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.
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.
Dear Rabbi Ross. My son just turned 12, and my husband is losing his mind. My son does not want to Lain his Bar Mitzvah Parsha since it’s too long, and my husband insists that he must lain the entire thing. He also wants him to make a Siyum. I feel like I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. As we read your articles every week, we decided to ask your opinion. Chana – Far Rockaway.
Thank you for your vote of confidence. There is actually a simpler and quicker way to get a response to a question like this; simply ask your Rav. I’m pretty sure that most Rabbonim will tell you the following. There is no Halacha that a Bar Mitzvah boy must Lain his Parsha.
There are some other options out there that you might want to discuss with your husband.
The other question is, why doesn’t your son want to Lain? There are a few reasons that come to mind.
If it’s because he is nervous and/or has stage fright, maybe let him practice in a Shul. It’ll make him more confident. If the problem is his Kriah - he does not read Hebrew well, that’s a pretty big issue. It’s much more difficult for a twelve-year-old to work on his Kriah. You can certainly practice with him, but it might not be a good idea to go for the whole Parsha. If he is feeling too stressed because he’s expected to speak, has a party coming up, or whatever else, maybe discuss it when he’s calmer.
You didn’t mention who was planning on teaching him the Parsha. That can make a huge difference as well. Although I know how to Lain, and I can teach, I don’t teach my own children the Laining. In many cases, this causes an additional level of stress. Yes, there are some families that can pull this off, but I don’t recommend it. I hired a Rebbe to teach my boys, and pretty much stayed out of it.
Regarding the Siyum, you reminded me of a funny story. I went to a Bar Mitzvah a few years ago, and the boy and his father made a Siyum on Gemara Mesechta Sotah. Since they were good friends, I didn’t mind having a little fun. I walked over to the boy and said, “I’m actually a bit confused on a Gemara on Daf 32, maybe you can help?” He replied, “You should probably ask my father.” When I asked his father, he told me, “Well, we didn’t really learn the whole thing.” It turned out that they made the Siyum on that Mesechta, because it was the only Artscroll they had in the house!
They hadn’t learned a word. The father wanted his son to make a Siyum. They compromised. I think that if the Bar Mitzvah boy wants to make a Siyum that’s beautiful. He can start anywhere from a year to seven years earlier. It’s beautiful. If he doesn’t want to, that also fine.
There are many beautiful things a boy can do to add significance to his Bar Mitzvah. He can donate a 10th of his money to Tzedaka. He can get involved in, or raise awareness for, an organization that helps others. It doesn’t have to be a Siyum. The goal should be to introduce him to additional Mitzvos now that he’s a “Man”.
While making a Siyum is a tremendous accomplishment, it should not ever be considered a requirement. When your son becomes a Bar Mitzvah, it should be a joyous occasion, one that makes him feel good about himself and proud to be a Jew. Making it stressful is counterproductive.
Wishing you a good Shabbos (and an early Mazal Tov!)
Rabbi Ross. I have a 13-year-old daughter who is the world’s worst procrastinator. She pushes off everything and it never gets done. I’m not talking only about school work, even her personal life. I read your article about homework, that’s actually when I signed up for these emails. I’m talking about it affecting every aspect of her life. She’ll push off applying for a summer job until there are none left, and then she’ll be all upset. Any ideas? Sharon – Queens.
I believe that there is a big difference between a child who procrastinates, and a child who is a procrastinator. What’s the difference? Many of us procrastinate. We push off tasks until the last moment, or we do something more enjoyable. As a Rebbe, I would much rather call parents with positive reports about their children than grade twenty-five double sided tests. I push it off until I need to get them done. That’s called procrastinating.
When the procrastination routinely causes a child (or adult for that matter) not to fulfill a task or responsibility in a predetermined timeframe, then you have a procrastinator. Based on the email you wrote, “….and it never gets done”, I would agree with your assessment that your daughter is a procrastinator.
Why does it matter? If your child occasionally procrastinates, that means he/she is normal. Although it’s not a smart way of getting things accomplished, it’s not the worst thing. You can simply give gentle reminders to your child, or even leave a sticky note by her desk. I hate to write this, but you can even text your child a reminder occasionally. Not overbearing, just reminding. “By the way, you have that report due next week.”
