Thursday, October 18, 2007

Our Kids... Do We Want To Force Them To Keep The Mitzvos?

Rabbi Horowitz (who has been recently appointed at the "Bloggers' favorite rabbi") wrote a new article concerning teenagers. He makes the point that there are kids who rebel at young ages (13 or 14) and no longer have an interest in being frum. These aren't kids who are getting involved in drugs, alcohol, sex, etc., they just aren't interested in keeping the mitzvos (commandments).

As he says:

I am getting a new wave of parents begging me to speak to their children. The profile is chillingly similar: 13-14 years old boys and girls. High achieving in school. No emotional problems; great, respectful kids from great homes. Well adjusted. They just don’t want to be frum. Period. They are eating on Yom Kippur, not keeping Shabbos, not keeping kosher; et al.

No anger, no drugs, no promiscuous activity. They are just not buying what we are selling. Some have decided to ‘go public’, while others are still ‘in the closet’. In some of the cases, their educators have no idea of what is really going on.

Without offering any concrete ideas on what should be changed, Rabbi Horowitz correctly points out that *something* must be done.

What I found interesting was that right away, the very first commenter, chose to bury his (or her) head in the sand. The comment was:

I dont believe it. 13 and 14 year old kids are still very much under their parents control. They might not be as frum as their parents might want them to be, but eating on Yom Kippur and being Mechalel Shabbos at home with their parents there? Personally I think that you are trying to scare up some business for yourself. Maybe get more speaking engagements or more people reading your column. Kids at that age are not bold enough to go against their parents.

The commenter, IMHO, missed the point entirely. Could a parent enforce observance on a thirteen or fourteen year old? Probably. They could probably lock up the kitchen on Yom Kippur, make sure the kid doesn't go to parties on Friday night, bentches after every meal and so on. But is that really what we want? In my opinion, if you have to *force* kids to keep the mitzvos, then you've already lost a good deal of the battle.

Teenagers (and yes, even ones as young as 13) are old enough to begin searching for their own identity and to begin forming world-views. They are no longer at an age where they will simply accept the hashkafos of parents simply because it's what their parents believe and do. They are beginning to find their way in the world and will not be stuffed back in the bottle. As the parent of three kids in the age range of 11 to 14, I can tell you that they can all think independently of how you *want* them to think.

The goal, as I said earlier, is not to enforce observance of the mitzvos. The goal should be to foster an environment in which your children *want* to keep the mitzvos. That's the only method that has any chance of success... because the time will come when your thirteen-year-old turns twenty, and you have no control over him/her at all. At that point, the only thing that you have left is how much you made your kids want to keep the mitzvos. You won't be able to force them anymore.

The Wolf


PsychoToddler said...

We need to do more kiruv kerovim, yes, even to our own kids who were nominally born frum from birth.

Personally, more carrot and less stick should be used from early on. Kids need to see and buy into the beauty of Yiddishkeit. And they should be allowed to ask questions and have them answered by people who understand both yiddishkeit and teenagers.

Anonymous said...

And yet so much of today's frum "education" is--when looked at clearly--little more than forcing people to be frum. The real reason people go OTD at a certain age is because it's the first chance they had to. If you gave the 14 year olds a no-strings-attached "out," how many do you think would choose to stay frum? I'd be *shocked* it was more 20%.

BrooklynWolf said...

That's exactly the point, anon. We ought to be focusing on showing kids that it's good (and in their best spiritual self-interest) to keep Shabbos.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

Of course, but let's be honest: how feasible is that? Even if we're 100% right about shabbos, it's incredibly hard to compete with the competition: not being frum. It's not a coincidence that the only frum people today are the ones with their choice removed and/or minimized! Sure, there are exceptions (both frum by choices and not frum despite anti-choice tactics). But the overarching story of the last 150 years is that when Jews can choose freely to not be frum, observance wanes rapidly. That's a shame, but denying that reality just means your solutions will be ineffective.

Anonymous said...

(I'd even add that lots of people who succumbed and stopped keeping Shabbos regret it at least a little once they no longer have it. But charata doesn't change the equation much.)

Jewish Atheist said...

Maybe the problem is that the frum community thinks it's a tragedy if someone decides that frumkeit isn't for him.

High achieving in school. No emotional problems; great, respectful kids from great homes. Well adjusted... No anger, no drugs, no promiscuous activity.

Sounds good to me.

-suitepotato- said...

I totally agree Wolf and would only add that...

1. If they are to do so with any meaning it must be because they chose to do so of their own free will.

2. The way to get that free will decision to teach the kids to love G-d more than fear G-d. Fear only last so long before you get tired of being afraid and you feel cornered, and you rise up in rebellion against the source of your fear. Love embraces the source of it.

Good post Wolf.

Anonymous said...

>>Kids need to see and buy into the beauty of Yiddishkeit.<<

Like having to say 5 pages of prayer everytime you have a little bread?

Miriam said...

I have a suspicion that its the way frum life is being presented that drives them away. Yes, they need to see and buy into the beauty of Yiddishkeit, but Yiddishkeit can also be beautified.

