Hoping you had an uplifting Yomim Noraim as well as a joyous Yom Tov. School is back in session with all major and most minor kinks worked out. Students, teachers & parents are ready to get into the thick of things and now the real work starts. For the teachers the newness of the school year has come and gone, for the students they have already caught up with their friends about what’s new and cool and for parents the most they are going to get out of their adolescent about school is the occasional grunt “school oh yes, its ok”. What does that mean? How do parents fulfill their role as supporters of their children’s development with such a response.
This is where communication between parents and their children comes into play. How do we ensure there is a dialogue? In this weeks’ Parsha we see an unprecedented level of communication among the inhabitants of the entire world to the extent that Rashi tells us that all of humanity were in agreement (The UN wishes it could duplicate that level of unanimity). Rashi later on in the Parsha tells us that this level of Achdus was real. Rashi writes “that they conducted themselves with love and friendship” answering how it was that the flood generation was destroyed whereas the dispersion generation was spared even though their transgression was by far greater (their plan was to attack HKB”H).
So what was their secret? How were they able to achieve and maintain such a powerful level of Achdus. The answer lies in the words “The whole earth had one language” sharing the same language with others is how one connects and creates relationships. We see from the Torah how powerful communication is, it can traverse over socio-economic statuses, distance and time. For all of humanity to be in unison it must have meant that one’s financial situation, demographic and age were not an issue. Thus finding a common language with our children is how we communicate with them. A common language is not necessarily English, Hebrew or even Yiddish it is a language they relate to. For some children it is music, for some it is nature, for some it is a video game and for others it is a combination of Whatsapp, Xbox and singing Zemiros at the Shabbos table.
Knowing your child’s modes of communication is the key to his heart. Rashi attests to that as we saw earlier. So what went wrong? Why did this generation that had achieved the elusive “peace among nations” go so wrong? Once again Rashi helps us by telling us that they lacked Hakoras Hatov – they had just been rescued by HKB”H from a flood that had destroyed the majority of the world and here they were, ready to wage war against their savior. If the foundation of a relationship is based on gratitude it is a relationship that is guaranteed to be an everlasting one. This is one of the most important lessons we can teach our children (to be expounded on more in a later episode).
Catch your child being good
This may sound very simple or at least as simple as noticing every time you child doesn’t do what he is supposed to do. But the truth is, it’s much more difficult. When something is out of place we notice it – when it is where it belongs we pass over it without a second glance.
Therein lies the value of this Felt Tip – catching your child being good is an exercise for us as parents as well as being helpful in encouraging good behavior. Just like the early bird catches the worm, we need to rise early – mostly figuratively 🙂 and pay attention to what is happening in our child’s life and learn to appreciate them. Completing this exercise will also help us learn what our children’s modes of communication are (see above).
With the upcoming holiday of Simchas Torah, Rabbi Stulberger, Dr. Jones and I would like to bring to your attention something that concerns us. We have become increasingly aware that some of our students have been consuming alcohol without parental approval. This tends to happen at Kiddushim, Sholom Zochors, weddings, when parents are out of town or any time they can get access. Unfortunately, teens can also abuse alcohol under the guise of religion. They may, for example, drink dangerously – sometimes even with adult approval – on Simchas Torah or on Purim. As you know, alcohol impairs judgment, and when consumed irresponsibly, often lead to reckless and dangerous behavior among teenagers. With the added factor of a teenager’s prevalent sense of invincibility, those who do drink are at a very real risk of putting themselves in true peril. This is a pressing concern that needs to be addressed as a community, consisting of parents, educators, shuls and schools.
Just as our Rabbis had the foresight, wisdom and intellectual honesty to establish fences (gedarim) around our commandments so as to prevent us from giving in to difficult temptations, we must be brave enough to acknowledge the temptations our young people face and establish boundaries for them as well. Most importantly, we have a religious imperative to safeguard life and our bodies, “V’nishmartem M’od L’nafshotechem,” as they are holy gifts from our Creator. We have a religious, as well as communal, obligation to take a proactive stand in protecting our children from harm. There are two ways of dealing with this issue: we can either pretend it is not happening – putting our heads in the sand and our children at risk – or we can confront it openly. It is present in the school and we at Valley Torah are ready to confront it head on.
As a school, we will partner with you to help our students stay safe and out of trouble, but it is ultimately your rule-setting and vigilance that will help your children make wise decisions, now and in the future. Therefore, I am adding a set of guidelines that you may wish to implement with your children.
The bottom line is simple: be sure to know what your child is doing and with whom. Although this may give the impression that we do not trust our teens, the contrary is actually the case! We are open and honest about the temptations and invitations facing our teenagers from all communities (even the most sheltered children in religious enclaves often fall victim to these situations). We are giving our children the tools to prevent situations in which they are at risk of injuring themselves and innocent people. While some of our teenagers will find these rules initially oppressive, if they become the norm in our community, our children will find comfort in the safety net that we have created for them.
As a school, we will make it clear to the students that anyone consuming alcohol will be subject to significant disciplinary sanctions up to and including expulsion. In the case of any issue of abuse or distribution, we will thoroughly investigate the allegations while vigorously safeguarding individual privacies. Students abusing alcohol will be referred to a school-approved therapist/program. Students engaging in illegal activities will be dealt with to the full extent of school policies and the law. Our common interest in enforcing these policies is to protect our students – your children – and provide them with any support or guidance they may require.
Also, please know that even the most savvy and connected parents are sometimes at a loss when it comes to issues such as these. We have an excellent team in the school that would be glad to discuss any of your concerns and provide guidance. If you are aware of any issues you would like to bring forward, please do not hesitate to contact the administration.
Gmar Chasima Tova and may this year be one of health and true happiness.