On the other hand, if your child is a procrastinator, there are certain steps you need to take to help them out. Before we begin looking at solutions, let’s try and see why children become procrastinators.
I’m sure many of you realized that I left one out. Procrastination is frequently a learned behavior. If you procrastinate, your children will also. In any case, your child will hopefully not fit all of these descriptions. Even if it’s only one or two of them, it helps to understand what’s causing the issues. Let’s take a look at some solutions.
You need to speak to your child. Explain that you’re not upset, rather you want to help them deal with this issue. Let them explain why they procrastinate. While they’re talking, try to identify which of the above causes may be at play. Just as a doctor can’t effectively treat a headache without knowing the underlying cause—dehydration, allergies, stress, etc., you can’t effectively help your child stop procrastinating unless you understand what’s prompting the behavior.
Don’t punish or give consequences. The only consequence should be the one caused directly by their inaction. For example, if your child didn’t apply for a job, don’t do it for her and be the knight in shining armor. Let her deal with the consequence. Just don’t add on additional ones.
Don’t attempt solutions that aren’t matched up with the underlying issue. For instance, offering or withholding a reward for completing a task won’t help a child who is procrastinating because they don’t see why the task is relevant. While you might actually convince him to complete the task, it will begin a pattern of expectation that can spiral out of control. Your child might stop doing anything that he deems irrelevant, unless he’s offered a reward.
Make sure you are clear and realistic in what you expect from your child. For example, many parents may focus on the effort put forth on a school project or test, not the grade—but a child may think you expect them to earn straight-As in every subject. Try setting specific, achievable, expectations such as structured time to do homework, study, or do chores. In this way, your child will have a clearer understanding of what’s expected, and might find it easier to begin working on it.
Help your child break down the solution. There is something called catastrophic thinking. Here’s how it works. Your daughter might think, “I didn’t apply for a job, so I’ll be home in the summer. Therefore, I’ll end up working in a place with no friends. All of my friends will be in camp having fun and I’ll be left out. As a result, in school next year I’ll have no friends. I’m a failure. I give up.” You need to help your child break this cycle. Tell her, “Forget next year, or your friends, for now. Do YOU want to work in the camp? If so, take care of this today.” When dealing with younger children, actually break down the task. Don’t say, “Clean up the den”, rather, tell them to put away the train tracks that are on the floor.
Focus on the positive. Assuming your child has a book report due in two weeks, tell him the following: “Won’t it be awesome if you could complete this tonight? You could hand it in to the teacher tomorrow and she’ll be shocked. You won’t need to worry about this for the next two weeks, and you’ll get a good grade since you aren’t rushing!”
Tell your children that they’re not alone in this struggle – it’s real. Explain that you also procrastinate, and share what tricks you use to compensate. When children see that they’re not alone when dealing with a specific issue, it gives them a boost.
Help them get started. A large part of the problem of procrastination comes from feeling overwhelmed about the completion of the task. A science fair project takes hours of work — but the first twenty minutes will only take twenty minutes to complete. Just getting started is a step in the right direction. If your child knows that they only need to do twenty minutes of work, they are much more likely to start. You can help your child set up mini-goals in their overall quest to complete a larger goal. Achieving each step can give your child a boost, making them more likely to continue, or return to, the task positively in the future.
You may have to help your child manage time. Consider giving her a defined start time. For instance, “After dinner at 6:00, let’s get started.” You can also try setting some rules around the process, like working for a certain amount of time without interruption, or completing a specific amount of work before taking a break.
Give your child simple notes with what needs to be accomplished that day or week. It helps to stay focused on the task at hand if it’s constantly visible. A great trick is to leave the note on their chair as opposed to a desk, which can be cluttered. Another great spot is the bathroom mirror.
Positive reinforcement is fantastic. Reward your child if he/she finished a job ahead of schedule. Don’t only give a physical reward, tell them how impressed you are that they didn’t push it off.
Of course, some of these might work better than others. In most cases, following some of these suggestions can help your children get on track. However, if the procrastination is affecting every aspect of their lives, it may be a good idea to bring him to a therapist or psychologist for a deeper evaluation.
Wishing you all a good Shabbos.
