Baruch Hashem, it’s been almost 3 years since I began this blog, and we now have tens of thousands of subscribers. In an average week I receive over 25 emails, some with simple questions and some with very difficult ones. There are many amazing professionals that I’ve contacted for advice during this time, ranging from psychologists to Rabbonim to dieticians, and I am ever so grateful for their help.
Over the past few months, I’ve been getting many emails from kids. That’s right, your children. E-mails from nine-year olds all the way to eighteen-year olds. At first, I was hesitant to respond and possibly incur the wrath of the parents. However, after consulting with some experts, I’ve decided to respond for the next few weeks to just these e-mails.
I will not use real names, and if necessary I will modify other information. I just want everyone to appreciate the questions that children are asking. The answer to almost every question will end up including, “try to communicate with your parents and let them know how you feel.” Nevertheless, I think it’s important that we try and understand something. Many people agree that raising kids is more difficult these day, but the fact is, it’s also harder to be a kid. There is so much information being thrown at them, and some children don’t get to actually enjoy being, well, a child.
Kids, if you have any questions, please go to www.yidparenting.com and submit them. I’ll do my best to respond.
Dear Rabbi Ross. My parents read your column online every week and print the question and answer for a Shabbos table discussion. Therefore, I would like to ask for your help in printing my question with an answer that will work in my favor. My father insists that I go with him to Shacharis every Shabbos at 8:30, and I want to Daven at 9:30 in the Teen Minyan. I’m 13 years old, and I think I’ve earned the right to Daven wherever I please. My father says I’ll Daven better next to him which I don’t because I’m always annoyed, and he says that 9:30 is too late. How can I convince my father he’s wrong? Thirteen in Woodmere.
Thank you for writing in. I’m so happy that these emails are part of your Shabbos table. I want to begin by assuring you that I will not take sides. My objective is to help you think this through, not to tell you who’s wrong or right. In every instance, you need to weigh the pros and cons before making a decision. It also helps to keep thing in perspective. For example, it might be worth it to make an issue about a trip to Great Adventures, but probably not about taking out the garbage.
I think it’s nice that your father wants to have you next to him on Shabbos. Personally, it gives me such Nachas to have my boys Davening next to me, and I can appreciate what your father is thinking. On the other hand, you are a “Bar Mitzvah”, and presumably deserve to daven at a different Minyan of your choice. Let’s start going through each part of your question so you can make an educated decision. When we’re done, we’ll put it all together and come up with some ideas.
It seems that you need to think everything through and make some decisions. How much do you really care about Davening at 9:30? It is worth making an issue out of this? Is it the Davening that’s bothering you, or is it the fact that your father’s not giving you the ability to do your own thing? It’s hard to have a serious conversation with your parents if you aren’t clear about the objectives yourself.
Obviously, the next step is talking to your parents. I think it’s crucial to include your mother in this discussion, since a woman’s perspective is very important. You can ask your parents to have a private discussion with them. If they ask you what it’s about, you can simply say, “Something that’s on my mind.” The reason I don’t think you should say what it’s about yet, is because your father might say, “There’s nothing to discuss”, which can make this more frustrating for you.
When talking to your parents, you must always remain calm. Getting upset easily or raising your voice won’t make this any easier. I can’t tell you exactly what to say, since each situation is unique. However, I would incorporate some of the following ideas in the conversation.
Thank you for your articles, we enjoy reading them every Shabbos. My questions revolve around my teenage son. As a single mother, I do my best to keep the family together. Over the past year or so, there is one threat to our stability, and it’s his iPhone. I know you’re written on this topic in the past, but I can’t help wondering if I’m doing something wrong. He spends every waking moment looking at, checking, or even touching the phone. It’s like a security blanket for him, and I’m terrified. Do you think it’s possible for me to have him cut back his dependency without him getting upset at me? Private – Flatbush.
This is a topic that’s being discussed in so many forums, and there is no definitive answer to it. You brought up many great points, and I’d like to take a moment to focus on four of them.
Stability. A phone does threaten the stability of many families, and it’s not only because of the kids. It’s funny how we’re so quick to ask our children to put away their phones, but when we get an e-mail or text, we jump. I recently saw a video of a person who played the sound of a phone vibrating in a crowded train and watched as all the adults simultaneously grabbed their phones. While it’s certainly an issue with the kids, the adults are just as bad, if not worse. Granted, we conduct some of our work on cellphones, but to a child, their game is just as important as our e-mails.
