Dear Rabbi Ross. My son is currently in eighth grade and he’s dealing with something that my eleventh-grader dealt with. It’s called a yearbook. My older son was made fun of non-stop in his yearbook, and he’s so embarrassed that he won’t even read it. I’ll elaborate. There is a section in many yearbooks called the humor section. This is where the popular kids embarrass the quieter kids and put material in that can be very hurtful. Please read the quotes about my son and tell me if I’m being overly sensitive? Should the Yeshivas finally put a stop to this practice? Cheryl – Brooklyn
I was not aware that there were jokes that crossed the line in yearbooks. The above e-mail was sent with some pictures of the yearbook in question. I will not show the pictures online, but I’ll include some of the quotes that were written in the humor section. (I’ll use the name Eli instead of the real name.) “In the year 2040, Eli is most likely to be still whining”. Under the Quotable Quotes section for Eli was - “Can everyone just go away!”
I really don’t think these are that horrible. In my 8th grade yearbook, there were some jokes about me and some of the other boys that weren’t so nice. They weren’t intentionally mean, but some of the quotes were a little harsh. I know that my parents read it, and although I’m sure they weren’t pleased, they didn’t give it much thought.
I spoke with a few Menahalim, and it seems that there is a much more intense vetting process nowadays then there was years ago. One principal told me in confidence that the reason that the humor pages aren’t funny these days, is because parents can’t take a joke anymore. It’s interesting that he said parents, and not kids. I don’t think many children care, I think their parents make it a big issue.
It reminds me of a funny story that happened a few years ago. There is a local baseball league that I’m involved with that had a team who lost the first four games of the season. A mother came over to me crying. I want to reiterate that she wasn’t just sad, she was actually crying! There were other people standing around as she said to me, “My son has such a hard time when he loses! It really ruins his entire week!” While she was standing there, her ten-year-old child mumbled pretty loudly, “It doesn’t ruin my week, it ruins her week.”
You need to take a step back and ask yourself the following. Are your children the ones upset about the yearbook, or is it really you? I couldn’t tell from the email that you sent. It’s not OK for children to make fun of others, but there’s a difference between making fun and joking around. I’m sure that this isn’t the politically correct answer you want to hear, but it’s the truth. You can’t raise your children to be super sensitive, since it eventually backfires. They’ll be insulted all the time by silly comments and won’t be able to deal with opposing viewpoints.
There are two ways that children become super sensitive. The first is if parents keep coddling them and protecting them from any insult. Parents like this watch over their child’s every move to help them. I saw a mother holding her three-year-old’s hand as he went down the slide. By all accounts he seemed to be a typical child, but she refused to let him go himself. The term used to describe this is called “Helicopter Parenting”. The second way to have children become super sensitive, is to act super sensitive in front of them. If you are constantly complaining about what other people said or did and how it makes you feel, your kids might pick this up.
The fact is, children are much more resilient than we like to think. Although it’s never okay to make fun of someone, much less a child, it’s a yearbook we’re talking about. It’s not even a high-school yearbook, it’s an 8th grade yearbook. My opinion is that you should leave this alone. Tell your son in 8th grade, that it’s all OK, and there’s nothing wrong with yearbook jokes. Let the boys in the class enjoy their yearbooks and let the Menahel or principal do his job in editing.
I want to end with one interesting thought. Having a sensitive child isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The goal should be to focus those sensitivities towards others. In other words, if your child is worried that a different child might be offended, that's fantastic.
Have a wonderful week!
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.