This is definitely one of the most difficult articles I have ever undertaken. Since I began this parenting blog, I have been inundated with emails from parents asking for ways to ensure that their children don’t go “Off the Derech” (We’ll be using the term “OTD”). Other parents already have children in this situation and want guidance.
The obvious question is, what is the goal of this article? The answer is simple. Understanding. It would be great if we could understand the mindset of those that are OTD. I’m not just talking about our own children. I’m talking about all Yidden. However, ultimately, the article is focused on children that are going, or have recently gone, OTD, and the appropriate parenting practices. Therefore, if you are an OTD adult reading this, it may very well not apply to you.
I’ve divided this series into four separate topics.
Before I begin, I would like to write a disclaimer. When writing an article about this subject, it is understood that people have strong opinions one way or the other. I have put in many hours speaking to children and parents that are in this situation, rabbis and psychologists that deal with this on a daily basis, and many others. Although I would love to hear your thoughts, please keep all comments or other correspondence civil.
First of all, I truly dislike the term “Off the Derech.” I don’t even understand it. Who’s Derech are they off? Is it “Off the Derech of being Shomer Torah U’Mitzvos”? If so, then I’m afraid that, unfortunately, many of us are off the Derech in some way or other, albeit less drastically. Is it, “Off the correct Derech of following the Torah”? Well, let’s consider. If I’m sitting with a bunch of Chassidim, do they consider me “OTD”? Perhaps I am, from their perspective.
When we use the term “OTD” we’re usually referring to it as a child having gone off the Derech of their parents’ chosen path of being a Torah Jew. To illustrate my point, here’s a phrase that was emailed to me many times. “If only my son/daughter knew how much they are hurting us”. Or, “It is such an embarrassment to our family”. However, this issue is not always about the parents.
I’m not dismissing how painful it is for them and their families. However, this child also has a life, and probably a confusing one as well. Constantly referring to him as someone who is “OTD” is demeaning and insensitive. Believe it or not, a person that’s OTD doesn’t necessarily feel that they are off any path. Many of them have no regrets and are happy just the way they are. There are, in fact, many people in this situation who have embraced this term, and they wear it like a badge of honor. In any case, I think it’s better if we refrain from labeling anyone unless it’s absolutely necessary. If they choose to label themselves, that’s their prerogative.
It is extremely important that we are aware about the feelings of others, even if we don’t agree with them. They are not second-class citizens, and we are not the ones to be judging them. I recently spoke with an eighteen-year-old girl, and she told me, “I might not be religious, but at least I’m not stealing from the government or running elaborate scams.” Hard to argue with that. While she has given up certain practices, she has apparently maintained good Middos that, unfortunately, some “frum” Jews have abandoned.
After speaking with over 150 teenagers in this situation over the past few weeks, I can safely say the following:
I’m not trying to generalize, as I’ve always believed that 91% of statistics are fabricated. Nevertheless, the points I made above seem to be the consensus of many of the people I’ve spoken with. There are certainly exceptions, but that’s not for now.
I’m obviously not condoning becoming less religious. I hope and pray that all Yidden become Shomrei Torah and Mitzvos. I personally love being religious. I don’t feel restricted, I enjoy Shabbos, and keeping Kosher isn’t a challenge. Nonetheless, this article is not about me. We all need to be cognizant that the first step towards understanding those that are less religious, is to consider their feelings.
This segment of the article was to discuss what, OTD means. IY”H next week, we’ll discuss some contributing factors. Again, I do understand that many people have different opinions on this delicate matter. I would love to hear your thoughts. You can email them directly to me (everything is kept 100% private and deleted after) or you can comment on the blog. However, I will not allow any comments that are insulting to anyone, or that contain inappropriate language, or Lashon Hora.
This is the second part of the OTD article. To help keep it organized, it's in the same blog. Before we begin, there are some very important disclaimers.
Many adults that are OTD have made it very clear that they resent the fact that I am listing “contributing factors.” According to the emails I received, “You make it seem like OTD is a disease”. No, I don’t think it’s a disease. However, from a parent’s perspective, having a child go OTD is not a desirable thing. Below is a list of factors that I believe can cause a child to lose interest in Yiddishkeit. I encourage you to comment on the blog if you have anything to add.
Most fundamentally, children are affected by negativity. We’re not talking regular negativity, we’re talking negativity about Yiddishkeit. Our religion is not exclusively one of restrictions. It’s about how we live and what we can, and sometimes must, do. Telling a child, “You can’t play that game on Shabbos!” is not necessarily the best way to instill an appreciation of Shabbos. A much better way of turning it into a teaching moment would be to say, “Let’s play that game tomorrow; we can play something else for now.” I’m not even talking about teenagers now, I’m talking about little kids. Let them grow up feeling excited and secure about who they are and what they represent. “You can’t eat that, it’s not kosher!” “You can’t go there, it’s not appropriate!” “You can’t touch that, it’s muktzeh!” “You shouldn’t watch that, it’s not tzniyus!”
There are 365 negative commandments in the Torah. It is no coincidence that the number equals the days of the solar year. If you’re telling your child, “You can’t. . .” more than once a day, you’re doing it wrong. There are 248 positive Mitzvos corresponding to the bones of our bodies (as the Gemara in Makkos 23b explains). This seems to teach us that being positive about Yiddishkeit should be the essence of who we are, as expressed by our actions. A conscious effort must be made to exclude negativity in reference to Yiddishkeit. Being a Jew is a positive experience!
A second contributing factor is anger. Although closely related to negativity, there are many differences. The Gemara tells us (In Brachos, amongst other places) that if you don’t get angry, you won’t sin. Anger is an emotion that does not have a place in the chinuch of children. There are times when a parent has to act angry. If your child disrespects your spouse, you can look upset and tell him off. However, once you become really angry, you’ll quickly lose control.
