Hi Rebbe. My parents told me that kids are writing in to your column, and I have a unique problem, something that’s on my mind. There’s a huge Mitzvah to be happy, but I’m finding it very hard. I have two close friends and they both have better lives than me. Not only do their parents have more money, but they also let their kids get away with anything. My parents are super strict about everything, and it just seems very unfair. Please help. J.D. – Cedarhurst
This isn’t a unique problem, its actually a common one. In layman’s terms, it’s called “jealousy”. Your feelings are completely normal, and there are many children… and adults… who have the same issue. There are two things that we can discuss to help you out. The first is using a religious perspective, and the second is more of a logical reasoning.
There are ten commandments, as I’m sure you know. The last one seems to be a bit different from the others. Instead of telling us what we should do or not do, it tells us not to be jealous. That’s an emotion. Out of all the commandments, this seems to be the most difficult one to obey. Keeping Shabbos, not being a false witness, not killing or kidnapping, - well, those are pretty simple. But, how can we control our emotions?
The Ibn Ezra explains this by way of a parable. A simple man in the olden days was looking for a woman to marry. Being a common person, he considers his neighbor’s daughter, or the peasant girl down the road. This simple man would never yearn to marry the royal princess. Even if she is the most beautiful and desirable woman, he still wouldn’t invest any emotional energy in longing for her. Why not? He doesn’t consider the princess to be a realistic option. Royalty doesn’t marry commoners like him.
The Torah is teaching us that we need to appreciate that whatever we have in life, is perfect for us. It’s similar to a person desiring someone else’s glasses. The prescription would be of no use to him, so what would he do with it? Hashem gave each of us the tools we need to succeed. Desiring what your friends have just means that you’re not utilizing your own tools.
Typically, I try to stay away from responses like the one above. However, since you were perceptive enough to pinpoint the reason for your unhappiness, I wanted to give you the response I would share with an older teenager. As it says in Pirkei Avos, “Who is rich? One who is happy with his portion.” If happiness is what you really want, try your hardest not to focus on the other kids.
The following is more of a typical response I would give. The emotions you are feeling are happening all over the world. There’s a famous expression, “The grass is always greener on the other side.” While you think that the other kids are so happy and having the best life, you don’t really know what’s going on in their lives.
Approximately twenty years ago when I was a seventh-grade Rebbe, I had a boy in my class who we’ll call Simmy, with a similar issue. He was so jealous of a boy who seemed to have it all. This other boy, who we’ll call Donny, was a “cool” kid, his parents had money, and he was athletic. I wished then that I could tell Simmy the truth, that Donny was not happy. His parents didn’t give him very much attention, and he felt neglected.
One morning after Donny had a particularly hard morning, he came to me feeling very down. I told him that there were other boys that were jealous of him and he thought it was quite funny. He wrote a letter to share with Simmy in confidence. In this letter he wrote comments like, “I dream at night that I could switch places with anyone…. ANYONE in the class. My happiest moments are when I get to Yeshiva and I’m safe from everything. I’m not sure how you could possibly be jealous of me.”
After Simmy read the letter, he gave it back to me and I promptly tore it up, as per Donny’s request. Simmy never complained again and ended off the year doing wonderfully. Donny had a bit of a rougher time, but Baruch Hashem is doing well now.
I don’t know what is going on with the boys you are jealous of. I don’t know how happy they are, or what’s going on in their lives. I do know that you have wonderful parents who care about you. You are a bright boy with a wonderful future, and you need to focus on what you have and not what everyone else has.
There is one more thing you should know. Jealousy is not something that goes away. When you’re older there will always be people that have things that you might want. Conquering this at your age will make life much easier when you’re older.
Have a wonderful Shabbos!
Hi Rabbi Ross. I was wondering if you can advise me on something. My parents are struggling financially. They try to hide this from me and my two younger sisters, but I can tell something is up. I’m a fourteen-year-old boy by the way. My question is, should I get a job tutoring so I can help my parents out. I don’t want to insult them but on the other hand, I really want to help them out. I figured out that I can make almost $200 a week. Should I take the job? Private – Woodmere
This is one of the more impressive emails that I’ve received over the past few weeks. You sound like a very mature young man, and I’m sure your parents get a lot of Nachas from you.
