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 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.