You might say things in anger that you don’t really mean. You might get frustrated over something insignificant. You might even do something that can have long-lasting consequences. We need to remember that low self-esteem is extremely prevalent in our communities, and if you combine that with an angry parent, it can have disastrous results. I would like to reiterate that getting upset at your kids isn’t called being angry. Even if you lose control occasionally, it won’t cause your children to go OTD. It’s constantly losing control or screaming that can definitely be a factor.
A third contributing factor can be a Rebbe. Many parents have told me that specific Rebbeim pushed their children OTD. I vehemently disagree. Granted, a “bad” Rebbe can be devastating, but that alone should not cause a child, in most cases, to go OTD. That being said, a “bad” Rebbe can really be a disaster. We’re talking Rebbeim that insult kids, make fun of them, and even antagonize them. Why would a Rebbe do that? I have no clue. I heard from an excellent Rebbe, that if you have a Rebbe that doesn’t love teaching Torah, the end result will be that he will drive children away from Torah.
A fourth factor is what I call exclusion. The phrase, “United we stand, divided we fall” holds especially true for children. If a child is constantly being excluded by his classmates and neighbors, it can be a contributing factor in him going OTD. One girl shared the following story with me:
“From when I was 7 years old, I didn’t feel like I belonged in my school. The other girls made playdates left and right, but they felt I was too modern to join them. Apparently, their parents excluded me from everything. I just wanted to play, not discuss religion. I might have become more religious if I would’ve spent time with them. I was a shy and quiet girl, and being ignored destroyed me. Once I turned 14, I decided that if I was being considered a black sheep, I needed to act the part. So, here I am 10 years later completely OTD. My “friends” were not contributing factors, they were the cause!”
Obviously, if you think a specific child is not a great playmate for your child, you have the right to separate them. On the other hand, is it always the right thing to do? Certainly, if a child is being “shunned” by everyone else, no good can come of it. It’s a horrible feeling to be left out, and a definite factor in causing OTD. Parents should listen to their children If they complain about not having friends, or being left out.
The fifth and final factor is an obvious one – a bad friend. It’s no coincidence that I put this right after the previous paragraph. You need to know your child. If she is susceptible to external influences, you must be extremely vigilant as to who they hang out with. A bad friend can undo all the good your child has learned, and it can happen in the blink of an eye.
IY”H next week, we’ll discuss ways to prevent OTD and I look forward to your comments and emails. Have a great Shabbos.
Rabbi Ross. A few weeks ago, I read your article about kids not going to camp. I have the opposite problem. My kids are all in sleepaway, and I’m quite nervous. Many of these camps tout their amazing learning programs, but when push comes to shove, they don’t learn very much. Davening seems amazing on the camp videos, but my kids tell me it’s a joke. I feel like such a bad mother that I’m sending my son to a camp where the environment is not suitable for a Ben Torah. Who knows what else he’s picking up! I would love to send them to a more Frum camp, but none of his friends are going, and I want him to be with friends. Help. Name Redacted. Cleveland Ohio
Surprisingly enough, I’ve received many similar emails over the past few weeks. I’m actually quite confused by this email and the others like it.
Firstly, if you truly believe that the camp you’re sending them to is not a good environment for a Ben Torah, why would you send your child there for the summer? If you are nervous about your son picking up the wrong messages, you can send him to a more “Frum” camp, as you wrote. Perhaps when you wrote “Frum,” you are referring to a more structured camp, which is more serious about davening and learning. Either way, you can certainly try and find one other boy from the neighborhood, or perhaps his school, going to such a camp, and chances are that he’ll make new friends as well.
You might be correct in assuming that the learning groups are probably not that serious. I’ve been to many of the sleepaway camps over the years as a learning Rebbe, counselor, speaker or guest. I agree that there is definitely a lot of story time and less serious learning. However, during the summer, many kids look forward to and appreciate having more down time and less structure. (As an aside, some kids need this in order to recharge their batteries after a year of hard work and learning.) Most camps try their best to make the most of the learning time and show that, even during the summer, it’s important to set aside time to learn Torah. If you really care that much about having him learn more seriously or for longer amounts of time, why don’t you have him tutored on the side?
Last year, I saw a mother having a serious discussion with her son’s counselor about his Davening in camp. His father told me privately that this same boy plays around the entire Davening on Shabbos. Of course, being the quiet type, I confronted the mother. She explained, “I want people to realize that our family davens well.” There we have it. It’s not about the davening; it’s about the family. As a Rebbe and a father, I do think Davening is very important. However, if you lead by example at home, your kids will likely daven well in camp.
I remember when parents were worried about sending kids to sleepaway camps because their boys would only shower once a week (hopefully), wouldn’t brush their teeth (of course not), and rarely change their clothing (why would they?)! Yes, your kids will learn some things that you might not be thrilled about, but they’re not living under a rock.
Before they leave to camp, you should have a serious talk with them. You can talk about the importance of personal boundaries, remind them of how special and important davening and learning are, regardless of whether at home or camp, and the importance of good hygiene. When they come back, you can discuss everything and “detox” them if needed.
The most important element of camp, from a parent’s perspective, should be the counselor. Sure, it’s nice for a boy to have a good friend in his bunk, but his counselor is the father and mother figure for the summer. If you have any fears or concerns, you can share them with the counselor, via the head staff, and hope for the best.
I hope I’m not coming across as non-caring. It’s just that I think that parents these days are rapidly becoming helicopter parents hovering constantly above their children. We need to let kids be kids. When we were younger we used to hear and talk about crazy things, and yet we turned out OK. My point is, we need to let them grow up by maturing the same way we did.
