Rabbi Ross. I know that you are involved with a local baseball league, and we have a question about that. Our 5th grade son is currently in a similar league and is a horrible player. He can’t make any plays in the field, and he strikes out pretty much every time he comes to the plate. He begs us not to sign him up, but we have no other options. Baseball requires the least talent of all the sports, and we want him to have at least one sport he can play. In case you think his teammates pick on him, they really don’t. They always tell him “Nice try” and encourage him. We think he should stick this out, but he wants to quit. What’s the best play? Lauren – Kew Gardens
I am impressed that you understand your son is a weak player. In our local league, many parents with sons who are extremely weak players still give them strong ratings. This hurts our rating system since those teams end up mismatched, and then these same parents complain that the teams aren’t fair. Some of the ratings were actually quite funny. We had a parent rate their child (who is an extremely weak player) a 10 out of 10. She explained later, “He has such wonderful middos—I couldn’t give him a lower number!”
You make a few valid points. First of all, baseball requires the least amount of talent to play at a basic skill level. Almost any child can be taught to catch a ball, stop a grounder, and hit a baseball. When parents tell me “My son is just clueless and can’t really play,” I always disagree. Almost every child can be taught baseball at an elementary level.
There are two ways to foster these basic skills. The obvious way is to spend time playing with him. This even includes having friends come over and play, having a catch, or even watching a game together. Alternatively, you can hire someone to work with him on these skills. If he’s not athletic, he probably won’t become an all-star but he will develop basic fundamentals and enjoy playing the game.
Most important is his attitude. If he refuses to play and just stands in the field doing nothing, you have a problem. You can’t force a child to play ball if you know he won’t actively participate. If your son wants to play, spends time practicing, and isn’t a good player, kids will understand. If however, he doesn’t care about the game, the other kids will be a lot less tolerant.
This brings us to a question that has been debated for many years in Little Leagues across the U.S. At what age should children that aren’t able to make even basic plays continue to be on the team. Certainly in 1st through 3rd grades all kids should play. I’ve noticed that once the boys hit 4th grade, there is a large discrepancy between the boys that can and cannot play. Here’s an example. I was watching a 4th grade game where there was a pop fly to right field. The fielder got completely confused, didn’t come close to catching it, and then threw to first when the runner was already on the way to 3rd.
Even though the team was tolerant and sweet, (they lost the game), the coach told me that they were frustrated with this boy. Therein lies the problem. While you’re correct that they boys are being nice to your son, they are probably a bit frustrated. It’s understandable if your son is a weak player but is trying hard to win. It’s not so simple if your son just wants to be on a winning team and doesn’t take the game seriously.
A few people have e-mailed our league asking why we have playoffs and why we keep scores. “Let the kids just play friendly matchups!” is a common request. As sweet as that sounds, it’s not baseball. We’ve had other people ask us why there are strikeouts. When does it end? Are we at the point that we’re so worried about children’s feelings that we need to stop all competitive sports? I dislike when games end in a tie. Kids need to learn how to lose and even how to win. We’re not preparing our children very well for the future if we’re always “protecting” them.
I’m sure that many people will disagree with this, and I’m ok with that. My personal feelings are, if your son shows no interest in playing baseball, perhaps it isn’t the right sport. When you have leagues in baseball, it’s inherently somewhat competitive. If your son has no interest in playing, I would agree that he should not have to play.
What he should be doing to get exercise is something discussed in a different article. I would agree that you shouldn’t call it quitting. Rather, tell him that if he really feels strongly that he doesn’t want to play, he should come up with a different activity. Alternatively, he should agree to at least play baseball with your husband in the backyard.
Wishing you hatzachah and a good Shabbos.
My husband has been telling me that I’m overdoing it with the kids and guilt trips. It sounds funny, but it’s family tradition. I guilt our children into doing what needs to be done. People might think I’m a horrible parent, but my parents did it to me and my siblings, and we turned out OK. What’s wrong with a little guilt? Esther - Brooklyn
Before I respond to this e-mail, I would like to clarify something. Using the excuse “My parents did it to me”, just doesn’t cut it. Can you demonstrate that, because of the way your parents made you feel, you are a better person for it? Perhaps if your parents hadn’t made you feel guilty you would have been happier, or more successful! I’m not a big fan of this logic.
In any case, your question was “What’s wrong with a little guilt?” Being a successful and nurturing parent obviously includes several elements. There is what I like to call the physical/spiritual aspect, which includes sending him to Yeshiva, helping her Daven, providing them with food and clothing. You also have what I call the responsibility aspect. This includes ensuring that your child is safe and well-behaved and treats others with respect.
Another aspect is what I call the emotional aspect, which includes nurturing your child’s emotions. One difficult challenge for parents is raising kids without instilling guilt in their psyches. What is guilt? Guilt is a common feeling of emotional distress that signals us when our actions (or inactions) have caused, or might cause, harm to another person, in any way. While there can be situations where guilt is useful, when it comes to children, not so much.
How do parents make their children feel guilty? Here are some common instances.
“You know what? I’ll do it myself!”
“I work so hard taking care of you, and this is the thanks I get?!”
“I’m like a slave to my own children. You’re making me so sad!”
Comments like these give the parents some control. One mother told me that the purpose of her guilt trips was not to motivate her children, rather, it made her feel better. I completely understand. I’m not saying I agree, but I understand. It gives her power in the situation.
Here are the issues that may arise if you continuously give your kids a guilty conscience. I’m not saying any of them will happen, only that it can. I’m pretty sure that if you give them a guilt trip occasionally, they’ll be fine. However, if you continuously load them with guilty feelings, here’s what can happen:
Let’s take a hypothetical scenario. You are doing homework with your 3rd grader and need help watching the baby for a few minutes. You turn to your 8th grade daughter who is frantically texting all her classmates, and ask, “Can you please watch the baby for a few minutes?” She replies, “I’m really taking care of something now, and I watch her all the time.” Should you…
As always, if you feel that you keep reverting to the guilt trip, you might want to consider speaking with someone (a mentor, a therapist, a good friend) for advice. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure, or a “horrible parent” as you wrote. Rather, it’s just making an effort to grow as a parent and develop a new skillset when raising your children.
Have a great Shabbos.
Rabbi Ross. My son is a diehard sports fan. It’s actually quite ironic since my husband and I both don’t really care that much, but my son is completely addicted. He always wants to watch a game, and no season is safe. He watches every Yankees game, every Giants game, every Rangers game, and every Knicks game. The saddest part is, even if one of his favorite teams isn’t playing, he still finds a game to watch.
If that was it, I would probably be ok with it. He gets extremely intense during these games and won’t be disturbed. If his team loses, the world is ending. Homework? Not during games. Learning? Not a chance. If Maariv and Yankees conflict, he davens at what he calls the “Kotel” in the room where the game is playing. It seems to me that a twelve-year-old boy should be taking Davening a lot more seriously. My husband says your response will be the same as his - “Choose your battles”. Is he correct? Private - Woodmere
You husband is correct that I’m a big fan of “Choosing your battles”. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t fight any battles! Part of the parenting challenge is being able to figure out what battles to fight and when to fight them.
Let’s discuss your question. Your issue isn’t the fact that your son is a sports fan. It’s that he’s obsessed with sports. From the way you’re describing him, it seems that professional sports has taken over his life. I know of many children like this, and quite a few adults as well. It’s certainly not healthy for him for a few reasons. It can have a negative affect socially, and as you’ve noticed, it can cause him to become extremely moody. It doesn’t matter whether he’s watching these games online, using an app or on TV, too much is unhealthy.
You didn’t mention how long he’s been having this issue, but for arguments sake, let’s say it’s been happening for a year. I consulted a psychologist who understands this issue very well, and he seemed to think it’s a phase that some kids go through. Not the watching of professional sports, but the obsessive part. According to him, this obsessiveness will tone down after a year or two. If that doesn’t happen, he suggested that you speak to a professional counselor.
I have to admit, I was taken aback that he’s not willing to interrupt the games for Davening. I’m not sure how it got to this point, but there are two issues that should be dealt with immediately. First of all, there’s the fact that he’s not serious about his davening. He needs to understand that Davening is something special and it should never be on the back-burner. You can click here for an article about davening.
