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.
Dear Rabbi Ross. My 13-year-old son decided he wants to be a comedian when he grows up. I’m not asking for him to become a doctor or a lawyer, but a comedian? He likes to walk around telling jokes that he heard, and we’re getting nervous. Initially, we thought it was a phase, but he’s spending time online watching Jewish Comedians, and it’s been going on for almost two years now. Our question is, do we start trying to change his mind now, or do we still ignore this? Thank you for your Avodas Hakodesh. Sarah - Kew Gardens
Thank you for writing in. There’s a game I like to play called psychologist. I try and analyze the question to glean as much information as I can. You mentioned that your son is spending time watching Jewish Comedians online. I’m not sure what sites he’s been visiting, but I wasn’t able to find that much footage of Jewish Comedians.
When it comes to non-Jewish comedians, there are many different types. Some are what we call “appropriate” while others are less so. If your son is developing his skills as a comedian, I would try and ensure that he watches material that is suitable for children. This way, he can develop a routine that won’t conflict with the way you’re bringing him up.
In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m all for his career choice. Making people laugh is a wonderful feeling, and as we mentioned before, there aren’t that many good Jewish comedians. It doesn’t have to be his main occupation, but there’s nothing wrong with it. The truth is, it’s inspiring that a thirteen-year-old has a goal, or a plan. The fact that he began working on this when he was eleven makes it all the more refreshing.
Approximately eighteen years ago, a student of mine wanted to become a guitar player. His parents were so disappointed, they had dreams of him becoming a doctor. I tried explaining to them that playing guitar can be a hobby, and can even help earn money on the side, but they were adamant. After months of debate, they finally acquiesced, and he began taking lessons. This boy is now a successful doctor, and as he tells it, the money he made playing with bands put him through medical school with minimal student loans.
I’ve been to a few affairs that hired Jewish comedians, and some were funny, others were completely awkward or inappropriate. Botched presentations, poor material and worse. I was at an anniversary party a while back that hired a comedian. He was horrendous. In fact, he was so desperate to elicit a reaction from the crowd that he took off his toupee in middle of the act and began using it as a puppet. Those of you reading this that were there with me, are probably cringing remembering this. It was that bad.
The two choices you suggested regarding your son were either changing his mind or ignoring him. I’m going to go with a third option, namely encouraging him. Buy him some books on the evolution of comedy so he has a better understanding of the art. Explain to him that there is lots of questionable material, and that he needs to compose routines that will go over well with a frum Jewish crowd.
I would tell him that there aren’t that many Jewish comedians, and if he puts in the effort he can become very successful. Offer to be his sounding board, and help him polish his routines. Having supportive parents can make a huge difference, and even create a stronger relationship among all of you.
It’s important that you explain to him that there are different types of comedians. Some laugh at others’ expense, or use material that can be grossly inappropriate. Don’t avoid this discussion. He’s a big boy, and needs to be treated as such. Help him understand his target audience, whether it be children’s parties, or even Jewish adults.
It’s a huge Mitzvah to be happy. I’m looking forward to watching him perform.
Have a good Shabbos.
It began with an email. The email said,
“Dear Rabbi Ross. My kids are very inconsiderate to others. They only think about themselves, and it drives me nuts. Here’s an example. My kids like strawberries, so I went shopping and bought them the pre-checked ones. When I came to the fridge an hour later they were all gone. My eleven-year-old had eaten the entire package without thinking of his siblings. Is this normal?” Name Redacted in Cedarhurst
It was a fair question. I actually know the person that sent it, since she had signed her name. I wasn’t going to publish it, since it would have been unfair to her kids. She sent the email on Wednesday night, and I put it in the folder of questions I had intended to respond to and publish.
Motzoai Shabbos arrived. After father-son learning, I went with my kids to Central Avenue to get them pizza. We parked in the lot to avoid the madness, and as we walked towards the middle of the block, we heard a racket. Many cars honking, and some people shouting. I turned to my boys and said, “This is why we park in the lot.”