Have a good Shabbos.
On a totally separate note, beginning next week I will be writing a multi-part article about children going “Off the Derech”. I have spoken with so many parents and children on this topic. However, if anyone feels they have anything to share, please email me at Rebbe@yidparenting.com, as soon as you can. Thank you in advance.
Rabbi Ross. I just found out from one of the teachers, that my daughter is failing the 3rd term on her report card. Obviously, I’m quite frustrated that the school told me about this with only a few days left, but it is what it is. My questions are as follows. Should I make an issue out of it now? Should I just let it slide? I’m scared it will ruin her summer if I bring it up. Maybe I should bring it up at the beginning of the next school year (she’s going into 7th grade next year). This way, she’ll be serious about 7th grade. What do you think? B.R. – Cedarhurst
I’m a bit confused how you can go a full term and not know that your daughter is failing. Did she bring home any tests over the past few months? Has she been doing homework?
Although many children are responsible about their assignments and classwork, it’s always important to keep in touch with the teachers and the school. It doesn’t have to be a daily occurrence, but your children should always know that you’re on top of them.
However, if this is the first time the school or teacher has contacted you, they are certainly at fault as well. If a child is not doing well, the parents must be notified as soon as possible so that, together with the teacher(s), they can rectify the situation. Waiting until the end of a marking period is irresponsible and wrong. I would definitely call this teacher up, and ask her why she chose to wait until the end of the term to notify you.
In any case, your question is missing a lot of information. Is she failing everything? Hebrew subjects? English subjects? Is she aware that she’s failing? Being that I’m missing all of this information, let’s try and figure this out by analyzing the pros and cons of confronting the problem.
What is there to gain by bringing the grades up right away?
It seems that bringing it up immediately is the only logical course of action. You mentioned that you would want to bring it up before the next year begins so that “she’ll be serious about 7th grade.” I’m not sure why you can’t do both. Bring it up immediately, and then, before beginning 7th grade, remind her how each new year is an opportunity to start fresh.
There was one phrase in your question that really got me thinking. You mentioned that you were, “scared it would ruin her summer”. This is something I hear quite often these days. Parents are scared to disappoint, or “tell off”, their children. However, there is nothing wrong with a child being upset or disappointed once in a while. If she failed a class, she should be upset.
Initially, she might be angry at you for bringing it up, or at her teacher for failing her. As time passes, she will begin to take responsibility for her own actions (or inactions). In the meanwhile, you can consider it a growing experience.
I want to end off by sharing a really odd, but related, story that happened to me a few weeks ago. A parent called me regarding his son’s baseball team. Apparently, they lost a game that the father felt was unfair. He was upset that his son was frustrated. His exact words were, “I don’t want my son to ever be frustrated.” I was floored. There is nothing wrong with kids being disappointed, frustrated or upset. It’s actually good for children to experience different emotions and to learn how to channel those feelings positively.
Tell your daughter that you’re disappointed in her. Let her be upset for a while. Let the school know you’re confused why you weren’t informed earlier. Be more on top of your children’s grades. Last but certainly not least, have a great Shabbos.
Rabbi Ross. My 12-year-old son is a sports fanatic. He spends hours listening to the radio, reading stats, and memorizing useless information. Although I don’t think it’s really affecting his grades in school, I can’t help but become frustrated that he is wasting brainpower on such stupidities. I’m also worried that he’ll become overly involved and it will start affecting his grades. Besides, some of the sporting events have inappropriate things (dancers). What are your thoughts?
All children need outlets. Whether it’s playing ball, building with Legos, karate, or anything else - having an outlet is a good thing. I read your email a few times, and it seems to me that what you’re describing is perfectly normal behavior. I taught a student years ago that was the same way, and he currently works with some sort of sports publication.
I fail to see what you are worried about. His grades are not being affected, he’s happy, and he’s doing something that’s healthy, and yes, even challenging. The way I see it, one of three things will happen:
The worst thing you can do is make fun of what he’s doing, or even give him disparaging or disapproving looks. You don’t want to alienate him; you want to show that you’re involved and you care about the things he cares about. Although you may not understand what he’s talking about. If it’s something he cares about, it’s important.
In other words, my thoughts are that not only should you not make it an issue, you should tell him you’re proud of him. Remind him that it’s important that he continues to shine academically, but you are impressed with his ability to master all of this information.
Regarding the immodest dancers, or inappropriate language, that really depends on how you’re raising your children. If you are raising them in a very sheltered environment (which I seriously doubt, being that he’s so involved in professional sports), you have a point. Otherwise, this can be a wonderful learning experience.
When you take your children to any sporting event, you should preface it with the following: “There are people that don’t understand the importance of tznius or using proper language. We need to make sure that we look away from something that is not good for us, and we should not listen to things that we aren’t supposed to hear.”
Once you’re at the game, be a good role model. If there are dancers, talk to him while they’re dancing. If there is someone speaking inappropriately, turn his attention elsewhere. This is a great way to turn this into a learning experience, as well as a bonding opportunity.
Wishing you all a wonderful Shabbos!
Rabbi Ross. My husband and I have 2 children ages 4 (boy) and 1 (girl). It might sound like it’s a bit early for parenting advice relating to Yiddishkeit, but we’re wondering one thing. How can we make our children love being Jewish? We feel like it’s such a crazy world, and we would love to get a head start. Thanks in advance. S & D in Queens
You’re not early; if anything, you’re late. I’m sure you’re well aware of the famous story about the Chofetz Chaim. When a mother who recently gave birth asked for advice on raising her child, he told her (not a direct quote) that she was already 9 months too late. The first step in raising children is working on yourself.