The second issue is somewhat obvious. If a child is watching a game and a parent calls him, he must stop watching to respond. Responses like “It’s almost over” or “I’ll be done in a minute” are completely unacceptable. When a parent tells a child to turn a game off, it can’t become a discussion. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the following. There is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed if your twelve-year-old child is deciding what games he is watching. In any case, here are some ideas that you can try out.
Rabbi Ross. As parents of 4 wonderful children Bli Ayin Hara, there are many challenges that we face. The most difficult of all for us is the bussing situation. My kids have been learning new things on the bus, and I’m not talking about Hebrew subjects. On the days that they don’t get an education, they come home taking about horrible arguments or fights. I’ve tried talking to the school, but either they aren’t taking me seriously or they can’t do anything about it. We’re at the point that we are thinking of just driving the kids every day. Why can’t they just hire someone to be a bus monitor like they have in camps? Please share any advice you think may help. Thank you. D&L – Cedarhurst
I don’t think that anyone enjoys sending their children on the bus. There are actually two parts to the bus ride. The morning ride, and the afternoon ride. In my experience, the bus in the morning is a lot more easy-going. Most of the kids are still sleepy and therefore just sit quietly in their respective seats, waiting for the bus to arrive at school.
The problem many parents have with the morning bus is more of a timing issue. On those mornings that you’re behind schedule by one minute, the bus comes exactly on time. When you are on schedule, the bus seems to come late. Timing notwithstanding, there aren’t a lot of issues with the morning bus. Occasionally the drivers will say that some of the boys were acting up, but it’s nothing crazy.
The afternoon ride is, unfortunately, a different story. The kids are extremely hyper after sitting through a day of classes, and they are not being supervised in most cases. You asked about a bus counselor, but I’m not sure who would pay for that. In camps, the counselors will frequently monitor the younger kids, so they can get extra tips. During the school year, who is going to spend two hours a day sitting on a bus with the kids? You would need an older person, and I can’t envision the district or the bus company agreeing to pay for it.
I am aware that some buses have video cameras set up now. That’s somewhat helpful in figuring out what happened after an incident, but it’s not that helpful as a preventative measure. The bus drivers themselves are ill equipped to deal with most situations. Driving a bus isn’t as simple as one would think, and they need to follow certain protocols while the bus is in motion. They are unable, and probably not even allowed, to really intervene when there is a problem. Basically, it seems that your child is on his own on the bus.
Let’s switch gears for a second (pun certainly intended) and discuss what is happening on the busses. A few years back, one of my children came off a bus and told my wife that a boy kept saying the “S” word on the bus. Naturally my wife and I were quite upset and called the appropriate administration members immediately. We were also debating calling this boy’s parents. When I sat my son down to get the exact details, it came to light that the “S” word he was talking about was “Stupid.”
Whereas that sounds cute, it highlights the worst part of the bus ride. The education that the kids get. No matter the age, children learn new things on the bus. It could be something as innocent as the latest game that’s being downloaded. It could also be somewhat worse. Before you start blaming other families for not raising their children properly, remember that their children probably learned things on the bus or from older siblings (who may have learned it on the bus.) In other words, it’s not time to play the blame game.
Below are some ideas I can share regarding this issue. As always, some of these might work better than others. Feel free to share additional ideas in the comment section.
Rabbi Ross. Along with all your many readers, I want to thank you for you Avodas Hakodesh. Your advice is inspiring, and although there are some articles which I don’t agree with, by and large my wife and I have gained tremendously for your hard work. You wrote a long time ago that siblings fight. We’re ok with the kids fighting once in a while. What bothers us, is when they talk to each other. They say these horrible insults, comments which I’m too embarrassed to even put on paper. I would prefer they fought physically and get over it. These stinging insults are just so mean and we’re both really frustrated. Any advice would be much appreciated. Dovid - Flatbush
Firstly, thank you for your kind words. And I’d be concerned with anybody who agreed 100% with what I say. I like to categorize sibling rivalry into three types. The first is childish banter. “I’m way better at baseball than you are.” The second is physical fighting. The third, is the malicious comments that you’re talking about. Many parents have told me that these harsh comments usually begin once they enter their teenage years.
For those of you that aren’t aware of what comments we’re talking about, I’ll list a few that have been sent to me. “I wish you were never born.” “I truly hate having you as a brother” “You are the dumbest person I have ever met”. And these are the “nicer” ones. As parents, it’s so hurtful, not just because of what’s being said, but even more so, the malicious tone being used. One mother described it as hatred oozing from her child’s soul.
It’s not. It feels like your children have this deep-rooted hatred of one another, but they really don’t. It’s usually frustration about other things, and siblings are just an easy target. I haven’t ever done a formal study, but most siblings that don’t get along as kids seem to be fine later in life. Some siblings joke about their younger days, others pretend it never happened.
I’m not saying that you should ignore this behavior. On the contrary, this needs to be dealt with. However, it’s important to understand what the issue really is. The fact that he’s venting by saying mean things to his siblings, tells us that he needs a better outlet for his frustration. He’s obviously angry or frustrated and is saying harmful things. The goal here should be:
I’ve been reading your e-mails for quite some time now. I’ve noticed that most questions are regarding younger children. Although I have a few younger ones, my question is concerning my 11th grader. He goes to Yeshiva very early in the AM and comes back late at night. When he arrives home, he immerses himself in his phone and the computer. It’s all filtered, but all he does is play fantasy ball (still don’t know that that means). I know he needs down time, but I want him to be a real person and not live in fantasy land. My husband is a Rav, and he feels my son should be spending more time learning at home. We were wondering if you would answer a question about teenagers, and if so what your thoughts are. Please keep my name and location private. Private – No Location
First of all, thanks for reading. I have answered questions about older kids, but I try to focus on questions that seem to have a common denominator. This is why most of the questions I reply to are somewhat short (yours is the longest I’ve ever answered). Anything that’s too specific is usually not generalized enough to respond to in a public forum.
Many of my articles tend to deal with questions and responses that can help a wider spectrum of parental concerns, rather than being too specific. A majority of the emails I receive concern younger children. Your question, however, is certainly an issue which we encounter in many families, across many communities.
First and foremost, you are not alone. I recently spoke to a Chassidishe father who lives in Williamsburg, and he has the same problem. He told me that he would never admit it publicly, since his kids are not supposed to have smart phones or internet access. However, in his own words, “I fear that my teenagers are relying on electronic devices for companionship.”
Let’s start off by empathizing with your son. He spends over twelve hours in Yeshiva and he needs some downtime. These days, children associate electronics with relaxation, and it makes sense. Many adults “Chill out” by watching a video, playing a word game or even reading an ebook. It’s only natural that children feel the same way. There’s no denying that he needs some time to relax, and this will help him unwind.
This leaves us with two important questions.
Regarding what your husband wants, I don’t think that’s something that’s even worth discussing, since there are so many variables involved. (What’s your son’s relationship with his father? Does he want to learn extra? Does your husband put too much pressure on him?) Let’s skip this part of the equation and focus on what your expectations are. You aren’t happy with what he’s doing, but do you have any other suggestions?
Which brings us to the second question. What can you do about it? Here are my thoughts. As I’ve written many times, many of these will not work. You need to know what’s appropriate for your situation and your child.
Have a wonderful Shabbos.
Rabbi Ross. My 9-year-old son is very unique – he hates sports. He is content playing with Legos all day and refuses to go outside and play with his friends. I‘m worried about this for two reasons. First of all, I think it’s detrimental socially. Also, it’s unhealthy for him to spend every waking moment inside the house. What can we do to get him outside? Private – Woodmere
I hate to break this to you, but he is not unique. There are many children that are like this and it’s quite common. You do have to differentiate between him disliking sports and exercise. Many children hate the competitive part of sports, either because they don’t like the intensity, or they aren’t good at it. However, not being willing to exercise or play outside at all is a totally separate issue.
You didn’t mention electronics, which is a completely different ballgame (pun definitely intended). Therefore, we’re going to assume that your son is not spending large amounts of time playing electronic devices, rather he’s just very involved with puzzles, Legos and similar activities.
Let’s first assume that your son doesn’t like sports. There is nothing wrong with that. You have many options available, and I’ll list a few of them.
