Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Rant on Parental Responsibility and My Son's Classmates

Some recent events have forced Eeees and I to have a talk with Walter, our oldest, about birds, bees and other similar topics. He is approaching an age where he has to learn to cope with certain urges and understand certain feelings that his body is giving him. He has to learn how to properly deal with women and what are the healthy and unhealthy ways of dealing with them.

During the conversation, the topic took a detour from him to his classmates. To be honest, I was kind of surprised to hear the things that I heard. I've been told that the vast majority of his classmates spend a fair amount of their free time discussing "hot babes" with each other. Some of them have pictures of "hot babes" on their cellphones, including some that are unclothed. Many of them, it seems, have seen movies or television shows that are highly inappropriate (IMHO) for thirteen-year-old boys. All this in a yeshiva that, while, not at the outmost fringes of the right-wing is certainly on that side of center.

To be honest, I'm kind of shocked and a bit angry. I'm shocked that there are parents that are so clueless as to what their children are doing. I'm not saying that Walter is an angel -- heaven knows (pun intended) that he's not -- he's got his own teenage issues to deal with -- but I can honestly say that we have a pretty good handle on what he sees, listens to and reads, and we do screen for inappropriate material. We didn't let him see the latest (fourth) Harry Potter movie because we felt the bath scene with Moaning Myrtle was somewhat inappropriate for his age. Maybe in another year or two... but not yet. I know that most (all?) of his classmates have no doubt seen it. One kid in his class carries around episodes of Family Guy (a funny show, but not for kids) on his MP3 player. The kids in the class talk about Borat (they saw Borat??!!) and some of the reported homosexual content in the movie (I haven't seen it, so I can't comment on it one way or the other. However, according to the report from CommonSenseMedia, it's fairly explicit).

Do parents know what their kids are doing? My son sometimes complains that we won't let him watch this or that. But in the end, we believe that it's for his benefit and that he'll thank us in the end. After all, isn't that what responsible parents do -- shield their children from things that are inappropriate?

I'm also a bit angry, but I suppose that it's somewhat my own fault. I'm angry because for years the yeshiva has been making me feel (or, perhaps more correctly, I've been *allowing* the yeshiva to make me feel) like a sub-standard parent because we have a television in the home and we allow our kids to watch DVDs, read secular books, etc. But now, I see what other kids in the class are doing and, with perhaps one other exception, I find that our child is probably the most "shielded" kid in the class -- and I'm angry. I'm angry because (a) I feel like I've been stigmatized by the administration for no reason and (b) instead of needing to screen the other kids from mine, I find now that all along it's been my kid who has been needing screening from the other kids! And yet, Eeees and I were the ones who were told that we run a "liberal household" by a former principal at the school. If only he knew what would become of this class five years later!

I just don't get it. Who is in the wrong here? The "good parents" who "don't have a television" or "don't watch movies" but have their kids watching things that are highly inappropriate and who have pornographic pictures on their cell phones; or me, who openly has a television, who openly goes to movies (although my kids don't) and who does his level best our guide our children in what they should watch and see and try to teach them that some media are just inappropriate for them at the present time?

The Wolf


SaraK said...

You are absolutely right. This has always been a pet peeve of mine. I was allowed to talk to guys when I was in HS and most of my interaction was in the neighborhood or even (gasp!) in my own home, with my Mom always knowing who I was talking to. But the girls whose parents didn't let them talk to guys were doing way worse things than talking, in hiding.

Anonymous said...

as a parent living in moville i prefer to know what my kids are doing.
i watch with them.
Lost, Heroes

Deal or no deal.
all the harry potter movies.

those who close it off should know their kids are going elsewhere to get it.
are you better off?

eglantine said...

i really feel for you. there are complexities and levels of deception and self-deception in the orthodox community that are baffling to say the least, and psychosis inducing at the worst. i feel that there are ever shifting levels of reality that are presented by the schools with utmost confidence and authority, but then it turns out that things do not match with reality. i think that a lot has to do with a top down approach to things: bringing a model to things and concluding that things are such and such based on the model ( for example, if sb has tv he has to be liberal, lax etc) ; as opposed to a more empirical ,fact based approach, bottom -up so to speak.
these are jsut some thoughts that your comments triggered in me.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

you've just demonstrated the greatness of moderation.

Ezzie said...


or me, who openly has a television, who openly goes to movies (although my kids don't) and who does his level best our guide our children in what they should watch and see and try to teach them that some media are just inappropriate for them at the present time?

...which is why your kids don't do more. Sometimes, it really *is* that simple.

Married and Navigating Jewish Brooklyn said...

It is quite sad that this is what happens in the Yeshiva. As long as the parents and admin. turn a blind eye to these types of situations nothing will ever be done. I know where I work the menahel is oblivious..and probably due to the fact that the real troublemakers and ones who are really watching tv and internet are the movers and shakers in the community

Anonymous said...

Are you that naive? You are doing what is right for your child, following your own standards and that's as it should be. To think that the yeshiva is a model for living in the real world is delusional. You can see that while yeshiva personnel are good at making parents feel bad for not following thier view of how life should be lived, they have no clue as to the reality of what kids have in mind and how they go about finding what they want to find. Keep up the good work as a parent.

Orthonomics said...

Unfortunately there are many parents today who just ban and ban and expect the yeshivot to raise their children. Like you, we are trying to take active roles, demonstrate moderation, and be vigilant.

One thing I don't see us doing is providing our kids with cell phones. I'm not of the "banning" variety, but I sometimes wonder if providing them with that type of freedom is just asking for it. Unfortunately, things have changed so much I'm not sure if land lines will even exist years from now.

Your kids will thank you later I'm sure.

RaggedyMom said...

This was a great, important post.

It really is ironic that a household such as yours where you and your wife are clearly so vigilant and involved with your kids is maligned as second-rate based on criteria that obviously falls short.

It is not an easy thing to toe the line and not live in absolutes on one side of the fence or the other, but I have a feeling that your kids will appreciate and value this approach in the long term, and that you'll be sleeping a lot better at night than some of these other parents in 4-5 years.

Anonymous said...

OK, then, what solution has been shown to work?

Anonymous said...

It's the focus on externals again. Your public movie attendance, admitted TV ownership and mode of dress are perceived as "lower" than others. While one (my) can certainly argue against these practices, the fact remains they do not "make" the person, or child, as much as other influences having to do with attitude / midos ,respect, and general yiras shomaim. So these good aspects are able to prevail because they are more important. I suspect your child's friends are missing some of these.

PsychoToddler said...

I think you're doing absolutely the right thing. You're teaching your kids how to discriminate.

It is not a black and white world, no matter how much the "black" community wants to make it that way. You can't shield your kids from everything. Sooner or later, they will be exposed to the real world, and have to know where to draw their lines.

These communities you describe want to outlaw everything. Therefore to these kids, there are no boundaries. Everything is taboo, therefore everything is desirable. It just doesn't work.

What was it Captain Kirk said? "There are a thousand things in this Galaxy you can have, and there are a thousand things you can't have." Happiness is understanding which is which. Oops, TV again. never mind.