Waking Moment. This is so important. As attached as we are to our phones during the day, using phones at night can be catastrophic. I say “we”, not “they”, because, again, it’s not only an issue with children. A great rule is “no phones in any bedrooms.” There are many reasons for this. The information overload is harmful, the blue light can cause issues, and our brains are getting zero downtime. A great idea is to set up a centralized charging station in the house - if you trust that your kids won’t take their phones in the middle of the night. Alternatively, you can have them charge in your bedroom. As an added bonus, your teenagers will get out of bed faster in the morning, to get to their phones.
Security Blanket. What is a security blanket? It’s an object (usually a blanket or doll of some sort) that gives a child comfort. As children mature, they tend to reduce the amount of time spent with this object. Whereas a two-year-old child might hold onto his blanket all day, when he’s three it might only be for napping or bedtime. The issue here, is that older children are developing an odd dependency on their phones. I witnessed a Bar Mitzvah-age boy suffering actual withdrawal symptoms during a three-day Yom Tov. He was irritable, nervous and kept telling the people around him that he couldn’t wait for Yom Tov to end. The words he told me were, “I need to feel my phone in my pocket. Until Yom Tov is over, I’m keeping a bar of chocolate instead, since it feels kind of the same.” While he might have been a bit over the top, many kids these days have become overly-dependent on their phones.
We can combat this by insisting that they leave their devices elsewhere when involved in any family-related activities. Suppertime? Phones go away. Going bowling as a family? No phones. Just remember, that if you pull your phone out, it will seem hypocritical to your child. This is also a great time to begin the “No phones while driving” rules. Personally, I think that WAZE took us backwards. It’s apparently okay for people to drive with their phone out, because they’re following directions. I almost got run over by a person at a crosswalk on Central Avenue, because she was checking Waze. She apologized, swore she would put her phone down, and promptly picked it up as she drove away.
Cut Back. This is tough. As we just mentioned, reducing dependence on any devices is difficult. The best method is usually distraction. Water sports are great, since most phones aren’t waterproof, but anything outdoors is fantastic. Music lessons, karate, or anything that keeps them moving will work. The goal is to provide other options. You don’t want to keep saying, “Put your phone away”, since you’re actually having the reverse effect. You’re basically saying, “You always use your phone and it’s a part of you.” It would be better to ignore it (yes, even though it’s annoying). You should be very strict about him looking at you and making eye contact when you’re communicating. Just don’t mention the phone. It’s not about the phone, it’s about common decency. When you’re having a conversation, you maintain eye contact. If he keeps looking at his phone, you can walk away and say, “We’ll continue this conversation when you are able to be a part of it.”
The last point I would like to discuss, is him getting upset at you. He’s a teenager. He’s going to get upset at you quite often, and that’s completely normal. Just make sure that when he’s upset at you, you don’t get upset back. Give him his space. Don’t act all calm and relaxed while he’s upset too, as that can also be irritating. Let him know that you care about him and walk away. While it’s not fun having your son upset at you, it’s going to happen. Just make sure to choose your battles.
Have a Good Shabbos and an easy fast.
Rabbi Ross. I’ve been reading your emails for a few years, and most of them apply to younger children. Let’s expand your repertoire. My married son has come to me for the fifth time in two years to borrow money. At what time do we cut the cord? My parents never supported me and that gave me the impetus I needed to become self-reliant. Can I tell him “No”? Sam - Monsey
Thanks for helping me “Expand my repertoire.” I actually do receive questions regarding married children, but many of them don’t apply to the general population. Your question is actually pretty common, so we’ll try to answer it.
Many years ago, a fellow that I’m friendly with decided to do something unique. He saved up very large sum of money and gave it to his son right after he (the son) got married. He was awfully confused when his son came to him 6 months later to borrow money.
It turns out that the young couple had rented an apartment for $5,500 a month and furnished it with many high-end items. They also leased two expensive cars and went on a few vacations. This fellow’s reaction was to involve himself in his son’s finances. He got him out of the apartment and downgraded the leases to affordable cars. After a few weeks, the budget went from $13,000 a month to under $3,500.
Although his son resented this intrusion, years later he admitted that it was the best thing that ever happened to him. Learning the value of money is very important and being able to mantain a budget is crucial. His son now has a few children and is, Baruch Hashem, self-sufficient.
Without knowing the particulars, it’s obviously difficult to answer your question. It doesn’t sound like your son is borrowing money, it sounds like he’s taking money. The simple solution would be to do what this father did. Tell your son, “If I’m giving you money, I would like to be involved in your financials.” If he says yes, help him get his act together. If he says no, it’s time to stop helping.