Your parents are very smart people. In most cases, it’s much better NOT to tell your children when you’re going through any financial difficulties. Stress can be very overwhelming, and children have a lot on their heads without having to worry about money. I’ve heard many adults comment, “Kids have it so simple”, but it’s really not true. School, tests, social issues and more can all be stressful parts of childhood. Adding financial worries to the mix can really cause serious issues.
When parents DO need to tell their children, it should be done in a simple non-stressful way. For example, a friend of mine lost his job a few years ago. He called in his older kids and told them as follows: “I’m not sure if you’ve realized, but I’ve been home the past few days. I’m no longer working for ABC, and I’m in the middle of finding a new job. Therefore, for the next couple of weeks we’re going to be a little more careful about what we buy. We’ll be okay, and I’ll have a new job IY”H very soon.”
You mentioned that you could get a job tutoring. If you can pull it off without overdoing it, I think it’s a great idea. However, I don’t think you should be using the money to help your parents, rather, you should be saving your income. You can use your own money if you’re purchasing something for yourself.
It is very responsible that you want to help out and having a strong work ethic is a great way to succeed in life. There are a few people I know that feel it’s important for teenagers to chip in, since it helps them understand and appreciate the value of money. There is a family in Monsey that has all their children over thirteen pay 10% of the electric bill. This way they understand the consequence of leaving the lights on, or the AC running.
Personally, I would think most parents would want you to save your money. Ask them to help you open a junior savings account and start depositing your earnings.
Wishing your family Nachas and Parnassa,
Have a good Shabbos!
Rabbi Ross. I want to ask you a question. Why do my parents and I’m guessing other parents also, care so much when we waste time? If I even chill out on my phone for a second, my parents get all annoyed and upset with me saying I need to be more social. When they were kids, didn’t they also hang out or waste time? Why was it ok for them to be kids, but nowadays I need to be always doing something constructive? If I start playing fortnight for a minute, my father is all up in my face telling me I’m wasting my life, but when he was a kid, I heard from his friends he used to play space invaders and pinball all day and night. I guess what I want to know, is how can I tell my parents they are hypocrites? Name Redacted – Far Rockaway
Your last question was how you can tell you parents that they are hypocrites. You can’t. Even if they were being hypocritical, you couldn’t tell them something like that. Besides, I don’t agree that they’re hypocrites anyway. If your parents were playing these games nowadays, then it would be hypocritical.
I’ll give you an example. Imagine that a friend of yours sat down on a bench which was covered in wet paint. If he tells you, “Don’t sit down, it’s wet paint!”, is that hypocritical? According to your logic, since he sat down he can’t tell you not to. The fact is, he just doesn’t want you making the same mistake. The same holds true with your parents. In their eyes they made the mistake of “wasting time” when they were younger, and they want to protect you from making that mistake. It’s not hypocritical that they want what’s best for their children.
However, I actually agree with your first point. Kids need to be kids, and wasting time is a part of that process. There are many times that parents become over-protective and don’t let their children have enough freedom. As one girl wrote in a similar e-mail, “My parents are trying to live vicariously through me, and it’s making me miserable. I want to be able to learn from my own mistakes!”
The response many parents would have to this is actually a pretty good one. You’re correct that they spent time playing Space Invaders and pinball, but they also spent time outside playing ball or interacting with real people. Most kids these days haven’t played Space Invaders or pinball. I played both of those games, and while they were certainly fun, they got boring pretty quickly. The games that are being played these days, are designed to keep you occupied for hours. For example, you mentioned a game everyone is playing called Fortnight. It’s designed to be addictive, and kids (and adults) play for hours on end.
What this all boils comes down to is not if it’s okay to waste time. The question really is, how much time is it okay to waste. Your parents, and many other parents out there, are worried that because you’re spending so much time on electronic devices, you’re not maturing socially. There have been many studies about this over the past few years, and there is no doubt that kids these days are having social issues.