In any case, your question is an excellent one. So many parents tell me, “I just want my son to be happy!” Happiness that is not based on anything substantial won’t last. The same holds true for love. Your children need to love being Yidden, and then everything else will fall into place.
A few weeks ago we wrote an article in memory of Rav Binyamin Kamenetzky zt”l, discussing this concept. “If we want our children to love Yiddeshkeit, we have to genuinely love being Yidden. We have to be excited about every day.”
That is, I believe, the most crucial way of imparting a love of Yiddishkeit. Both parents need to be excited about being a Yid. This means saying Modeh Ani with enthusiasm in the morning, making Brachos out loud, bringing in Shabbos with a smile, and more. When your children see the happiness radiating from you every day, it will make an impression that will last a lifetime.
Another idea which bears mentioning, is staying away from negativity associated with religion. Allow me to explain. As parents, there are times we need to put our foot down. Saying “No” occasionally is actually a good thing. Children do require discipline and a consequence can certainly help keep them in line. However, many parents blame religion for anything requiring discipline. Here are some examples.
The last piece of advice I will share is called complimenting. Many parents compliment their children for the silliest reasons. I recently saw a young mother eating with her children in a pizza store on Central Avenue. She complimented her children approximately five times while I was waiting on line.
“You chew so nicely! I love the way you’re sitting! You really know how to stay clean!” I got a huge kick out of the way she made everything into a big deal. It sounds great, but it can result in two problems. First, her children might become addicted, if I may, and expect to be complimented for everything. When they aren’t complimented, they might feel insulted. Second, it becomes difficult to ever give them a sincere compliment when they do something truly deserving of one.
What does this have to do with a love for Yiddishkeit? When you compliment your children, you can do it in a special way. Here’s an example. If your son shares his blocks or snacks, you can say, “Hashem loves when kinderlach share! You are such a wonderful Ben Torah!” You not only gave him a compliment, you gave it in such a way that he is excited to be a Yid!
Keep in mind that you should never do the opposite. Years ago, I saw a father tell his 14-year-old son, “Hashem despises kids that don’t look inside the siddur!” Aside from that being completely untrue, it’s an insane comment to make. Incidentally, that boy is completely non-religious now. Although I don’t know all the details, I can assure you that using Hashem as a disciplinary tool was not a great idea.
To summarize, the three main ways to give over a love of Yiddishkeit to your children are:
Wishing you much hatzlacha in raising your children to develop a genuine love and enthusiasm for Torah and Mitzvos.
If you have any other ideas, please share it with everyone by commenting.
Have a great Shabbos.
Rabbi Ross. My 10-year-old son is refusing to go to camp this summer. I offered him either sleepaway or day camp, but he says he doesn’t like camp and he wants to stay home and “veg”. He’s an easy-going boy, and I can’t imagine him making any trouble, I’m just worried he’ll be bored. I’ll also be saving a few thousand dollars in camp tuition which is nice. Is it a problem if I let him stay home?
Most children look forward to camp all year long. However, there are always those kids who don’t enjoy the camp experience at all. It might be an aversion to sports, making new friends, or even becoming homesick. These kids don’t want to hear about it, and this frequently includes day camps.
It might be frustrating for you to have your child home, nonetheless, I don’t believe that any child should be forced to go to camp. Having said that, however, before you allow your son to stay home for the summer, you need to set up guidelines and conditions.
First and foremost, boys should spend some part of each day learning with a chavrusa or tutor. Although many summer camps tout their advanced and superior learning programs, I do believe that the basic goal in most camps is to ensure that each boy is prepared for the new school year. Therefore, you need to make sure that your child keeps up as well.
Ideally, this tutor should learn with your son for an hour every day. If he can only come a few days a week, that’s also fine. It would be beneficial to arrange for the learning sessions to take place in a shul or yeshiva, to demonstrate to your son that learning is serious. If this is not possible, make sure that the learning takes place in a quiet room, free from all distractions. He should always be dressed properly and have Davened before learning.
The second condition should be regarding friends. One huge benefit of camp, is that kids have an opportunity to develop and mature socially through interacting with others. You don’t want your son to miss out on this experience. As such, you should set up a playdate or outing with friends at least twice a week. They can spend time playing in someone’s backyard or you can take them bowling one day. It doesn’t necessarily matter in whose house they get together, or what they do. The point is, he must remain social.
The third condition should be setting up a schedule or routine. Your son is going to have a lot of free time in his day. This could be the very reason why he doesn’t want to go to camp, since some kids need time to be free and explore without being subjected to a rigid schedule. However, he needs to create (with your help) a basic itinerary for each day. You don’t want every day to become pajama day or iPad day. He can go on a bug hunt, play with legos, bike ride or anything else. He just can’t hang out in the house all day.
The final condition should be that he can’t tell you, “I’m bored.” Those words can drive any parent crazy. Although you will gladly help him arrange activities, it’s not your problem if he has nothing to do.
I’ve included some hints to help you make an informed decision.
Have a great Shabbos.
Thank you for this tremendous initiative, we’re sure that it takes so much of your time. My husband and I are dealing with a serious problem regarding our precious first born daughter. She has always been a sweet-natured and easy going girl. However, she is now in 7th grade, and has become great friends with a troubled girl. She becomes extremely defensive when we bring this up, and this girl is having a very bad influence on her. What can we possible do to remove our daughter from this girl’s clutches without having our daughter hate us? It’s so frustrating watching years of our effort as parents go out the window. Thank you for your help. PRIVATE Cedarhurst
I can understand from your question how concerned and heartbroken you are feeling. You have put all of your Kochos into your daughter, yet she seems to be negatively influenced by this friend.
