They seem quite a bit more modern than I would like, and I'm worried that they're having a negative influence on him. Is there anything I can do to keep him more sheltered? - Anonymous in North Woodmere
I've received many similar questions over the past few months. The basic question is, how can we shelter our children in an unsheltered environment?
Allow me to begin with a true story. When my oldest son was 4 years old, he went on a playdate. When he came back, my wife and I were shocked to hear that he watched a video on this playdate. Our initial reaction was "What right did this parent have to put on a video without our permission?" Over the years, we realized that we had been looking at it the wrong way. Although this person should've asked us permission first, we as parents needed to be a bit more proactive in the Chinuch of our son.
Whereas there are many Yidden that completely shelter their children from anything inappropriate, most of these people don't live in the 5 towns. This is not Chas V'Shalom an insult to our community. We have B"H a thriving community with non-stop Shiurim, Davening, Chessed, and Limud Torah. However, should you venture onto Central Avenue amongst other locations, the atmosphere is not the most Yeshivish to say the least.
Yes, there are a few people that have managed to completely shelter their children here, but it's safe to assume that most children are very aware of what's going on. As a result, what _most_ parents that live in this area try to do, is prepare their children to better deal with the outside world.
Now, let's revisit the question. You are frustrated that your friends, neighbors, and your children's friends are more modern than you would like. Yet you chose (or agreed) to live in this area, and to send your children to the schools they attend. Believe it or not, there are some families that would probably think you are also too modern!
One of the e-mails I received with a similar question, mentioned that the friend's mother wore a skirt that didn't cover her knees. Does that mean your daughter never walks outside? Maybe a better idea, would be to tell your daughter "I'm sure you understand that there are people that wear shorter skirts. Although we don't judge others, that's not the way we're going to dress. If you understand that, you're more than welcome to hang out at your friend's house.” (Incidentally, this is a good conversation to have way before this issue arises.) This can end up being a fantastic learning experience!
Here's an example. In my neighborhood there were many Super Bowl parties. There were boys from pretty much all of the local Yeshivos, and they were getting together. I was certainly not thrilled that my own children were all invited to parties. It wasn't the actual game that bothered me, rather it was the half-time show and the commercials. My wife & I told our older boys they could go to the parties, but we expected them not to watch anything inappropriate since they were Bnai Torah. The younger boys joined me at a Learning Bowl where we learned, played and heard an amazing story.
Although I am not a big fan of super bowl parties or anything similar, I understand that this is the community I chose to live in. Furthermore, I have no right to look down on others who decide to attend these parties. Who am I to decide what is right and wrong for them?
On the flip side, you do have the right to raise your own children. You need to understand that there are those who might be a little more modern than you, but your friends should respect the fact that you are a bit more Makpid.
I tried breaking this down into simpler ideas.
* If you feel that your children might be friends with or hanging out with people that are more modern, you need to prepare your children. Let them know that it's not necessarily a matter of right vs wrong. Some families have different Minhagim (customs), and it's important that we follow our Minhag.
* You do not ever want to speak negatively about another family - even if they are doing things that you feel are not Halachically permitted. Once children learn to judge others, it becomes a very dangerous habit.
* You should certainly not allow your children to be friends with other children that you feel would be a negative influence on your children, in any way. If your child really wants to play with a friend who is a negative influence, you must insist the playdate takes place in **your** home under your watchful eye.
* A great idea, is to ask your child's Rebbe or Morah which children would be a good "shidduch" from the class. A teacher who sees the kids interacting daily, no matter the age, can probably give you some great ideas regarding appropriate playmates.
* Open conversation is very often the healthiest solution. Calling your neighbor and speaking it out can really make everything easier. "My son does not really watch many videos, but he wants to have a playdate at your house. Is there any way you can make sure they don't watch anything without making him feel bad?" You would be surprised how understanding he/she might me.
* If your child has a classmate coming over who only eats Cholov Yisrael (and you are aware of it), it wouldn't be nice to offer your kids Cholov Stam ice cream for dessert. You should certainly not put on a video for kids - or even offer one - without communicating with the parents first.
* You should never leave your children home alone with a cleaning lady or non-Jewish babysitter while your child has a playdate, unless you notified the other parent.
* If you are worried that your child will be affected by a specific event (party, Bar Mitzvah, playdate), make sure to give him an alternative that he will enjoy. If your son really wants to go to the movie theater to watch the new Star Wars © movie, telling him "no" might not work out so well. A better alternative would be to tell him “When the movie comes out on DVD, we’ll watch it together with popcorn and ice cream!"
Most importantly, Daven that HaShem should protect your children. That's the key to success! Much Hatzlacha.
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.