Have a good Shabbos
Rabbi Ross. My son’s last report card was absolutely horrendous. He is in 6th grade, and his grades dropped in almost every subject. When my husband and I sat down to speak with him, he blamed the teachers, the school and even his friends. There was no remorse and he refused to take any of the blame. We’re at a bit of a loss. He’s always been a strong student, and we’re shocked not only by his grades, but also by his nonchalant attitude. What should be our response? Malkie – Boro Park
Something seems off about this question. As I’ve repeated many times, I am not a psychologist, nor the son of a psychologist (although my father is awesome). However, it seems odd that you didn’t notice any changes in your son before this report card came. Usually, when a boy starts slumping in school, parents notice a change in their attitude. Nothing seemed different?
Furthermore, if he has always done well, why didn’t the school notify you that there was a problem? You mentioned he dropped in almost every subject, well that’s a pretty big warning sign. You didn’t get a phone call from the school or even a teacher? I completely understand that the school probably has a lot going on, but if they didn’t contact you at all during the semester, something is wrong.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s do some detective work. Without knowing your son, it’s really hard to give a helpful answer, but I can certainly give some suggestions. Obviously, the ideas below are just that, suggestions. You and your husband need to discuss a plan of action before sitting down with your son. As my grandfather used to tell me, a fool speaks and then thinks about the consequences. A smart person thinks about the consequences and then speaks.
Wishing you Hatzlacha and a good Shabbos
Hi. My son is extremely resistant to writing Thank You cards now that his Bar Mitzvah is over. He says he wants to call the people up and say thank you, since it’s more personal and saves time. It seems to me that he’s just being lazy, but I’m wondering if this is a battle I want to have. Thanks for your help. Chanie - Monsey
What’s a thank you card? I’m kidding of course. I deal with a lot of Bar Mitzvah boys, and I’ve heard all the complaints. “It’s boring and annoying.” “Why can’t people just give a gift and I’ll say thank you at the Bar Mitzvah?” These days we live in an age of electronics and instant gratification. Writing thank you letters is, as one of my Talmidim put it, “Monotonous”.
Hakoras Hatov is one of the cornerstones of Yiddishkeit. We make Brachos to thank Hashem all the time, and one of the first things that a child learns is to say Modeh Ani in the morning. If children learn to say “thank you” at a young age, they mature faster and learn to appreciate others. Not only will parents appreciate this, but it’s a great tool for marriage.
The flip side is, handwriting is slowly becoming a lost art, a thing of the past. As we rely more and more on computers and electronic media, having good penmanship is not emphasized. Even the kids that have nice handwriting, don’t usually have the patience to write for an extended period of time. This brings us back to your question.
Is it worth the battle? I don’t think so. I’ve heard of Bar Mitzvah boys paying their siblings to write the thank you letters for them, which is a fair compromise idea. It teaches the Bar Mitzvah boy the importance of saying thank you, and the recipients won’t know the difference. I once got a typed thank you letter, and I thought that was quite odd. Yes, the boy signed it on the bottom, but it felt wrong.
However, your son has offered a great alternative, in my opinion. He’s showing that he understands the importance of Hakoras Hatov, and is taking the initiative. Many boys would just say, “I don’t want to write them”, and yet he’s giving you a solution. Not only that, but it’s a very creative solution. It seems very personal, and I wouldn’t be insulted if a Bar Mitzvah boy called me to thank me for a present.
Obviously, there has to be some ground rules. No leaving messages. No texting. Calls should have some substance (“Thank you so much for the beautiful watch! I wear it on Shabbos and I really like it!”). He must speak slowly and clearly and make sure that it sounds sincere.
I’m sure that there are many people that will disagree with this, and they are entitled to their opinions. As you pointed out so eloquently in your question, it’s all about choosing battles. If your son is coming to you with a viable solution, I think it’s important to at least acknowledge his attempt, and discuss it.
As a side point, I’ve noticed that I usually get thank you cards quite a few months after the event. It’s understandable, since most Bar Mitzvah boys are quite busy between Yeshiva and homework. According to a few people that I’ve spoken with, one year is the limit. If anyone out there has any insights, feel free to comment.
Have a great Shabbos.
Dear Rabbi Ross,
My 9-year-old son has the world’s worst temper. He gets so upset about the silliest things and goes absolutely crazy. When it’s in the house my kids watch him and learn from him (he’s the oldest) and in public I’m so humiliated. I’m really at wits end. Counseling hasn’t helped except to hurt our budget. Please advise us. Private – Far Rockaway
We’ve discussed this a few years ago. I’m redoing the blog on the site so it’s easier to search questions. In any case, your son is one of many that have this problem. This is truly one of the hardest parts of being a parent; trying to prevent the moody kid from affecting the easy-going ones and overall atmosphere in the home. I don’t need to tell you how frustrating it can be, both to the parents and the siblings.
Most importantly I will tell you “This too shall pass.” I’m sure you feel like you’re losing it, but he will mature and you’ll be able to breathe a sigh of relief. It won’t happen overnight, but the incidents will become less frequent as time passes. There are many tricks you can try, but the fact remains that it’s really a waiting game. You’ll have to wait for him to mature, after which he’ll be able to understand himself and his moods better.
I can easily spend a page or two commiserating with you, (as can many other parents.) Although there is no easy fix, there are a few things that can make dealing with him a little more bearable.
On a side note, I would like to point out one thing that I’ve heard from many parents. Although electronics (iPad, tablet, etc.) might seem great for calming your son down and distracting him, it can actually have the reverse effect. Something to think about.
You also mentioned that counseling didn’t help. Maybe you need a different counselor or therapist? It’s also worth keeping in mind that it might take some time before you see results. Have a great Shabbos!
Dear Rabbi Ross. I’ve become my mother. In many ways that’s a wonderful thing, but I’m talking about my obsession with Pesach cleaning. I’ve found myself getting aggravated with my five children on a daily basis since Purim ended, and I can’t stop. They bring Chometz all over the place, and don’t seem to take the cleaning seriously. I’m confused as to the proper approach. How can I convince my children to get more involved in the cleaning, and be more careful as Pesach approaches? Confused Mom – Far Rockaway.
Whenever people tell me that Pesach is an eight-day Yom tov, I laugh. It’s simply not true. Pesach is at least a month long in most households. As you pointed out so eloquently, once Purim ends, Pesach begins. For parents, it’s about using up all the Chometz and beginning the cleaning process. Children tend to have a slightly different view. As a 4th grade boy told me last year, “After Purim is when the yelling begins.”
I would like to share a story that happened very recently, that really shook me to the core. A boy who is in 2nd grade won a donut from his Rebbe on Sunday. He had answered a very difficult question in class and was on cloud nine. When his mother came for pickup, he ran over with his donut and a huge smile. Before he could explain, his mother let him have it. “Don’t you THINK about bringing that into our car! We just had it cleaned, and I told you this ten times already!”
The spark from his eyes faded more with each word, and when she was done with her rant he was silent. He dropped the donut into the garbage and went into the “Kosher for Pesach” car. As sad as this sounds, it happens all the time. It seems that many of us have lost sight about what Pesach really means. It’s about the kids. We are being handed an opportunity to teach our children about our history and it’s supposed to be an amazing experience.
I heard the following quote a few times. Some have attributed it to the Bostoner Rebbetzin, some to a Rav in Europe. “Don’t make Purim so Sameach that it’s not kosher, and don’t make Pesach so kosher that it’s not Sameach.” How do you know when you’re overdoing it? It’s not so simple. There are times you need to give your kids extra chores, and that’s okay. It’s also OK to be a little stressed at times. The issue becomes when you change your personality and become obsessive about things that aren’t so important.
I can’t answer your question about what to do since every family is different. Some children are naturally inclined to chip in, others complain at every opportunity. You just need to keep in mind that cleaning and preparing for Pesach isn’t an excuse to stop being a good mother. As Pesach approaches, be sure that your children are excited for Yom Tov and all of its many special minhagim and mitzvos, rather than be stressed about the cleaning for Chametz.
On another topic, last year I shared some fun Seder hints. Although I modified them somewhat for this year, the concepts are still the same. Enjoy!
Wishing you and your family a wonderful and meaningful Pesach. This year in Yerushalayim!
Rabbi Ross. I’m not sure how many other people have this issue, but I feel like the Bar Mitzvah season has been getting worse. With my older children, they would get home the latest at 10:15, and that was on a Motzoai Shabbos. Nowadays, there are parties ending past 11:00 on school nights. My son refuses to come home before it’s over since he doesn’t want to miss the games. Is it me or is this becoming an issue? A concerned Mother – Woodmere
I would also be concerned if my son came back from a Bar Mitzvah after 11:00 on a school night. I always thought most schools had rules in place to ensure this didn’t happen. I think the cutoff time should be 10:00 P.M. – meaning that the boys must leave the Bar Mitzvah at that time. This cutoff time should come as a directive from the school, since, as you pointed out, it’s hard for parents to enforce.