Before I suggest what can be done to help your daughter, I must ask you to assess whether her behavior is in fact troublesome, or simply normal teenage conduct. As our children become teenagers, many feel the need to assert their independence and express their individuality. This is not necessarily a bad thing. As long as your child is still treating you respectfully and behaving appropriately, it might not be necessary to turn this into a big issue. Instead, show her love and support and continue to model good behavior.
Your mentioned that your daughter’s friend is “troubled.” Does that mean that she has a troubled personality? Or that she is going through a troubling time and attempting to express herself through rebelling? Either way, I understand from your question that this friend is not acting as sweet-natured and easy-going as you say your daughter is does.
If, in fact, your daughter is showing unhealthy signs of rebellion and behaving disrespectfully, then I will not try to convince you to give this friend a chance. I do realize that many people would suggest inviting her over, and see if perhaps your daughter can have a positive influence on her. However, I’m a bit more of a realist. History has taught me that, as you pointed out, the influencer is usually not the stable child. Therefore, we’re going to concentrate on your daughter.
To better understand your situation, we need to highlight the main places they interact. There are actually four locations that come to mind. Her school, your house, the friend’s house, or anywhere else.
Let’s first discuss how you can minimize their interaction at school. First and foremost, you need to contact the teacher and principal immediately, and ask for a joint meeting. When they ask you what the subject of the meeting is, you can tell them, “My daughter’s future.” At this meeting, carefully explain the issue you’re having. Don’t focus on the issues her friend has, rather focus on the influence she’s having on your daughter. It’ll be even better if you can have your husband accompany you to the meeting.
Your goals are to separate them whenever possible, and make the school aware of the situation. Be prepared for the following questions. Have you spoken with the girl’s parents? How do you know she’s having a negative influence? You do know that sometimes girls in 7th grade like to test their parents occasionally, right? These are all fair questions, and you need to give honest answers. Speak from your heart.
Then next step, is to keep your daughter occupied. We’re talking housework, projects, family time - whatever will keep here away from this friend. That won’t work for too long, but every minute counts. Try not to become too obvious, or make any comments that will allow her to catch on to what you’re doing.
The most important step can really help solve this issue, but you need to do it carefully. Give your daughter a day off from school, and spend some “Mommy & me” time. Go anywhere together, and make sure she really is having a great time. Once she is completely relaxed, you need to have the following conversation.
“You know that Daddy and I have put tremendous amounts of time and love into you. We are so proud of the way you’re turning out, and get such Nachas from you.” Stop the conversation there. Continue to have a great day with her. A short while later, open up to her. Tell her that her behavior has been shaky as of late, and that her teachers and principal have noticed it as well.
Don’t blame her friend. Don’t say, “I knew this would happen.” This is her day. Tell her you defended her to the school, but they realized that she is picking up bad habits. The gist of the conversation should not be the she has to sever ties with her friend. Rather it should be that she needs to be cognizant that she’s hurting herself. Don’t make the conversation long or drawn out. Once you’ve made your point, continue your day.
You need to really have a good understanding of your daughter before doing this. Judging from the email you sent, I’m assuming that you do. Will she get upset at you when you bring it up? Not many girls will, if they’re having a relaxing day. It’ll be much easier if you can anticipate her reaction, but there’s no way to guarantee it. No matter what happens, you’ve put doubt in her mind.
There are other things you can do, but many of them are pretty severe.
Haztlacha Rabba and wishing you Nachas.
Have a great Shabbos!
Rabbi Ross. My wife’s younger brother is what we’ll call an oddball. He says and does weird things, but our 3 kids think he’s hysterical. Although I don’t want to stop him from spending time with the kids, I would like to give my children a heads-up that things he does might not be appropriate. My wife seems to think I’m overreacting. Please back me up. Sam - Woodmere
One of the most difficult parts of responding to these questions, is that there is crucial information missing. How old are the kids? What “weird” things is he doing. How would you give a heads-up? Then again, I don’t want to write an article about a once-in-a-lifetime situation, so I guess we’ll have to discuss various scenarios.
Many families have that one sibling who is a bit more “colorful” than everyone else. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, some parents don’t know how to deal with a child who’s different than the others, and this frequently has interesting results. A very Yeshivish family that I know has a fifteen-year-old not-so-Yeshivish son, who I taught years ago. When his older sister brought a prospective young man to the house to meet her parents, they warned her brother that he had better come into the kitchen with a hat and jacket. He did, although he was wearing a bathing suit instead of pants! (The Shidduch worked out, B”H).
I digress. We as parents like to protect our children as much as possible. I can certainly understand why you want to warn or prepare your children. They are impressionable and tend to pick up bad habits quicker than we can imagine. It’s even scarier when they are dealing with a relative or family member – there’s a much greater chance they’ll imitate him!
The first point I would like to make, is that you need to take a step back. If your brother-in-law is not acting dangerously or being hurtful to others, it might not be such a big deal. If it’s simply that he’s acting immaturely, such as making faces out a car window or breathing in helium while singing, then it’s not so bad. On the other hand, if he’s making fun of others, using inappropriate language, or joking during Davening, that is a problem.
If you’re not sure exactly what he’s doing, simply ask your kids. This shouldn’t be a serious sit down with stern looks. It’s more of a casual, “So, what did uncle Bob do with you guys today?” Then listen. Don’t comment or make snide remarks. Just hear them out so you can evaluate and make an educated decision. It might be prudent to have your wife hanging around the area while you are schmoozing with them. Kids do tend to exaggerate, so if they say, “We robbed a bank machine,” it could just be that he withdrew money from an ATM.
In regards to giving your kids a heads up, I’m not sure if that’s the best solution. Even if you do a great job, it might cause hard feelings in the long run. If you don’t do a great job, it can have severe long-lasting repercussions. In other words, trust your wife. No good will come out of talking to your kids about this.