- Speak to your child about your policies regarding alcohol or any other illicit substance.
- Have an exit plan for your child. If your child call for help – you will assist with “no questions asked.”
- Let your child know explicitly what the consequences are if you find they have been abusing any substance.
- Make sure you know where your child will be at all times and VERIFY what he tells you.
- If something sounds fishy, follow up with more questions or a surprise visit.
- Come up with a very clear solution if his plans need to change at the last minute.
- If there is going to be alcohol – make sure that there is an adult in charge.
- Be extremely cautious If your child calls around curfew time and asks to stay over.
The first step in any relationship is communication. There is no one that will tell you that you can create, maintain or advance a relationship without communication. This is true for spouses, parents with their children and teachers and Rebbeim with their students. I would like to spend the next few weeks elaborating on these three different types of relationships and to highlight how vital communication is for each of them in the development of your children.
Communication between spouses is critical but what has that got to do with the development of our children? Well, the first place children look to for guidance is their parents. Significant theories of human development such as the socialization theory (Oetting & Donnermeyer, 1998), biopsychosocial theory (Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) and Vygotsky’s (1978) social development theory that base their entire premise on the idea that our children acquire their values and even religious beliefs by observing, learning from and being influenced by their parent’s behaviors, whether explicitly or implicitly.
This translates to us as parents, making sure we are on the same page as our spouse. It also means that we spend the time discussing with our spouse how to handle different situations that may arise. Being aware that what we say and what we do can have a long term impact on our children and it is not only a component of our children’s development but it is also part of our own personal development.
This is achieved through effective communication, which is more than just exchanging information; it’s also about understanding the emotion behind the information. Moshe Rabbeinu berated Yehosua for not being able to detect the sound that Bnei Yisroel was making while serving the golden calf. The Possuk says שומע אני ענות קול – I hear the sound of those who sing. Why did Yehosua need to discern the difference in sounds coming from the “camp”? My Rebbi explained that a leader needs to be able discern the difference in the voices of every individual – In order to lead, one needs to have the level of sensitivity that allows you to hear the emotion behind the voice. That is the hallmark of a true leader and if we want to be leaders in our lives, we need to acquire this trait.
Do you know what time your son is going to sleep? Yes, sure bedtime is 10:00 or 10:30 with lights out definitely by 11:00. But wait, is that when your son is actually going to sleep? With a smartphone that connects him to his friends, and to the world at large, how accurate is the bedtime we agree upon? A good idea is to have a charging station in the kitchen or a room away from the bedrooms and everyone including us leave our phones there to charge for the night maybe then we can be assured that our sons are charged for the next day at school..
Last week I wrote about the trilogy consisting of school, parents and students and what each contribute towards the development of our children. We also spoke about the need for synergy between these three components. There is, another aspect that overarches above all three and that is Tefillah – Prayer.
Chazal have taught us that even if one is in the direst of straits and the outlook appears bleak- Prayer can always turn things around. If prayer can have an impact when things are at their worst, it can certainly have an impact when things are going well (a time that needs less divine intervention).
During a Haskafah class this past Sunday a student turned to the class and sincerely expressed that he isn’t motivated to Daven as B”H things are doing well in his life – sure there are things he would like but he doesn’t have any serious problems. Another student shared that he finds it difficult to Daven because “why am I only communicating with HKB”H when I need something”. I used this opportunity to share with the boys a fundamental concept one of my Rebbeim taught me when I was still single. He said the best time to Daven is when you don’t need what you are praying for. He explained, that what you are doing, is building up credit in your bank account with HKB”H. He then told me, Daven for the right spouse, the greatest kids and a good living to support them now! while you are young and single. Baruch Hashem he was correct and when the time was right my Tefillas were answered with a wonderful spouse, amazing children and the best job I could imagine.
So let us take this time of prayer, the month of Elul as the Possuk tells us. דרשו ד’ בהמצאו קראהו בהיותו קרוב to “Seek out Hashem when He is nearby, call out to Him when He is near” (YeShaya 55:6). Hashem is closer to us during the month of Elul than any other time of the year [It is no coincidence that the school year begins in the month of Elul] and Daven for ourselves and more importantly for our children. We want them to be successful in all their endeavors and develop into frum healthy members of Klal Yisroel. This is a special time to be Davening. We get an especially high return now on banking some of our Tefillos for a future withdrawal like Davening for a successful life for our children. We can always find something to Daven for and find meaning with. In fact, if we do find ourselves struggling to connect our Tefillas to something in our lives, think of others. There is no end to what and who we can Daven for.
At Valley Torah we took all of this and went one step further. We wanted to get our students more involved with Davening. As we saw from our students, teenagers have difficulty with Davening; so we wanted to help them find something meaningful to Daven for. We all want to be connected to Eretz Yisroel and we are all sometimes guilty of getting caught up in the daily routine of our lives and unless things are really serious we tend to neglect what is happening to our brethren in Eretz Yisroel.
So here at Valley Torah we initiated a program whereby each student was assigned a different soldier who was wounded in operation Protective Edge. B”H, the list is diminishing however there are still numerous soldiers that need our prayers. It is our hope, that not only will the boys find meaning in their davening but they will also merit in the Chazal that assures us – that he who Davens for his friend will be answered first. May we all be Zoceh to have the power of tefillah help us achieve “אני לדודי ודודי לי” I am to my Beloved [Hashem] and my beloved [Hashem] is to me (Shir Hashirim 6:3).
Learn your son’s schedule. Find out when he has breaks. Find out when breakfast and lunch are. If you want to reach him those will be the best time too. He doesn’t want to get a text or a call during class time. He definitely doesn’t want his phone to ring or vibrate while it is in the call phone box on the teachers desk.