It’s not helping out that’s the issue, it’s enabling him. Young couples need to understand the importance of a budget and the value of money. Obviously, if they need help buying food you should help out, but it sounds like it’s more than basic necessities.
If you’re worried that it will cause your son to be upset with you, you’re correct. It’s going to happen no matter what. At some point in time, you’re going to stop helping out, and that’s when he’s going to say you’re not being a good father.
The fact is, teaching children the value of money is something that needs to be done when they’re much younger. I did publish a two-part article a while back that discussed some cool tips parents can use. You can click here to read it. It’s important to recognize that although every child is different, money smarts are typically a learned behavior.
There is a twelve-year-old boy in the Five Towns that wanted a newer phone. His father gave him a few lemons, some sugar, ice and cups, and told him to sell lemonade on the side of the road. The boy spent eight hours in the sun and made over $190 dollars. He came home exhausted and told his father, “Forget the phone. I want to save the money I earned.”
If your son is insistent that he desperately needs help and refuses to allow you to get involved, with the exception of taking your money, there is one more option. You can agree to have his Rav mediate. As parents, you need to show some empathy whenever possible. Additionally, having his Rav involved will remove some of the pressure from you to help with the necessities. If he refuses this offer, I think it’s time to cut the cord.
Have a good Shabbos.
My children are spoiled. I have no problem admitting it, although my husband disagrees. They think that if we don’t give them something they want, we’re being unfair to them. My husband feels that we should give in since they’ll mature as they get older. We decided to follow your advice on this.
Karen – Flatbush
I have some news for you. Many adults also feel that if they don’t get what they want, life is unfair. We live in a society where many people feel a sense of entitlement, and it’s absolutely nauseating. However, there is a difference between spoiling children and creating a sense of entitlement.
Spoiling children is giving them things that they don’t need but enjoy. Usually grandparents do this, and I’ve received many emails from frustrated parents that seem to have forgotten how much fun grandparents can be. Many children that are “spoiled” end up living normal and healthy lives. Obviously, there are those parents that give in to their children more easily than others. Parents that spoil their children don’t like to say “no” but will come down on their children at times. A spoiled child can be very well-mannered and easygoing at a friend’s house. So, a little bit of spoiling won’t necessarily be harmful.
Entitlement is a lot worse. Children that are entitled won’t help out around the house even when asked. They never accept blame and require a bribe for almost any act. They feel that they are above rules, and don’t deal well with disappointment. Entitled children aren’t usually good playdates and tend to require a lot of attention. Children like this very often have issues as they get older. They refuse to get a job and insist on receiving support. Parents of entitled children rarely tell their children “no”.
You need to ask yourselves if you’re spoiling or entitling your children. If you’re just spoiling them, it’s not hard to stop. All you need to do is begin treating your children as if they’re children. Tell them what to do, don’t ask their opinion. Show them love but be firm. Don’t buy them everything that they desire. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with spoiling children a little bit, however, becoming too strict can have pretty serious consequences. Especially if you were easy-going and you decided to become tougher. The key to striking a balance is to always show your children how much you care.
Children that are entitled are usually a bit older. There’s no definitive age but becoming tougher won’t necessarily work. They might overreact, and this can quickly spiral out of control. If you really believe your children feel entitled, it would be wise to seek the advice of a mental health professional. It usually does not resolve itself if left alone – on the contrary it gets worse as they get older.
I would like to address the point your husband made about them maturing as they get older. Approximately ten years ago, I was in a shul in Florida. I was one of the first ones there and ended up sitting behind two men who looked to be in their late eighties. They were having a loud discussion about who showers more often, but I figured they were joking around. A few minutes later, a third man walked in. The first two looked at him and began accusing him of, (I’m embarrassed to write this), passing gas. They were using an immature term, one used frequently by children in the fourth grade. They didn’t let up. What took the cake was when the third man told them, “I’m telling the Rabbi on you!”
At that time, I had an epiphany. People do not necessarily mature with age. These men were just as immature as fourth graders and were not embarrassed. Maturing is a process that comes from socializing and observing others, amongst other factors. Happy moments, sad occasions and even frustrating circumstances all are opportunities for growth and maturation.
The key factor here is how the parents deal with a situation. There are always opportunities for parents to help children mature, by being aware and sensitive to what is going on around them. For example, let’s say your daughter witnessed her friend being embarrassed. If you tell her, “Poor kid” and walk away, you’re missing out on a maturing opportunity. Rather you can say, “I wonder how she felt? Is there anything that could have been done to prevent this from happening?” In this way you’re helping your child mature, by giving her the opportunity to think about what happened and grow from the experience.
Have a good 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.