Talking to your quirky brother-in-law, on the other hand, well, that might be smarter. He may be a little off the beaten path, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand children. I would just tell him, “Do me a favor and tone it down a little with the kids. They respect you so much, and I’m scared they might be focused on some things more than they should be”.
Obviously without knowing all the intricate details, I can’t give stronger or more specific guidance. However, here’s one of the key rules, being honest is usually the best solution. Obviously, if that doesn’t work, you would need to rethink your strategy. But, initially, I would always go with the most honest and direct approach.
I just want to make clear that this is assuming you trust your brother-in-law around your children. If you have even the slightest suspicion that something very inappropriate may be going on (hamyvin yavin), I would immediately terminate the relationship between him and your children, unless it’s closely supervised.
Wishing you all a wonderful Shabbos,
Is there a secret to raising children that love Yiddishkeit? How do you teach your child to be a mentsch? What can I do to ensure my child is a Ben Torah? These are some of the more common questions I receive every week.
Although I would not respond to these questions during a typical week, this week has been anything but typical. We all lost a Tzaddik and a leader in Rav Binyamin Kamenetzky zt”l, affectionally known by many of us as the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l. When I was hired as a Rebbe in the Yeshiva of South Shore over 20 years ago, the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l was one of my mentors. Therefore, I would like to answer some of the earlier questions based on my relationship with the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l.
The first question was regarding the secret to raising children that love Yiddishkeit. Well, there is no secret. The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l had a method to make sure every child he came in contact with was happy. He smiled. All the time. Not one of those fake smiles – kids can spot those a mile away. The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l had a genuine smile that would light up the room.
Approximately 9 years ago, my bechor, Binyamin Zev, was with me in the Yeshiva early in the morning, and he was running down the hallway, as 5-year-olds tend to do. Of course, he ran smack into the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l. I was mortified. The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l was not. He grasped Binyamin Zev’s hand warmly and said, “I love when Yingerlach are happy!” I remember vividly as Binyamin Zev just stared at him in awe. The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l gave him a pat on the cheek and, with a huge smile, continued on his way.
Last summer, I brought my son Moshe to Yeshiva to pick something up. The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l was there and my son was staring at him. When the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l saw my Moshe looking, he quickly ran over and said to me, “Nuuu! Take a picture!” He then put his arm around Moshe. It was pure love, and everyone felt it.
If we want our children to love Yiddeshkeit, we have to genuinely love being Yidden. We have to be excited about every day. When the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l came to this area, it was spiritually empty and desolate. How did he raise a family that loved being Yidden when they were surrounded by so many challenges?
It seems that the Rosh Yeshiva & Rebbitzin zt”l loved being Yidden. They didn’t just survive day by day. They embraced being Jewish. They passed on that special Kamenetzky smile that melts away other people’s issues. We can do the same. If we show our children genuine love and happiness, they will soak it in. Smile at your kids and show them how much you love being a Yid. It worked for the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l, it’ll work for you.
The next question was, how to teach your child to act like a mentsch. Watching the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l, it seems apparent that there is no way to teach this concept. It seems you have to live it. What’s a mentsch? A mentsch is someone who cares.
A few years back, one of the boys in in the Yeshiva ran into, and broke, the glass panel outside Mrs. Weinberg’s office. Mr. Vaiselberg put tape on it to make sure it wouldn’t get worse, and a replacement panel was ordered. Later that day, The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l came in with his driver, and as he often did, stopped by to say hello.
I was there when he walked in and saw the broken glass. His smile disappeared and was replaced with a concerned look. “What happened”?, he asked. He began to touch the glass. “When will this be fixed?” Mrs. Weinberg told him it was being taken care of. It didn’t help. He walked to the other side and back, visibly worried. It was only when the Menahel, Rabbi Herzberg, came out and reassured him that it was a priority that he settled down.
Don’t get me wrong. The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l had nerves of steel. You can’t create a community without being able to deal with seemingly insurmountable issues. However, broken glass can hurt someone. The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l was a mentsch in the purest sense of the word. He cared too much to just ignore the danger.
When raising children, we need to lead by example. If a Hatzalah ambulance goes by, we need to stop and say a kapitel of Tehillim. Our children will take notice and it will become ingrained in their Neshomos. We need to call up someone who is sick, and let our children see, and hear us, wish them a Refuah Shelaima. Taking our Kinderlach to a nursing home is a wonderful way to do this as well. Show them you care.
When I was twenty years old, I was already a 7th grade Rebbe in the Yeshiva. Since I had no beard, I looked really young – actually I looked like one of the boys. Whenever I went to a Bar Mitzvah, and the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l was there, he would walk next to me and introduce me as “A star Rebbe”. I realized right away he was trying to make sure that people didn’t think I was one of the boys. It happened many times. Why did he do this? It’s because the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l cared. I taught a few of his grandchildren, and this special mentschlichkeit was passed down to them as well. If we want our children to be mentschen, we need to show them how it’s done.
The last question was, how to ensure our children are B’nai Torah? Over the last twenty years, the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l would stop by many classrooms to watch the children learning. I personally think it helped recharge his batteries… he would soak in the Torah learning. About eleven years ago, he asked my 4th grade class a question. “Why does Rosh Hashana come before Yom Kippur? Wouldn’t it be better if we first did Teshuva, and only then asked Hashem for a good year? Why would Hashem want to give us a good year if we’re full of Aveiros?”
As is typical with 4th graders, they all raised their hand with various answers. Some were on topic. Some were not. I’m not sure that all the boys even knew why they were raising their hands. Everyone else was, so why not? The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l had no problem with this. If the boy didn’t have a good answer, he would smile and say, “Close”. I was thinking, “Close? The boy made no sense!” The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l was unfazed.