Here’s a simple test I’ve developed to see how social kids are. This isn’t necessarily scientifically accurate, and you might not understand why certain questions are relevant. Don’t think too much into it. Choose the answer to each question that you feel is the closest match to what you would do.
In any case, most parents these days are worried that their children aren’t developing socially. When parents were younger people interacted more, there were no cell phones and if you wanted to speak to someone you called or went to their house. It’s not anyone’s fault that kids have phones and communicate via texting. This is a new generation and with it comes new challenges.
These challenges affect you and your parents. You need to be aware how often you’re using electronics and understand that you can’t let it control you. That could mean limiting the amount of time you use electronics, and/or increasing the amount of time you spend with your friends (and, yes, even with your family).
So, what can you do if your parents are annoyed every time you “chill out?” I think you should be proactive. Before playing electronics, tell your parents that you need a little downtime. Make sure that you aren’t on your phone for too long, and when you’re finished let your parents know. For example, if you are playing a game for 20 minutes, and then stop and read a book for 15 minutes, your mom will think you’ve been playing for 35 minutes.
Another idea is to prove to your parents how social you can be. Be involved at dinner time, hang out with your siblings once in a while, and try to be upbeat whenever possible. This will show your parents that the downtime isn’t affecting you negatively.
Thanks for writing in and have a good Shabbos!
Rabbi Ross. My parents agreed that I can e-mail you regarding a fight we’re having. My friends have bedtimes of 10:00 and later, and my parents make me go into bed at 9:00. I’m twelve-years -old and I should be able to stay up later. Basically, every night we argue and I go upstairs and stay up until 10:00 or later anyway. How can I convince my parents to let me stay up later? Michael – Brooklyn
Michael, thanks so much for your email. First and foremost, I’d like to bring attention to the first sentence you wrote “regarding a fight” you and your parents are having. Parents and children do not have fights. They might have discussions, or disagree regarding an issue, but ultimately, the parents have the final say.
Your letter includes two different issues.
The second issue I have with lack of sleep, is that it’s not healthy. Growing children, and yes, you’re still growing, require sleep. There’s a huge debate regarding how much sleep someone your age needs. Some say as little as 9 hours, other say 12 hours. It seems that that smart solution is to take this case by case.
If you would like to ask your parents for a later bedtime, the first thing you need to do is demonstrate that you are both capable and responsible. Here is what I would suggest.
The second topic you mentioned in your question is regarding your friends. I’ve heard this complaint from hundreds of kids. “All of my friends have phones” or, “Everyone in my class is going”, and so many more.
It’s a tough argument to make. On the one hand, your parents put you in an environment in which all of your friends have something. Telling you that you can’t have it seems unfair. An example is, if every child, and I mean every child in the class, has a cell phone, it’s pretty unfair to tell one boy he can’t have one. In other words, there are times saying “all of my friends have one” is a valid argument.
What you’re forgetting, is that these friends of yours have different parents. Sure, they might have the newest iPod or go to a specific camp. However, they might also have to deal with things that you might not want to be involved with. The grass is always greener on the other side. You might think that they have the “good life”, but you don’t really know what’s going on in their lives.
Additionally, if you want to use your friends as proof, then your parents can turn and use that same argument. You want to go to basketball camp? Your friends aren’t going, why should you go? It’s a slippery slope you’re on. Besides, many boys that have tried this argument have found out that they’re actually wrong. One boy told me that everyone in his class had a smart watch. His proof? They told him. Not that I’m doubting an eight-year-old boy who doesn’t know that he’s wearing his undershirt inside out, but I have a gut feeling that most of these boys don’t really have a smart watch.
In other words, many times this is a pretty weak argument. You’re not necessarily entitled to something because other people have it. That’s not the way life works. Again, there are instances when you can use this approach; but bedtime is not one of them. If you want a later bedtime, do what we spoke about earlier. Prove to your parents that you are mature, responsible and ready for it.
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.