There are a number of things that parents should consider when planning a Bar Mitzvah.
It’s certainly a special occasion, and it’s important to celebrate this milestone. But let’s make sure that it’s a celebration that everyone can enjoy, in the most appropriate and proper way.
Dear Rabbi Ross. My oldest son is going to be having his Bar Mitzvah in a few months, and he had an odd request. He told us that his friends hate long speeches and he doesn’t want any. He only wants to say a Dvar Torah and nothing else. My husband and I were going to ask the Rav, the Menahel and possible one other speaker to say a few words. Since we read your column every Shabbos at the table, we were wondering if you would share your thoughts. Yaakov K. – Teaneck.
First of all, Mazel Tov! It’s not surprising that your son’s friends were the ones that admitted they don’t like speeches. I would venture to say that many of the adults don’t like speeches very much either. I was at a Bar Mitzvah recently that had over 90 minutes of speeches! While I’m sure that a few people enjoyed (no doubt spouses, or parents!), many of the guests were on their phones or talking quietly to someone else. Why are there so many speeches?
When I was younger I used to play as a one-man band at Bar Mitzvahs. I loved speeches. I was paid by the hour, and it was fantastic! This was before the days of cellphones, so I had to actually read a book to pass the time, but it was so relaxing and profitable! As a Rebbe, I try to go to as many Bar Mitzvahs as possible. I must admit that it’s truly frustrating when I stop by for an hour and I end up sitting through an hour of speeches.
It’s very important to have a Dvar Torah at a Seudas Mitzvah. If the Bar Mitzvah boy is delivering a Dvar Torah, I would think that it would take care of this requirement, in addition to giving his parents and Rebbeim Nachas. At my son’s Bar Mitzvah a few months ago, I introduced my son - who spoke for a few minutes and then made a Siyum, and we also had one Rav speak for four minutes. The total time spent on speeches was under twenty minutes. I can assure you that our guests were thrilled.
I guess what it comes down to is, why do you need more speeches? What’s the purpose? Many parents have told me they’re scared to offend their Rabbonim, so they ask them to speak. This includes their current Rav, the Rav where they used to live, the Menahel and their son’s Rebbe. I’m not sure that this fear is justified. If a Rav is offended because you didn’t ask him to speak, it’s a bit worrisome.
Certainly, you should thank all the Rabbomim, especially the ones that had, and have, an impact on your family or the Bar Mitzvah boy. Spend a few moments speaking about each one. Explain that you have decided to curtail the speaking, so everyone can enjoy themselves a bit more. You can say, “I would like to apologize in advance. There are so many wonderful Rabbonim that we could have invited to say a few words of Torah. However, after careful consideration, we’ve decided to minimize the speeches at this Simcha. Therefore, the only speakers will be my son and the Rav of our Shul.”
While I’m sure that all the speakers have something nice to say about your family, you need to read the room. If your guests are the type that would love to sit through an hour or more of speeches, then by all means, go for it. I would venture to say, though, that most people don’t want to sit quietly for more than twenty minutes.
A few months ago, I went to a Bar Mitzvah in Brooklyn. While sitting through the 4th speaker of the program, I overheard someone comment, “Look at the boys on their phones! It’s a disgrace!” Meanwhile, almost every adult was either on the phone or talking to someone else. I truly feel bad for the boys. They want to dance. They want to have a fun time. They’re so pumped up… and now they’re sitting through speeches. To make things worse, everyone is judging them.
However, ultimately, you’re the parents. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re paying for the party. If you want to have six people speak, that’s your prerogative. Sometimes parents do things that children don’t understand, appreciate or even like. That’s just too bad. If you want my opinion, I am not a fan of speeches. Nonetheless, I’m not the one paying for your son’s party. You are. If your son really feels strongly about this, he can pay for his own party. Furthermore, when he makes a Bar Mitzvah for his son, he can do it without speeches. You're the parents now, so you make the decisions.
Have a Good Shabbos and Mazel Tov!
Rabbi Ross. With Purim around the corner, I wanted to share something with you that might be useful to many parents out there. It used to be that many children would be excluded from getting Shalach Manos. Nowadays, many classes get together at one house at a certain time, and all the boys can exchange bags or even better all bring in one type of snack. It’s easier and more fun. Do you want to share with your readers? Shifra – Flatbush
Absolutely I do, but not for the reason you’re expecting. I don’t think this is a very good idea at all. Let’s discuss the history of this fad. A few years ago, there was a very heavy snowstorm on Purim that made driving dangerous. A few ingenious moms came up with a solution to minimize the driving, and all the boys got together in one location.
It worked out wonderfully for that year, giving rise to the question, “Why not do this every year?” Here are some reasons:
I know that driving our kids on Purim is frustrating, and I’ve also spent hours in the car trying to get to Rebbeim and friends only to find out that they left already. However, many Rebbeim and teachers give times that they’ll be home, and when your child gets to the Rebbe’s or Morah’s house and shows off his or her costume, it’s all worth it.
We need to remember that each one of the Yomim Tovim holds special memories for our children. They remember dipping the apple in the honey on Rosh Hashana, lighting the Menorah on Chanukah, and yes, going to their friends and giving Shalach Manos on Purim. I’ve asked a few boys about the class gatherings over the past years, and they don’t have such great memories of the experience. It’s the whole class together. Nothing original, and nothing memorable. Instead of remembering the excitement of giving shalach manos, they remember having class gatherings to share candy.
I’m sure many parents will disagree with this, and that’s fine. The important thing, is that you make sure your child has an unforgettable Purim for all the right reasons. Take your kids to visit their Rebbeim and teachers and bring them to the Rav. Purim shouldn’t only be about getting candy, it should be about giving to others and the excitement of being a Jew.I would like to add one point to this article. I was at a wedding recently of a Yeshiva Bachur who was in his low-twenties. I was astonished at how many of his friends were at the bar, and I’m quite sure that they weren’t getting diet cokes. Drinking is a very serious issue, and I wonder what the Yeshivos are doing to combat this.
When I was a teenager, I was told by a Rebbe “Alcohol can kill! You need to be careful and limit yourself! That being said, you’re all invited to my house on Purim and there will be plenty of alcohol.” Over that Purim, I drank irresponsibly at so many of the Rebbeim’s houses. Looking back, I can’t believe my parents didn’t call the police.
Now. I might not be a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that allowing someone under 21 to drink alcohol on your property is illegal. Furthermore, alcohol can seriously injure or worse Chav V’Shalom. I wish every Yeshiva instituted a zero-tolerance policy on drinking. Until then, every parent should closely monitor where their children will be on Purim. Additionally, parents should make clear to their children (as well as the Rebbeim) that drinking will not be tolerated. If you’re worried about fulfilling the Mitzvah, I can introduce you to many Rabbonim that will list alternative concepts.
Have a Freilchin Purim!
You mentioned the Kiddush last week, and my wife and I wanted to bring up a similar issue. We have no problem going to the Kiddush as it’s easier on my wife. Less cooking is more down time. Our problem is the way the kids act at these Kiddushim. They push to the front, take before the adults, and in general show no respect for their elders. This has become a huge issue. Is this just a part of the weakening generations, or is there what to do? Avi Tauber – Queens
Before I answer your question, I would like to clarify something to my audience. Baruch Hashem, there are many people reading this column, both online and in various newspapers. I receive many emails every day with either new questions, or comments about previous columns. However, I have recently been receiving questions which require professional guidance, and that is worrisome. If your child is threatening to harm himself or others, has an eating disorder or is having odd mood swings, writing to a columnist or blogger is really not the best approach to take.
Back to your questions. Unfortunately, I am well aware of what you’re describing. Not only do children push to the front, some adults even make excuses for them. Here are a few I’ve heard. “It’s a long Davening they must be starved.” “They’re just kids.” “This isn’t such a big issue in the scheme of things.”