After a few more tries, he told the boys, “Rosh Hashana is when we acknowledge and crown Hashem as king! It’s not about asking for a great year, it’s telling Hashem I love you! You’re my king and I need you!” It wasn’t a Dvar Torah – it was the Rosh Yeshiva’s way of living. His excitement was off the charts and the boys loved it. When he left the room, one of the boys said one word. “Wow.”
That’s right. It was “Wow!” The love for Torah was obvious and contagious. We need to get excited about Torah, and that excitement will trickle down. The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l loved every second of learning, and it didn’t matter who was learning!
Even when the boys played outside, the Rosh Yeshiva considered it a part of Torah. He would stand outside with his trademark smile and watch for a minute. He didn’t have time to spare, every second was so important. However, watching Yiddishe Kinderlach playing was pure Nachas.
At my son’s Bar Mitzvah last year, he came in to dance. As the band played, he was having the best time. The funniest part is, as people were getting tired, they were leaving the dance floor. In his nineties, the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l outlasted most of them!
This is how you create B’nai Torah. You mold them. You fill them with excitement for Torah, Mitzvos, and, yes, even dancing and ball playing. Everything you do is with Simcha and happiness. I never saw the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l wake up in the morning, but in my mind, he was the epitome of Yisgaber K’Ari. He came into every day as if it was the only day. If we have that mentality, our children will become B’nai Torah as well!
Although the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l is not with us anymore, his lessons and attitude live on. We should be Zoche to raise Ehrlicher B’nai Torah, with Middos Tovos and a love for Yiddishkeit. That’s what the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l would want.
Have a good Shabbos.
Is there a problem with using a non-Jewish babysitter? My friends seem to think my husband & I are horrible people because we do, but it’s really necessary. The alternative of sending him to a playgroup is too expensive, and ends too early. Is there a problem with using a non-Jew to watch my children? Name Redacted - Cedarhurst
Is there a problem? Well that depends on what you want your child exposed to. When my wife and I had our first child, we agreed to only have Jewish babysitters watch our children. Although we were lucky enough to have many awesome experiences, there were some pretty scary ones as well. B”H we caught them on our nanny cam and resolved the matters quickly.
Crazy experiences can happen with anyone, Jewish or not, and that’s why parents need to be extremely vigilant. Nonetheless, I feel that a Jewish babysitter is a far better option. At a young age, a child is so impressionable. The way this person interacts, speaks, and even plays with your children, can have long-lasting effects.
Let’s face it, raising children isn’t cheap. Actually, it’s quite expensive. In a few weeks, I’m going to share a very interesting question about children and costs. Suffice it to say, you need to separate expenses into at least two main categories - necessities and luxuries. I’m not going to go into detail, but having a Jewish babysitter seems to me to be a necessity.
I don’t believe your friends think you’re horrible people because of your decision, rather, they disagree with you. There have been many stories circulating about babysitters feeding kids non-kosher food, letting them watch inappropriate material, and more. Leaving your child with a non-Jewish babysitter should not be your first option.
If it’s any consolation, I know many people that have had non-Jewish babysitters and their children have turned out wonderfully. Additionally, I do understand that there are times or situations where one doesn’t have a choice but to use a non- Jewish babysitter. I’m just not a gambling man.
The below suggestions are not only for non-Jewish babysitters, but for Jewish as well. Anytime anyone is near your children, including a housekeeper, contractor, plumber, gardener and so on, you must be vigilant.
Last year, we discussed some Seder hints. This year, we'll try building on it.
Wishing you and your family a wonderful and meaningful Pesach. This year in Yerushalayim!
First of all, thank you for these wonderful emails. They are a huge part of our Shabbos table. Our question is concerning my son’s choice of Yarmulkas. I grew up wearing a black velvet yarmulke that covered a large part of my head. My son has begun wearing the ones they give out at Bar Mitzvahs to Yeshiva. Should I be fighting this? Will he grow out of it? Thanks for your help. - D & L Far Rockaway
Rabbi Ross. Shabbos has become really difficult over the past few years. My older boys, ages 12, 9 & 7, insist on playing games that I never did as a child on Shabbos. They play football in the backyard, basketball on the block, baseball in the street, and all sorts of boards games that I always thought were forbidden. They also change into regular clothing as per my wife, but refuse to change back for Shul. I’m very unhappy about this, but my wife insists that unless I give them another option, I can’t take it away, since they’ll resent Shabbos. What do you think? David
David, I thought about this question for many weeks, and I am truly stumped. Years back, I remember playing games like Sorry, Monopoly, and chess with my siblings, and once in a while playing outside in the playground. We never played sports. Then again, living in the city, there wasn’t much of an opportunity to play.
Nowadays, kids have easier access to fields, equipment and more. As you pointed out, making an issue out of playing outside can backfire. Your children can c”v come to resent Shabbos, and associate it with frustration and restrictions. In order to simplify the solution, we need to break down the main issues.
A) Is it okay for children to dress down on Shabbos? While some families wouldn’t even consider it, others don’t see a problem. In every community, “dressing down” can mean something totally different. To a mother from one Yeshiva, dressing down means black pants and a white polo. A different Yeshiva might call that Shabbos clothes. They would call a tank top and shorts “dressing down”. In either case, is dressing down OK?
B) Is it OK for children to play organized sports on Shabbos? Whether playing ball in a backyard, or on a basketball court. Is this ok?
C) What are alternative activities for kids to do on Shabbos?
Believe it or not, this actually won’t be a long article, since the solution is really quite simple. There are two main ingredients that we need to juggle. Giving Shabbos respect while not making Shabbos a burden. Our goal as parents is to find the proper balance for each child.
I’ve listed some ideas that might help you find that balance. Wishing you Hatzlacha!