I’ve noticed that my children are lacking in basic Middos. My kids don’t hold doors open for people, and won’t run and grab packages when my wife comes in from shopping. What really gets my goat, is that my neighbor’s kids seem to have wonderful Middos, and I always thought we were the better parents. Any ideas what I can do to improve their Middos?
I’m not sure what you want from my response. Did you want me to give you some tips on helping your children develop better Middos? Perhaps you are more concerned that the neighbor’s kids have better Middos? I wasn’t sure from the question what you cared about more. As I’ve mentioned earlier in the blog, I need to glean as much information from the question as possible. I’m not a psychologist, nor the son of a psychologist, but it seems that you’re comparing your children to others. That’s not so healthy.
Nevertheless, the question is fair. How can we inculcate our children with good Middos? Your examples are spot on. How can we train our children to help others without being asked, and to thank others without prompting? These are what we’ll call the Basic Middos. When we say “Derech Eretz Kodma LaTorah”, we’re talking about these “Basic” Middos.
There are a few things we all need to understand about Middos.
There are so many little things that can change the way your children view Middos. When you walk into the supermarket at the same time as someone else, do you let them go first? You can tell your children that it’s more important to have good Middos than to finish shopping one minute earlier. Sometimes you can explain to your kids why you’re doing certain things, other times you can just let your actions speak for themselves. This brings us to the second point.
The way you treat your spouse is the way your children will treat others. (There’s also the way you treat your parents, but that’s a different article.) Think about it. Who do your children see you interact with the most? When your wife comes home from shopping, don’t tell the kids, “Go help your mother” - get off of your rear and help out yourself! If you see your husband is thirsty, don’t wait for him to ask for a drink, run and bring him one!
I was in Gourmet Glatt a few weeks ago, and I saw a family shopping. The mother was carrying eight different items to the cart simultaneously, staggering under the weight and bulk. The father was on the phone having a loud and fun conversation. The kids were wandering next to their mother. The father jabbed one of the kids and said, “Go help Mommy.” Granted that’s a step in the right direction, but why not hang up the phone and help? Perhaps I’m not giving him the benefit of the doubt. The point is, he missed out on a great teaching moment.
This isn’t foolproof. I know of many kids that would see their parents helping out and think, “Good for them!” It could be that the parents started worrying about their own Middos when the children were already older, or it could be that there are other issues. This brings us to the third point.
There are certain children that have good Middos built in. It’s not parenting, it’s their nature. They run to help others, they say thank you, and they are respectful. Other children are not. I’ve seen amazing parents with wonderful Middos, and their children don’t have very good Middos…..yet. Even if it’s not their inherent personality, it will kick in eventually. Nevertheless, those in-between years are frustrating. You spent so long showing and teaching your kids Middos, and they’re not emulating you. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. Your child might be immature or he might be lacking in sensitivity. It’s not necessarily a reflection on you. Give it some time.
I would also not harp on the negative. If your daughter didn’t offer the UPS driver a drink, don’t read her the riot act. I heard a mother say, “You always see me offering drinks! Why can’t you do it?” That’s not the goal. They might think that you only have good Middos to show off to others. You can merely reinforce the lesson to your children. “It’s a great idea to offer the driver a drink. He must be so hot and thirsty” It’s not a big deal, but if you make it into one, it will very likely backfire.
The last point was your child’s Yeshiva. Baruch Hashem we have hundreds of Yeshivos in many areas. You need to ask yourselves the following question. “Does my child’s Yeshiva make good Middos a priority?” It’s not a difficult question. There are many ways of finding out the answer. When your child has a chart to fill out at home, does it include only questions about their learning? It should have Middos questions as well!
When you call a Rebbe or teacher, do they return your call promptly? Do they give you respect as a parent? These might seem unimportant, but I assure you that good Middos trickle down from the top. If the dean or Rosh Yeshiva value good Middos, so will the Yeshiva. If not, you might want to rethink your options.
Of course, we need to always Daven that our children should be respectful to others. You can even tell them that’s what you’re Davening for. Let them know it’s a priority for you. Lastly, maybe ask your neighbor - the one who’s not as good of a parent, what he’s doing right. Maybe he can teach you something.
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.