I once went to a shiur that almost killed me. LOL. Spiritually I mean.

Hearing all the restrictions and the uptightness and seeing how everyone was trying to have a 'one up on you' frumness. It gave me a headache!

Now i've resigned to just staying in my cocoon (home) and venturing out w/ folks I know aren't so judgemental on me. New ppl make me weary.

That's too hard to live like this. I won't go off the derekh, because I really do believe and know that there is beauty in the Torah, mitzvot, etc. But I don't like the judgemental-ness nor the chumras that are used as a red badge of frumness.

mother in israel said...

I don't think this is a failure of Jewish education per se. 13yos who are mechalel Shabbat can only be a result of total disconnection from parents--nothing more, nothing less.

Anonymous said...

anonymous re: the bread prayer

That's an excellent example. It teaches them not to eat casually (don't do the meal/if you're too rushed for the spiel) :)

Seriously, though...

I think the key process is to make them see that the words are like...a touchstone. Like a family heirloom. That the important thing is to learn the history of the heirloom, what it was used for, and why it was treasured by your ancestors.

Then to try and put themselves in their forbears' shoes and answer why it should be special to the kid here and now.

But I don't have kids so this is just theory. I just think that teaching them to distinguish between form and meaning, and teach the relation between the two, is critical.

Of course, teaching children to value and live in a world oriented on ideas in equal measure with material reality is easier said than done. But I think it's part of the way...

Anonymous said...

One way to make the connection between form and meaning might be to talk about a common cause of relationship breakup.

Namely, taking the other person for granted. It's not just a matter of pleasing the other person by making them feel needed. By treating them with praise and overt respect we remind OURSELVES what's so great about them.

Otherwise, we tend to get bored and drift on to someone else. And its such a waste of time. People want the "best" relationship instead of trying to learn what's good enough.

Of course, the downside to this is it's important not to show respect or give praise you don't 100% believe in. To continue the metaphor, talking yourself into marrying someone isn't right, either.

And so it is with prayer or ritual. Ask your kid "is this praise/respect we accord Hashem and each other mean anything to you or is it not ringing true?"

There's a million ways to look at all of what goes into being Jewish. I truly feel there is something that comes from the heart that can connect everyone to Torah...

(as long as they have the raw knowledge to make sense of the patterns and "the master story". Which is why it's hard to convert (wry look) and why your child's education is critical...

...and why I question the value of teaching Gemara to children instead of teaching them Jewish history,Tanakh, Aggadah, and applied Halacha. What's the point of knowing what type of damages your neighbour owes you for if he rear ends you if you don't know why you are a Jew and what that means?

Sure, some gemara to explain the process and fundamentals of judging yourself and your actions is great. But without an emotional motivation that makes you WANT to continually judge yourself, the skill may be moot.)

Anonymous said...

"a new wave of parents"

In other words, a handful of kids. Hardly an epidemic. And how do we know that they're such perfect little angels with perfect home lives? Because their parents say so?

Sorry, but it seems that you (he?) don't understand a teeanger's psyche. At that age they are only beginning to try to figure out who they are and what they believe. It is generally unlikely that a 13 or 14 year old will eat on Yom Kippur and firmly declare himself nonreligious from this day forward.

If a 14 year old is that willing to split from his parents, there must something seriously wrong with that relationship.

-suitepotato- said...

"Sure, some gemara to explain the process and fundamentals of judging yourself and your actions is great. But without an emotional motivation that makes you WANT to continually judge yourself, the skill may be moot."

Thank you Kendra. Your entire response was wonderful and rang true to me.

Anonymous said...

The Rav, ZT"L, said many years ago that the only way the Torah can triumph against nonobservance is if it is clear that Torah observance makes one a more moral and ethical person. Those who look for chumrot bein adam lamakom, but kulot bein adam l'chaveiro must force frumkeit on their children. Those who take the opposite approach are far more likely to be able to teach their children to love Torah.

Those who think that the torah can't compete with secular culture do not really believe in the Torah. At least not the begining of Parshat Va'etchanan: "Ki hi chochmatchem ubinatchem leinei ha amim ...."

Anonymous said...

As BT, I take an exception to the premise that people are shomer mitzvos because they have no choice about it.

The problem, IMO is that people are fed up with frum world and all the fakeness that they see in it. My Daughter (20) who is also BT recently announce that she is no longer frum, and from now on she refers to herself as shomer mitzvos. Frum is another four-letter-word.

For example, there is an FFB family in our shul. They are Black Hats with all the trimings. To apply for high school parents have to lie on applications, and their boys got suspended from respective schools because they went with the family on vacation. Girls did not get suspended because their mother works in the school and she was even offered [by the school] to be their spy in exchange for free flight. There are a few skeletons in the family's closet (such as theft and other unethical behaivor) which is being hidden from the public. So, is there any wonder why their oldest son doesn't want to be a black hat? Why he cut off his pios? Why he openly criticizes family minhogim?