The fact is, this is 100% wrong. It has nothing to do with hunger or the length of Davening. It’s about showing respect to those that are older. The real problem is, who’s enforcing this? The Rav and the Gabboim shouldn’t be going around disciplining random children. Obviously, the responsibility lies on the parents, and that’s where it gets tricky - simply because some parents just don’t care. There are many people that would consider this a battle not worth fighting, and I beg to differ. If children don’t learn respect for others in a Shul, where exactly will they be learning respect?
One Gabbai shared an amazing story with me. “In our Shul, the men always calmly took some food, and the kids waited patiently. One Shabbos, a new member came down with his 3 children. The kids immediately pushed to the front and grabbed the ladle from an astonished adult. This person promptly took back the ladle and said, “In this Shul, we let the adults take first!” The father walked over and told him, “Why don’t you let me discipline my own children?” The other person was about to reply, using the ladle as a weapon, when a few other people got between them.”
I do believe that it is a community’s responsibility to help raise children (or parents, for that matter) that are clueless. Particularly in this instance, it would seem that the Shul should lay down some ground rules. Many shuls already have certain rules. There include not eating until the Rav comes in, not making Kiddush until Davening is completely over, and a few others.
I don’t really have an issue if the child is waiting in line with the adults. In a perfect world, they would wait patiently. I do have an issue with the kids pushing to the front. I also have an issue with justifying childish behavior. Those of you that are OK with this behavior, I have a question for you. At what age does it stop? When they turn fourteen, do we tell them, “Well, now you’re considered older. Time for Derech Eretz. No more pushing to the front.”? Here are my thoughts on this:
Have a great Shabbos.
Rabbi Ross. As long as I can remember, my husband would finish Davening on Shabbos and come home. He never stayed for the Kiddush and explained that my food was better. In the rare event he needed to stay (for a close friend or special occasion), he would have a little herring and crackers, and be home shortly. Our Shabbos meal was fantastic. My boys are getting older, and they now insist on staying for the Kiddush. Nowadays, each Shul needs to have a 5-course meal after Davening, and my boys come home ½ hour later with no appetite. When I tried explaining that I worked hard preparing the meal, they seemed apathetic. Any ideas before this becomes a huge battle? Mimi – Flatbush
I remember going to the Kiddush after Shul as a kid, and you are correct. There was some sponge cake, assorted whiskeys, herring, crackers, and sometimes kichel. It didn’t come close to filling us up, so we ate the full meal when we got home. I would agree that the Kiddush situation has changed dramatically, and I wouldn’t necessarily say for the better. What’s interesting is that your husband does not stay for the Kiddush, but your boys do. Usually, the kids follow their parents’ lead when it comes to Kiddush in Shul.
In any case, I’ll address the question you brought up in the email. First of all, I don’t think this should ever be allowed to escalate into a huge battle. My parenting motto is, choose your battles. Whereas I think that having a family meal is quite important, I’m not sure if Kiddush is where you would draw the line. You seemed to suggest that they come to the meal but have no appetite. Let’s play devil’s advocate for a minute. So they don’t eat. They’re still participating. And it’s still a family meal.
On the flip side, you’re still the parents. If it really bothers you, I don’t understand why you can’t tell them “no.” I understand that we live in a world where political correctness is the norm, but is it so hard to tell your kids, “no”? I worry for the kids when parents are scared to disagree. I’m not saying to be cruel to them, but you can simply say, “Daddy and I spoke about it and we decided the following. You can go to the Kiddush on Shabbos Mevorchim, but every other Shabbos you must come straight home. We understand that you like to hang out with your friends, but you’ll have to do so after the meal. This isn’t a discussion.”
In the past I’ve explained that although I’m not a psychologist, I enjoy analyzing the emails I receive. When I read yours, something else jumped out at me. You wrote, “When I tried explaining that I worked hard…”, and this seemed off, for two reasons.
Have a good Shabbos.
Rabbi Ross. My Husband is a wonderful Ba’al Chessed and a Ben Torah. Usually when it comes to Chinuch, I bow to his wisdom, but he and I have been arguing about something that I think is right up your alley. My husband takes our 3 boys to Shul every Shabbos (or Friday night) early, and they always have good seats. Once Davening begins, if someone comes late and doesn’t have a seat, my Husband encourages the kids to give up their seats for the older person. I feel that once Davening begins, they should be staying in their seats. We agreed to ask you. Anonymous – Cedarhurst
A short while ago I had a similar occurrence. When our family went away, I brought my six boys to Shul on Friday Night to a local Minyan. Since it promised to get crowded, I came early and sat near the Chazzan. When Davening began the Shul was already filling up, and a few minutes later it was packed. Someone from the shul “recommended” that my boys sit in a different room to make space in the Shul and I refused. They have as much of a right to Daven as anyone else, and they were on time.
Obviously, there are variables that can change everything. If the person walking in late can’t stand well or needs to be up front to hear better, that’s different. Nonetheless, in most cases, I would agree with you. If your husband and children made the effort to be on time, I don’t think they should be giving up their spots so quickly.
I’m a big believer that it’s better to lead by example. It’s so important to show your children how to act, rather than just telling them. However, we also learn that if one is performing a Mitzvah, he is exempt from doing other ones. Whereas this is not the forum to delve into the meaning of that, my point is fairly obvious. Teaching your children how to Daven is not simple. You need to juggle the actual Davening, while showing them what to say. There might be distractions in the Shul, and it takes a lot of patience.
To ask your children to relocate is just a bad idea. Again, there are circumstances that warrant this, but in most cases I wouldn’t advocate it. If your children are old enough to Daven themselves, and they willingly want to give up their seats, I think that’s fine. If the kids are young enough to sit on your lap without interfering with your own Davening, that’s also fine.
Here are my thoughts on changing seats in Shul:
In either case, whatever you decide to do should be done quietly, without creating a disturbance. It’s certainly not worth getting annoyed over or speaking badly about others. After all, the point of Davening is to get closer to HaShem – not further from your fellow Jews!
Have a great Shabbos!
Dear Rabbi Ross. My son desperately wants to join a choir. He loves to sing, and wants to perform with either the YBC or NYBC. My husband and I both feel that it’s both time consuming and a distraction and no good can come from it. He’s not a strong student and needs the extra time to stay on track. What do you think? G.L. Brooklyn
This is a tough question to answer as there are so many variables involved. You mentioned that he’s not a strong student, and the Rebbe inside of me is agreeing with your argument. He needs to stay focused in order to keep up, and yes, singing in a choir is a pretty big distraction. There are practices, performances, and studio sessions, not to mention the travel time.
However, something happened a few years back, which is making me rethink this attitude. “Es Chatoai Ani Mazkir Hayom.” A very weak student of mine who was in 5th grade wanted to join a choir. I shared my concerns with his parents, and we agreed the distraction might really hold him back. He didn’t join the choir, although he had a beautiful voice and loved singing. To be fair, the parents weren’t keen on the driving part either, and were relieved when I agreed with them.
Fast forward a few years, and this boy is in 11th grade - in public school. He has tremendous issues with Yiddishkeit and is going through a very difficult time. Had he been in the choir, would these issues have arisen? I can’t answer that, actually no one can. Thinking back, I do wish I would have pushed the choir, though. So, he might have missed out on some work. At least he would have been excited about something, and he could have had a chance to shine.
In order to properly answer the question you raised, you need to be honest with yourself. What’s holding you back from saying yes? Is it the travel time to and from the practices? Are you worried about his grades? Is it the expense?
The travel time isn’t as much of an issue as you would think. I’m quite friendly with a few choir directors, and it seems that unless there’s a concert or performance coming up, they usually practice once a week. All you need is one other boy going from your neighborhood, and you have a carpool. You can drive one way, and so can they. I might be oversimplifying, but if this is something that will give your son an excitement for something positive and fulfilling, it’s certainly worth it. Put it this way. You would have no problem driving to a speech therapist, dentist or psychologist. If this is what your son needs, let him pursue it.
If the problem is his grades, I would have probably agreed with you years ago. Nowadays, not so much. While it’s true his grades might drop a little, you can also use the choir as leverage. “If you want to stay in the choir, you need to maintain an 85% average.” I would be reasonable here, if your son’s not a strong student, don’t require him to maintain a super high average.
If it’s a financial issue, I’m pretty sure that these choirs aren’t terribly expensive. Actually, they’re quite competitive with other programs going on for kids these days. If you really can’t afford the full price, I would think that the choir director would work with you.