As we came closer, we saw what the issue was. Someone has tried making an illegal U-turn in middle of the block, but since there were cars parked on either side, she didn’t have enough room. The cars that were driving on both sides had moved up, and she was seriously stuck sideways in middle of Central Avenue. The street sign on the sidewalk she was facing clearly showed a “No U-Turn” symbol.
I walked over to help. Wouldn’t you know it, the woman driving the minivan was the one who had written the email. Some other people came over to help, and in a few minutes, we managed to extricate the car and get traffic moving again.
After she finally parked her car on the side of the avenue, I walked over to her and said, “I think I see what the problem is. When you’re inconsiderate to others, your kids pick up the same Middos”. She lamely tried to defend herself by saying, “It was quicker for me to get home if I made a U-Turn”. I replied, “That’s my point. You inconvenienced many people because it was better for you.” I then asked her permission to use the story in this email, which she allowed.
So, there you have it. Most of the basic habits that our children pick up are from the home. Very often, we are blind to our own issues, and we only recognize them in others. It could be in our friends, our spouses, and, of course, our children. I once saw a dad getting upset at his son for cracking his knuckles loudly, when he had done the exact same thing about 30 seconds earlier. We just don’t recognize our own faults.
The lesson we can take from this, is that we need to be very careful as parents. Whatever we say or do is going to be observed, or heard, by some very attentive children. Whether screaming at a slow driver, getting aggravated on the phone, or walking in late to Davening, our children are watching, listening and learning.
Have a good Shabbos!
Rabbi Ross. My son is always telling me that he’s bored. It used to be occasionally, but it’s become the family joke. “Mommy, there’s nothing to do!” All day and all night. He finishes his homework and complains. I don’t recall saying this to my parents, and my husband and I are really getting frustrated. We’ve tried many different ideas, but they aren’t helping. What do you suggest? Aliza - Queens
Rabbi Ross. This is an odd question, but I feel that it’s somewhat important. My 5th grade son is coming home with excellent marks in Yeshiva. He is my youngest, and has 4 older siblings. I have been realizing that he never studies at home, and does not have any homework or extracurricular work. It seems that the learning level has dropped, and the Rebbe is giving easier tests. Is this something I should be concerned about. If so, should I complain to the school, or just supplement with work of my own?
This is a fantastic question, and I’m so glad you brought it up. I would like to reply from the perspective of a Rebbe first.
The phrase, “The learning level has dropped” is a harsh statement. Rebbeim and Yeshivos are limited by the learning level of the children. Due to the evolution of electronics, children spend a lot less time reading. Therefore, their Kriah levels have dropped significantly, making learning more challenging.
As a Rebbe, this can be extremely frustrating. Many Rebbeim that I know well would love to teach more material and faster, but they are being held back. Whereas a Rebbe used to have 70% of the class keeping up at a certain speed, nowadays he might only get 40%. Failing so many boys is not an option, so in certain cases, the work was cut back. It’s not something any Rebbe or Yeshiva wants, it’s just a sign of the changing times.
Now let’s look at this from the perspective of a parent. Contacting the school might seem like a good idea, but from what I've heard, it won’t do much. The schools have a lot on their plate, and your son not having enough studying to do is really going to end up on the back burner. It can’t hurt to try, but I wouldn’t bet on it accomplishing much.
You asked if you should be concerned. The answer is an emphatic yes! If your child is capable of learning on a higher level, then he should be. Just because the current level of learning isn’t the same, doesn’t mean that your child has to lose out. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure most children aren’t looking to get extracurricular school work from their parents. Therefore, I would like to share some pointers which might help you convince your kids do some extra work for you – and for themselves.
There is a second part to this question, and that is regarding a child who has “Nothing to do”. There will be many times that your child will come to you and say, “I’m so bored”. Usually that’s a prelude to asking for electronics, although there are times that your child is just frustrated. Next week, we’ll look at some options for children that are bored. If you have any ideas, please e-mail them to me.
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.