Dear Dr. Yael,
Thank you for writing that amazing column about Rabbi Ehrenreich. I was a student at Bais Yaakov of Boro Park.
I am writing to you about my teenage daughter. You wrote that one of the things you learned from Rabbi Ehrenreich was to “water each child differently.” It is great advice, but this daughter is a bit of a challenge. Baruch Hashem, we are well off financially, yet this daughter is over the top when it comes to gashmius. I dress well, but modestly. Though we have the means to buy what we want, I like to maintain a certain level of modesty with our finances as well. We live in a nice house that is not ostentatious. My husband and I want to bring up our family in a ruchnius environment.
What bothers me most about my daughter is that she seems to only care about what we have. She loves to shop and talks for hours on the phone to her friends about things that just don’t seem to matter. She and her friends are always eating out and looking for ways to have fun. Her grades are average, even though she is bright.
My husband and I do a lot of chessed, give tzedakah, and try to set a good example. I have a large family and a lot of outside help. Maybe I am too busy and I do not give her enough time; however, she never seems to want to spend time with me. Please help me reach her. I am afraid of the direction in which she is heading.
I am sorry to hear that you are going through a challenging time. While reading your question, it bothers me how you describe your daughter. I know you and your husband are disappointed, but aren’t there any good qualities that you can focus on as well? Perhaps your daughter is good with kids and helps out with the little ones? Maybe she always compliments people and makes them feel good about themselves?
It is important for you and your husband to begin looking at your daughter with a more positive eye and to try to look beyond the things that bother you – you just may begin to see a totally different girl, which could help her change as well.
You see, when people are categorized a certain way, they tend to behave in a way that matches that category. On the other hand, when people are seen in a positive light, they tend to want to live up to that ideal. At first, she may change her behavior for you and your husband, eventually, though, she will do it for herself.
What is so challenging in writing this column is that I can’t ask you such an important question: “How did your own mother and father treat you? Do you yourself have self-esteem? Did your parents focus on your faults? Did they praise you? What about your husband?”
Studies have shown that when teachers tell students that they are very bright, they flourish, even if they are really average students.
Did you know that the microwave oven was invented by accident by a man who was orphaned and never finished grammar school? Percy Spencer lost his father when he was a baby. His mother left him with an aunt and uncle. His uncle died when he was 7. Spencer began working at the age of 12 at a spool mill, until he joined the navy when he was 18. With a skill for electrical engineering, he helped develop and produce combat radar equipment. One day, while building magnetrons for radar sets, he was standing in front of an active radar set and noticed that his chocolate bar had melted. While he was not the first to notice that this happened near radar, he was the first to investigate why. He and some other colleagues began trying to heat other food objects, like popcorn kernels, and yes, they invented the first microwave popcorn.
Now think about it. What would you do if, standing in your office, a chocolate bar in your pants melt? How would you respond to chocolate oozing down your legs? You might get upset, utter inappropriate language, and go change your pants. But Spencer used the opportunity to give the world a microwave oven!
In short, we must believe in our children and look for the good in them. Many amazing creative and special people have come from difficult backgrounds. I imagine that somewhere in Percy Spencer’s life there was a person who believed in him.
Your daughter has everything materially but she needs the emotional feeling that will come with your seeing the positive in her and focusing on it. It may be advisable for you to seek professional help to learn how to do this.