One popular misconception is that you need an amazing voice to sing in a choir. That’s not quite true. While singing on key and having a sense of rhythm are pretty important, having an amazing voice isn’t necessary. Most of these kid’s choirs have only a few main soloists, and they’ll have a tryout first to make sure your son can sing on key. In any case, if your son really wants to sing, I would let him. Of course, do some research into the choir by contacting current choir parents, but assuming everything checks out, go for it.
I did get a few emails inquiring about sending kids to choirs when they have no interest. Some parents feel that it’s a good outlet, and that’s usually true. However, I certainly wouldn’t put your son in a choir if he’s not self-motivated. Singing and dancing can be classified as outlets that require some sort of desire.
Have a great Shabbos!
Rabbi Ross. A few months ago, I read an article that you wrote about a Bar Mitzvah boy Laining. Well, I have a different problem. My son very much wants to Lain, but he’s scared he’s going to make a mistake and everyone in the Shul will scream out corrections. I understand where he’s coming from, but at the same time I feel that we can’t live out lives worrying about “What if scenarios”. Since this is the only thing holding him back, should I pressure him or let it go? Shaya – Boro Park
The article you’re referencing can be found here. In that instance, the boy didn’t want to Lain his Parsha because it was too long. However, it seems that your son does want to Lain, but is worried that he’ll be embarrassed if he makes a mistake. We find in the Gemara in Brachos a prayer that includes the phrase “I shouldn’t make a mistake and my friends will laugh at me.”
His fear is a valid one. Unfortunately, it’s a real problem in many shuls. The moment the Baal Koreh makes a mistake, everyone becomes an expert. I’ve seen men that can barely read Hebrew (as evidenced by their hemming and hawing when they Daven), jump out of their seats in shock if the Baal Koreh pronounces a word incorrectly.
I’m not sure where this Minhag started, but it’s a horrible one. Each Shul has a Gabbai, a Gabbai Sheni and a Rav. I’m pretty sure all three of them are qualified to catch and correct mistakes made in an appropriate fashion. I’m talking about a regular Shabbos when there is an adult Laining. Certainly if there is a Bar Mitzvah boy laining, no one else should be correcting him.
I went to a Bar Mitzvah in Passaic a few years ago, and before the Laining the Rav stood up and made the following announcement. (Not verbatim) “Whereas I’m sure all of you are experts in the Hebrew language, our Shul has a special Minhag. The only people that can correct the Bar Mitzvah boy, are his teacher and the Gabbai. If anyone feels that he made a mistake and it wasn’t caught, you can come and discuss it with me after Davening.”
I went over to this Rav after Davening and thanked him. This is definitely a battle worth fighting, and I was thrilled with the way he said it. However, a lot of Rabbonim seem to think it’s not a big issue, and they half-heartedly tell everyone “Please don’t correct the Bar Mitzvah boy”. One Rav told me, I am already telling them not to talk during Davening, to come on time, and to give Tzedaka. I don’t want to overdue it.
I understand that. I really do. The flip side is, many more boys are not laining. Sure, they Lain once at their Bar Mitzvah, however, most of them stop afterwards. The next few years they Lain a part of their Parsha, and after a few years they’re done. As one Baal Koreh told me, in fifteen years, we are going to be in serious trouble. If we want to solve this problem we need to take action.
In your situation, I would take your son and speak with the Rav. The Rav needs to agree that before your son Lains he will get up and make a serious announcement. Not a request. I know of a Rav who told the congregation “If you correct the boy, I will ask you to take over!” You’re not asking him to go so far, rather, he should make it clear to everyone that they need to follow inside and stop correcting.
Validate your son. Tell him that you completely understand his concerns, and you are taking it seriously. If the Rav refuses to make the announcement, ask if your son’s teacher or the gabbai can. If he say’s no, find a different Shul for your son to Lain in. Alternatively, you can rent a place for Davening and do it yourself. If that’s not possible, you have two choices. Either you can try to convince your son that he’ll do well, and if anyone else corrects you will shush them. Or you can forgo the Laining part. I would tell the Rav (respectfully), “My son won’t be Laining for his Bar Mitzva because we’re not willing to stop the shouting”
There are those that might think that having corrections shouted at a Bar Mitzva is some sort of “rite of passage”. It toughens the boy up. Well, I’m all for toughening kids up, especially these day, but this doesn’t do that. It embarrasses and confuses them. This isn’t a good Minhag, and it never was. Can you tell your son to ignore the screaming? Sure. Some kids will be able to, some not. Nonetheless, I think it’s just wrong.
Mazal Tov on the upcoming Bar Mitzvah. I hope the Rav helps you out.
Have a great Shabbos,
Rabbi Ross. My daughter is in 8th grade and I finally acquiesced and got her a cell phone. She came to me last night in tears that her entire class has a WhatsApp chat, and she is the only one not in the group since she doesn’t have a smart phone. I was shocked. I called the school and they told me that they can’t police what the girls do at home, that’s more of a parenting issue. I am so confused. Should I get her a smartphone, so she isn’t left out? Should I start calling other parents? Is it the school’s responsibility? Private – Brooklyn
You bring up an issue that is really affecting many families. Let’s take a step back and look at WhatsApp. This is an app that allows people to chat in a group, share pictures and videos, make phone calls, and more. As a Rebbe, I can understand how dangerous this app can be, even in the hands of adults. I am going to share a conversation that happened last year on a third+ grade chat. (I received this from a concerned parent.) The Yeshiva was in Brooklyn, and to keep this appropriate, we’ll call the Rebbe, Rabbi Farfel.
There were 28 people on the chat. Here’s the transcript.
Mother 1: Does anyone know the Hebrew Homework?
Mother 2: I need it also. My son forgot it again.
Mother 3: I can’t stand this homework. Too much and the boys don’t even know it.
Mother 2: You’re telling me? Let Rabbi Farfel teach this in class. Why for homework?
Mother 3: It’s because he has no control in class. My son tells me it’s always crazy in the room.
Mother 1: I heard that also. I’m very unhappy this year.
Mother 4: Does anyone have a good dietetic chicken recipe? I have a lot of guests this Shabbos.
Mother 5: I agree with all of you. We should all complain to the Yeshiva. It’s time for a new Rebbe.
Mother 2: I’m on board with that. This is ridiculous. We pay enough for tuition. Let him teach.
Mother 6: I’m in. My son spent 30 minutes on a writing assignment. Not fair to us.
Mother 7: I have a great recipe but it’s handwritten. I’ll message it to you.
Mother 8: Me too.
Mother 1: Me too for the recipe or the Rebbe?
Mother 8: Both!! 😊
Just like that, they are destroying the Rebbe. This Rebbe happens to be a very good Rebbe, and has been teaching for quite a few years. Chicken recipe notwithstanding, this conversation was Lashon Hara, and should never have happened. What really got me was the smiley face. Ha Ha! What could possibly be humorous about destroying a Rebbe’s career?
This could have been dealt with simply. One of the parents could have sent a picture of the homework. Anyone that has an issue with the work level could simply contact the Rebbe. He gave all parents an email address and a phone number at the beginning of the year. How difficult is it to send an email or make a quick call? This particular Rebbe would have responded very well, from what I’ve heard.
As a result, some Yeshivos began banning WhatsApp groups. Not only is this difficult to enforce, it’s also kind of silly. These are adults, after all. My solution as a Rebbe, was to join the group, together with the English teacher. We are the admins of the group, and respond to any pertinent questions. One Rebbe I spoke with acknowledged that it’s a great idea, but he refuses to get a smart phone. It’s a tough call.
Returning to your question, we are now at the point where having a kids’ group chat is not only acceptable, it’s the norm. Many Yeshivos ban smartphones on school grounds, but these kids have phones at home and have access to WhatsApp in the evening. Unless the Yeshivos take a stand and tell parents that kids are not allowed to use any social media at home (and then enforce this), they will continue to have these chats.
What should you do? First of all, verify that your daughter is telling the truth. Many times, kids exaggerate, and there might only be seven kids on this chat. Call up some other mothers and ask if their daughters are on this chat. If there are indeed only a few girls on the chat, you can tell your daughter that she is mistaken. “There are only a few girls on this chat, and many of the mothers told me that they won’t let their daughters join.”
If however, most, or all, of the class is on the chat, I would give in. I understand many people will disagree with this, but if you send your daughter to a school where everyone is doing something, it’s unfair to expect her to be the odd one out. There are many ways to secure a smartphone. You can use restrictions, use a parental control app (I like Qustodio), or bring it to a place where they pretty much give your smartphone a lobotomy.
