was breathing. It was our worst Purim ever. Our relationship with our son was never stellar, but this made us realize that something was wrong. After Purim, we began family therapy. Eventually, we switched his school. We felt that even though our relationship with him wasn’t amazing, there were negative influences coming from some of the boys in his school – he had picked up some bad habits, like smoking, and we felt he needed a change.
Baruch Hashem, he is doing great. He has matured, is learning well, and is trying to stop smoking. He has really great boys in his class and they do fun and kosher things together. My husband and I have also changed. We used to bark orders, repeat ourselves (nag), and treat our children like we were their army drill sergeants. Now, we try to speak in softer tones and with more empathy and love. We make our requests in a much nicer manner and we try not to nag.
Dr. Yael, it is so important that parents talk to their children on a regular basis about the pitfalls of drinking, but most especially at Purim time. Remind them to be gentle, but firm. When a child drinks on Purim, it is not necessarily an indication that something is wrong, but it is something that must be addressed.
Baruch Hashem, we learned how to talk with our children and now things are different. I hope other families will have the same opportunity.
Thank you for your important letter and your warning to parents about the dangers of Purim. Some boys make really bad choices on Purim, even if they have a great relationship with their parents, as there is a lot of peer pressure. While a solid relationship with your parents will definitely help most boys make better decisions as they will not want to disappoint their parents, extreme peer pressure still exists and should be discussed. In this way, you and your child can come up with a plan to prevent the drinking, smoking, and other dangerous behaviors that come with Purim.
The question is: How do you build a good relationship with your teenage child, especially a teenage boy? Many parents will say they just daven and hope that they make it through those teenage years, but a good relationship will go a long way to help make the teenage years more bearable.
The best answer I have is that you have to begin cultivating that relationship with your child when he or she is very young. Make time to sit with your little ones at bedtime and talk to them. Even if they can’t talk yet, tell them how much you love them and try to create a special bedtime routine. In my experience, that time before bed is when kids are most willing to talk about their feelings – they will do anything to stay up a little longer.
It’s also very important to be consistent with your children and deal with them in a calm manner. We all lose our cool at times and yell, but if you are generally calm and loving, your children will feel safe and open up to you.
If your children are not little anymore, do not despair. You can always make a concerted effort to change your relationship and form this closeness. If you think you yell too much or that your children don’t trust you, decide to change your ways and begin to repair that relationship. You can talk to your children and tell them that you are going to work on yelling less and being calmer so that they feel they can talk to you about anything. Maybe come up with a secret word you and your kids can say it when you both feel tense or are about to begin arguing so that you can prevent these situations from continuing. If your children see that you really want to change and be there for them, they will likely begin to confide in you.
Therapy may be needed if your children are already in their teenage years, but change can always happen if you want it to and if you make an effort to bring it about! Thank you for highlighting this issue and hatzlocha with your son!
A freilichin Purim!