Rabbi Ross. I know you were supposed to be emailing an article about Shabbos afternoon. However, I was wondering if in honor or Purim, you could discuss children and alcohol. I’m worried that my boys who are in high school, might drink on Purim. I’ve heard this can have serious consequences. Should we just keep them home? Sarah L.
I was going to share an article about Shabbos this week, but you are correct. It might be better to discuss alcohol, since Purim is around the corner.
I would like to think that the situation has improved over the past few years. Hatzalah and a few other organizations have been running amazing campaigns to raise awareness on the dangers of drinking.
There are some Yeshivas and Rebbeim that make jokes about this. I had a Rebbe that said, “Drinking is to Purim what oxygen is to people.” I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure that alcohol overconsumption can cause serious injury or death, c”v.
I would like to share some Purim tips that I’ve come up with over the years. Enjoy, and as always, please let me know your thoughts.
Children are allowed to drink alcohol for religious purposes in many states with parental supervision and state-specific requirements. You would have to check the particular laws of your state, but if your son’s school gives them alcohol, (or looks the other way) they can land in some serious trouble. It might be a good idea to bring this to their attention.
Anyone (including dads and uncles) who is a bad drunk (violent, abusive, inappropriate, etc.) should not drink.
If you do drink on Purim, it should be as part of the Seudah. This way your children associate the drinking with the Mitzvah.
If you are planning to drink, (and I’m not condoning it), it should not be the focus of the day.
If by drinking, your wife will have a difficult time, you should probably not drink.
If your teenager wants to spend Purim in Yeshiva, you need to make it clear to him and the Yeshiva that he is forbidden from consuming anything with alcohol. Make sure it’s in writing to the Yeshiva.
I would suggest getting him an ÜBER (or a responsible mode of transportation) to and from Yeshiva, if you’re not driving him. Don’t let him go with friends.
If your older teenager wants to have a L’Chaim, make sure it’s after eating a nice amount of bread.
Purim should be a happy day. Try to make it a fun day for your kids.
There is a new concept going around for younger kids. Instead of giving Shalach Manos to a few friends, the class gets together at one house and they exchange bags. Some classes exchange one candy/nosh in lieu of a Shalach Manos bag. As sweet as this sounds (pun intended), I’m not sure if it’s the point of Purim. Although it’s inclusive, it’s also more expensive and possibly inconvenient. I am not sure what to make of it. Many Rebbeim have shared with me that they are uncomfortable with it.
The Purim Seuda should include lots of fun, singing and perhaps even Purim games, which focus on Purim themes/mitzvos.
In anticipation of Purim, let your kids be involved in the shalach manos and costume preparations. It might also be a fun idea to let them make signs or pictures to decorate the door/house.
Any other great ideas? Please feel free to post them on the blog.
Have a Freiliche Purim & a good Shabbos
It was a little over a year ago when Yidparenting began. Originally meant for a small group of parents, it has, Baruch Hashem, blossomed into an article read by many people weekly. However, over the past few months, I’ve noticed a certain disturbing trend which I would like to address.
There are many types of Jews. Some men wear a Gartel when they Daven, some don’t even wear a hat. Some women wear a sheitel, some a tichel, and some don’t cover their hair at all. Nonetheless, they’re all still Jews.
Sometimes we need to take a step back and understand that we’re all on the same team. You might be wondering why I’m bringing this up. Allow me to explain. About three months ago, I began receiving emails that really bothered me. Here’s a sample of a few of them:
“I am greatly confused about your Shul article. Who cares if the kids go to Shul? Half of the adults don’t Daven. This is a non-issue. People need to chill out a bit, being overly religious becomes fanatical.”
“I can’t believe you’re advocating kids having smart phones. They are tools of the Yetzer Hara! I’m quite disgusted!”
“Please write an article about girls dressing more Tzniusdik in the street. It’s really horrible!”
“I’m writing regarding your article about music. Do you really think it’s a bad thing for kids to listen to non-Jewish music? What’s the problem with it? What’s next – wearing a shtreimel?”
My Bubby, A”H, used to tell me, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all!” If other Jews are not 100% like you, does that make them wrong? Aren’t we supposed to be understanding? I have seen Gedolai Yisrael talking to Jews that were not religious. They didn’t seem to be judging them. Does sending your son to a particular Yeshiva make him a better Jew?
On the flip side, if there is a Jew that wants his son to wear a black hat, why does it bother you? I was flabbergasted when I got a call last week from a friend who told me, “Frummies are taking over the 5 towns!”
How does this relate to parenting, you might ask? It’s pretty simple. Good parents don’t judge other people. They teach their children to be tolerant of others, and they lead by example. Making a comment, or even rolling your eyes when someone is different than you, is a horrible idea.
Let’s work together, in unity, to bring Moshiach. Being understanding of others is a great starting point, and smart parenting. Next week, the article will address a fascinating question about Shabbos activities. I hope you all enjoy.
Have a great Shabbos
Last week, we began discussing the dangers of children and social media. We left you with the following 4 questions:
To reiterate, this e-mail is directed at parents who allow their children to utilize social media on their electronic devices. I’m not judging. I’m not condoning. I’m simply offering some guidelines and hints that can help both you and your children learn to use social media in a safe, responsible, and appropriate fashion.
Comments will not be posted this week until after Shabbos.
Hi Rabbi Ross. After reading your emails for the past few months, my wife and I wanted to ask your opinion about something. We know that you are connected to two worlds, Chinuch and technology. Using your understanding of both, what do you think the best way to monitor our 13 year old daughter, who is using Instagram and Facebook? She gets all annoyed when we check up on her and ask to see her account, yet we think as parents we need to stay on top of this. What are your thoughts? Eli K. - Brooklyn
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.