You need to explain to your children that having a smartphone requires responsibility and maturity. Teach them about online bullying, dangerous links, pop ups, and phishing. If you don’t understand these terms, you should have someone teach all of you together. Make sure your children know to tell you if there is something questionable on the chat, or even if they feel that someone else is being insulted.
Another smart idea which pertains to any kind of phone, is to have your children charge their phones in a central location in the house, and not in their bedrooms. Depending on the age, it would even be a good idea to tell them what time you want their phones away. You can click here to read the complete article regarding electronics.
Lastly, check the chat yourself every couple of days. Let your children know that it’s not because you don’t trust them, but rather to make sure that it’s appropriate. Don’t just read a few lines. Scroll all the way up and check out the conversations. If there are one or two kids that are consistently being inappropriate, you should be a good friend and notify that mother.
I want to reiterate that the decision to get your child a smartphone should not be taken lightly. It’s a huge responsibility for your child and for you. You and your husband should discuss all options and make an informed decision. You should certainly involve the principal of the school, and explain that you have no choice since all the other kids are on a chat.
Wishing you a warm Shabbos.
Rabbi Ross. My wife & I have started reading this column weekly, and we enjoy it tremendously. We feel that you have a good grasp of what’s going on, and your advice is very helpful. You wrote a column last year about families in a specific location going away for mid-winter break, and I wanted to ask a bit further. We don’t go away since we both work, and logistically it won’t work out. Therefore, we have four children at home that are bored with “Nothing to do”. Any recommendation that won’t break the bank? It seems that many mid-winter camps are popping up, but we can’t afford or justify spending almost fifteen hundred dollars altogether, so our children shouldn’t be bored. Do the Yeshivos realize what they’re doing to us? What are your thoughts? Yanky – Flatbush
First of all, thank you for your kinds words. The column you’re referring to was written last January – you can click here to read it. Your question has two parts. First of all, you want to know what working parents should be doing with their children when they are home from school. Secondly, you are wondering why the Yeshivos give off.
To answer your first question, yes, there are ideas I can share with you. Most of them won’t break the bank, although they might take some time to set up.
However, a little time off isn’t a bad thing. It gives Rebbeim and teachers a chance to recharge their batteries. It also gives the kids a break from school, and time to unwind. It’s not easy on the parents all the time, but I’m pretty sure that Yeshivos have been giving this vacation for many years. As kids, you probably loved it, so it’s not really fair to complain now that it’s an inconvenience.
You should certainly not complain about it in front of your children. If you display disrespect towards the Yeshiva your children attend in front of them, you really can’t expect them to take it seriously. If it really bothers you, call up the Yeshiva and ask the Menahel or principal what the logic is.
Enjoy your vacation and have a good Shabbos!
Dear Rabbi Ross. Now that Chanukah is over, my wife and I want to vent. What is going on with this world? Why do kids need presents and parties all day? Chanukah is a special Yom Tov during which we celebrate miracles that happen. If I don’t buy my kids any presents, they will resent it. If I do, I’m giving in to the new-age mentality. Aren’t we supposed to stay away from presents. How can we stop this downward spiral? Chaim – Kew Gardens.
Chaim, surprisingly enough I’ve received a few similar e-mails over the past few weeks, although most people didn’t wait until after Chanukah to email. I have a feeling that this will be one of the shortest responses I’ve ever written.
One of the hardest parts of growing up these days is that children don’t get to be children. We expect them to act like adults, and because they are so “in the know”, we forget that they are in fact still children. I once heard a mother tell her child in Pre 1A, “You’re acting like a five-year-old!” When I pointed out that he was indeed only five, she responded, “But he’s much more mature than a typical five-year-old boy.”
If we don’t let children act like kids when they’re little, they’ll act immature when they’re older. Let me tell you some thing else that children love. Yomim Tovim. Look at it from their perspective. No school, they get to spend time with their parents (and, dare I say, siblings), and it’s fun. I asked a few boys what their favorite Yomim Tovim were, and I got Purim, Pesach, Shavuos, Rosh Hashana, Sukkos, and Chanukah.
Each one has a spiritual part that the kids love, and a material part. Purim? Kids love dressing up and going to Megillah. They also love Hamentashen and getting Shalach Manos. Chanukah? Kids love lighting Menorah. They also love making latkes, playing dreidel, and yes, getting presents. Now I’m not advocating giving kids 8 days of handouts, but what’s wrong with thoughtful gifts? Let them enjoy a new toy, book or MP3 player.
I wouldn’t make the focus of Chanukah the presents, but if that’s what excites your kids, so be it. My younger kids were so excited for their presents, that they asked to look at them before Chanukah. They just wanted to see them. My older kids, who were the same way years ago, well, they didn’t even ask for presents. As they matured, they became more excited for Chanukah, and forgot about the presents.
In regard to your comment that we’re supposed to stay away from presents, I don’t think you’re correct in this situation. When you buy your wife flowers for Shabbos, does she refuse them? How about jewelry? If your wife bought you a new watch, would you tell her to send it back? Don’t tell me it’s different, because to a child a new toy is just as appealing as a necklace is to one’s spouse.
The one thing I would insist upon, is that if they got a present from a grandparent, they need to write a thank you letter. If the present is from you, they should thank both parents before they open it.
Have a great Shabbos!
My husband and I found Reese’s Peanut Butter wrappers in my son’s coat pocket (he’s eleven). We are Makpid on Cholov Yisrael, and are shocked and dismayed. The question is, what now? Do we let him get away with it? Should we punish him? I feel that we should ignore this, and it’ll hopefully resolve itself, my husband feels more drastic measures are needed. Please advise us. Rebecca – Brooklyn.
You bring up a wonderful question, one that has stumped parents for hundreds of years. The term for this discussion is called “Choosing your battles”. Obviously, there are many variables that prevent me from giving you a more personalized answer, but let’s discuss the pros and cons.
First of all, you can’t even be 100% sure that he ate it, just because it was in his pocket. Even if he ate it, maybe he forgot, or was unaware, that it was not Cholov Yisroel. Whatever happened to giving people the benefit of the doubt? I would begin by discussing it with him, in a non-threatening manner. Only one parent needs to talk (preferably the mom in this case). Be honest with him. “I was cleaning your pockets and found this wrapper. I’m sure you realize that we’re careful to only eat Cholov Yisroel products.” You’re not asking a question, you’re waiting for him to talk.
Make sure he understands that you’re not upset (at least not yet), although make it clear to him that you need to hear only the truth. Although it can be hard to ascertain if a child is being dishonest, usually parents know. If you’re unsure and he denies it, don’t start threatening. There are other ways to find out, including asking his friends or his Rebbe. Don’t create a situation that spirals out of control. Watch his body language. If he looks uncomfortable or nervous, it could mean he knows he did something wrong. If he looks confused, then it could very well be that he wasn’t aware and made a mistake. If he looks defiant, well, that’s not so good.
Let’s go through all options.
If he says he didn’t eat it, and either doesn’t know how it got there or was holding it for someone else, don’t ask, “Are you sure?” If you have no reason to suspect otherwise, end the conversation by saying, “OK, I trust you. We are makpid to only eat food that is Cholov Yisrael because that’s our Minhag. We are so proud that you understand how important this is.” Give him a smile and end the conversation. Nonetheless, be a bit more vigilant over the next few months.
If he ate it and feels bad, you are allowed to be disappointed. We’re not trying to make him feel like a horrible person, but you can show him that you’re disappointed. You don’t need to be angry, and there certainly shouldn’t be any yelling. You can thank him for being honest but explain that a Minhag is very important. Ask him to be more careful, and tell him that you’re confident it won’t happen again. If it happened to my son, I would take him to the local kosher market, and let him pick out some chocolates that he likes.
The last scenario is one that’s been occurring more frequently, based on the emails that I receive. What if your son is defiant. “Why can’t we eat Hershey’s chocolate? All my friends do!” This is a very troubling response, particularly because it’s usually not about the chocolate. If your son feels unhappy or trapped, you need to tread very carefully.
I can tell you what won’t work. Long discussions. Yelling and begging. Guilt trips. Punishments or consequences. Not only will these not work, they will more than likely backfire. You need to speak to your Rav or someone who can guide you. Turn to your son and say firmly, “I am disappointed now. I love you, but you violated my trust. We will continue this discussion later.” After that, walk away and get some help.
The good news is that many children get defiant about things and turn out just fine. However, by overreacting or getting emotional, you can really cause a serious rift. I would like to share one idea that has worked with many people, although it needs to be used with caution.
You can turn to your son and say, “I see that you don’t understand the Minhagim that we have. However, these are our family Minhagim, going back to your great-grandparents, and we expect you to follow them. Once you are married, you and your wife can make your own decisions, and we will respect them. Until that time, please be more vigilant.”
The advantage to this statement is that:
Have a good Shabbos.
Last week, we discussed a topic that I feel is a prevalent problem in our communities, and that is depression. Depression manifests itself in many different ways, and If we play our cards right, we can catch many cases before it’s too late.
Many of you emailed me (thank you) to remind me that we should discuss common symptoms of depression before we discuss solutions. I compiled a basic list of symptoms, but it’s certainly not all-inclusive. On the other hand, just because your child exhibits some of these symptoms, doesn’t mean that he/she is depressed. Like anything else in life, you need to make educated decisions based on knowing your child. If you need help with these decisions, ask your Rav or doctor.
Children have all types of personalities. If your child’s personality changes dramatically, it’s usually a sign that something is wrong. For example, if your child suddenly becomes withdrawn, moody, or extremely irritable, that’s a clear signal that something is up. Physical symptoms of depression can be manifested by a change in appetite (either increased or decreased), sleeplessness or excessive sleeping, and physical complaints (such as stomach-aches, headaches, etc.), that don't respond to treatment. In all the above cases, you need to sit with your child and figure out what’s causing the change.
Some symptoms are a bit more serious. If your child has developed serious concentration issues out of nowhere, has feelings of worthlessness or guilt, or has mentioned death or suicide, you need to act immediately. You should call a mental health professional and get help making an informed decision as to the appropriate course of action.
The solution. I’m always shocked when people contact me expecting solutions to serious problems. When I get an email regarding a child not Davening well, having issues with homework, or even making trouble in Yeshiva, I can offer advice. It may work for some children, for others, not as much. Baruch Hashem, many people have used information from this blog/column to improve their parenting.
I bring this up, due to an email I received a few days ago. Rabbi Ross. Reading your article last week confirmed what I’ve been thinking for a long time. My fourteen-year-old son is very depressed. We have been giving him his own space, and for the past few months it’s just getting worse. He doesn’t join us for Shabbos meals, and my wife has to physically pull him out of bed for Yeshiva. Any ideas?
Sadly, this is not the only such correspondence that I’ve received. I would like to reiterate that if something is seriously wrong, or requires immediate assistance, an advice column is not the solution. There are many trained professionals that can help in these instances. If you need names, you can ask your Yeshiva, your Rav, and, if you’re too embarrassed, feel free to email me for a list of suggestions. However, don’t wait until it’s Chas V’Shalom too late!
There are a few things you can try to ensure that your children are more upbeat, and to prevent depression. Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list, rather it includes ideas that have worked for many families.
Sunlight. Open the shades and use natural light as much as possible. Sunshine has a therapeutic effect, as does being outdoors.
Music. Try and keep fun and upbeat music playing in the house. We’re not talking about using headphones. You can buy a good sound bar for under $100. Obviously, your kids shouldn’t be listening to depressing or inappropriate music.
Compliment. Give meaningful and sincere compliments to your kids whenever possible.
Limit electronics. Although it seems like a perfect way for kids to relax, I’ve noticed that when children engage in too much electronics usage, they become moody. I’m sure someone must have done some sort of case study on this.
Reduce stress. We discussed in last week’s article that children have age-appropriate stress as well. Speak to your child to see if something in particular is stressing them out. As insignificant as it seems to you, if it’s stressing your child it should be dealt with.
Check for bullying. Many schools have a zero tolerance for bullying. Your child might not want to talk about it, but see if you can figure out what’s going on. Sometimes speaking to other parents can be a huge help.
Money. Although I’m working on a separate article regarding financial smarts for children, there is one thing worth mentioning. Don’t project your money issues onto your children. You can explain that you can’t afford something, but telling your children how much you’re struggling is counter-productive.
Last, but not least, smile. If parents walk around with a smile, the kids will pick it up. If you’re always stressed or annoyed, screaming or slamming things down, your children will turn out the same. As we’ve discussed, children are frequently like a mirror. A brutally honest mirror.
Again, there is no shame in asking for help. If you feel that you are out of answers, don’t ignore the issues as it will usually get worse. If anyone has any other ideas, please feel free to post them in the comments section on the blog.
Have a great Shabbos!
I’ve been enjoying this blog for almost two years now. My husband and I were curious about something, and we wanted your thoughts. What is the biggest threat to Jewish children these days? Personally, I think it’s information. Children hear so much, and they know way too much information. My husband feels that the internet is the biggest threat. What do you think?
This is a difficult question to answer. You are both correct to some extent, but it really depends on the age. When children are young, anywhere from four to seven years old, knowledge is the biggest threat. I have heard five-year-old kids talking about how good/bad our president is, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
A few weeks ago, a Pre-1A boy was talking to me during a sports program. He said, “I’m really worried about North Korea! The President is crazy there!” When I was in Pre-1A, my biggest fear was spinach. (It still is). Why are little kids discussing North Korea? The answer is, either he’s hearing it on TV or the radio, or most likely, he’s hearing it from his parents. Either way, it’s not healthy.
Once kids get a bit older, the internet becomes a huge problem. I’m not saying it’s not an issue at younger ages. Many kids are now hooked on YouTube Kids (“Johnny, Johnny, Yes Papa!”), but they’re not surfing the net. The average age for kids to start trying to “google” things by themselves is nine. Nine! That’s insane.
I wrote a full article about the pros and cons of permitting internet access to children, and plan to publish it over the next few months. In the interim, I can share the following. If you are not home to supervise your children, you must have a very good filter. One that will block anything and everything. If you are supervising them, there are other options that might actually help your children be prepared for the technology they will be living with.
In regard to your question, it seems that both of you have a good understanding of the issues that children are facing nowadays. However, in my opinion, the biggest issue that is facing all children is depression. Allow me to explain.
Some of the biggest causes of depression these days (for both adults and children) are financial issues, medications, current events, stress and, yes, abuse. In our communities, these five issues are rampant. Let’s look at each one and how it might affect your children.
Financial Issues. So many parents are struggling to provide for their families, and the kids, especially the teenagers, feel it. It might be that they don’t have the same sneakers as their friends, or don’t go to the same camps….it hurts them. They might not experience the struggle per se, but they feel the pinch.
Medications. When I was a kid, it was called “Ants in the pants”, but now it’s called ADHD. Although it’s definitely dealt with today better than when I was younger, there are many children that are over-medicated. It’s a simple and quick solution, and many parents don’t give it the measured consideration that it deserves. This is not to say that some children don’t need it, but the numbers are crazy. This is an important topic for a separate article, but certainly needs to be discussed with a professional. Many of these drugs cause mood swings or depression.
Current Events. Many years ago, our family suffered a terrible tragedy in Eretz Yisrael. Although it affected my entire family, they didn’t discuss it with the us kids until we were older. These days, it doesn’t work like that. Parents share every bit of information with their children. Children are not equipped to deal with this influx of information, and it can cause them to become nervous, scared, and eventually develop more severe issues.
Stress. Many adults that deal with stress tend to downplay the stress that children have. I heard a mother telling her teenage daughter, “You don’t know what stress is!” Well, I’m sure that’s exactly what this girl didn’t want to hear. We all have age appropriate stress. Adults might worry about work or finances, but children have a lot of stress as well, albeit on their level. Friends, school, hormones and more.
Abuse. One frum doctor told me that many Jews should be in the CIA – we’re that good at covering things up. This is not a good thing. When there is an abuser in our community, we need to make people aware. I’m sure there are special considerations (family, Shidduchim, etc,) but why should there be more victims? Incidentally, abuse comes in many forms, both physically and emotionally. Besides for the obvious kinds of physical abuse, there are many forms of emotional abuse which might also lead to depression. Constantly screaming at a child, not giving children time and attention, or even using guilt to control our children, can all be characterized as forms of emotional abuse.
Next week IY”H, we’ll look at some solutions. If you have any ideas, please feel free to post them on the blog.
Have a good Shabbos.
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.