Sunday, January 10, 2016

Winning The Daily Wake-Up War

 The good news is that I am a morning person. The bad news is that our teenagers are not! (Although, I guess it could be worse. At least I was gifted with being a morning person. Without my waking the house, no one would ever be on time!) I think I speak for most parents of teens when I say that I often leave the house exhausted and frustrated after the daily morning wake-up battle. Another piece of good news is- this is happening in many households. (That's one plus of being a school psychologist- I get to hear about how other parents are equally frustrated and I am not alone!) My children are otherwise wonderful and pleasant, but mornings are not their best time of day.

It is helpful to keep in mind that their resistance is not entirely with malicious intent. Teens need an average of nine hours of sleep, but biological patterns make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11:00. Some teens actually get their second wind at around 10:00. Thus, the morning battle.

In a Frontline documentary “Inside the Teenage Brain,” (highly recommended!), they focused on research on teens and sleep. Researches found an internal biological clock that actually acts against the sleep-wake cycle which keeps teens awake when they should be feeling tired. After 12 hours of being awake, subjects ages 10-12 were actually less sleepy than they had been earlier in the same day. After 10:00, after more than fourteen hours of wakefulness had elapsed, they were even less sleepy. The teen's internal clock helps them stay alert at night when they should have been falling asleep, creating a “forbidden zone” for sleep around 9:00 or 10:00 pm. And, this same biological clock for us parents makes it hard for us to stay awake just when our teens are most alert.

By studying alertness, they also determined that “teens, far from needing less sleep, actually needed as much or more sleep than they had gotten as children -- nine and a quarter hours. Most teenagers weren't getting nearly enough -- an hour and a half less sleep than they needed to be alert. And the drowsiness wasn't only in the early morning. Teens had a kind of sleep trough in the mid-afternoon and then perked up at night, even though they hadn't had a nap.”

However, this is the reality with which are faced. Dr. James Lehman tells parents that step number one to alleviating this morning stress is for parents to “stop working so hard.” We take responsibility for getting them up in the morning. We are working so hard, so why should they? Why should they wake up if you are willing to do it for them? “You are substituting your extra energy and effort for your child's.” The key is giving them the responsibility for waking up.
New ground rules need to be established. Have a discussion with your child one evening about making a different plan. It is important to remember that a half-asleep adolescent is not capable of having a conversation with you in the morning. Keep the talk in the morning to a minimum, and the real conversation should happen when you are not rushing and when he is alert. For example, “From now on I will wake you twice. Then, after that, you are responsible. If you miss the bus, I will not drive you. You will miss school that day and will need to explain why you were out.” I've had parents tell children that they will have to take a car service to school and pay for it with their own money. This might sound harsh, and may not work for all families, but after a few days, they will realize you are not going to wake up for them. Likewise, if there are consequences in school, you will not bail them out.

Teens might need your help in figuring out how to get out of bed in the morning. Help them come up with some ideas. If you have a conversation with them about what is standing in their way and you help them problem solve, they will view you as trying to help them. For example, placing the alarm clock at the other end of the room so they need to get out of bed. Or making sure they pack themselves up the night before. Or, all phones charge in mom and dad's room after 9:00 pm.

You can also attempt to “wake up his brain” in the morning by loud music, nourishment or even a cute youtube video. Fuel his brain, but don't fuel the drama. We need to remind ourselves not to take the behavior personally, and stay calm.

Additionally, the natural consequences of not waking up in the morning on time, is an earlier bedtime. They can earn back their later bedtime once they can prove that they can be on time. The annoyance of having to go to bed earlier might be the incentive needed to wake up in the morning.

I have been trying some of the above advice, and it is working slowly. Until we have entirely eliminated the battles, my kids know not to talk to Mommy after 10:00 pm, as I am not a night person. And, I know not to talk to them in the morning. More good news- there are only ten more days until winter break, when we can let them sleep a little later and there's no rush to make the bus!

Advisory Update

Sixth Grade- Students set goals for the next trimester for each class based on last trimester's performance.

Seventh Grade- Students focused on resiliency and the the components which make one resilient.

Eighth Grade- Cheating in school is a topic that creates additional pressure for our teens. Students began discussing how cheating plays into a Yeshiva setting- or does it?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

New Year's Resolutions That Work

January 1st is a day that many pledge their New Year’s resolutions. There is a website we use with our 8th graders in Advisory at the beginning of the year called at  There you can write an e-mail to yourself and set it so it arrives at your inbox at the date of your choosing. We ask our 8th graders to set yearly goals and then have an e-mail arrive the day before graduation containing the goals, so they can see if they have achieved their goals.  This website is a great tool for setting “resolutions” or commitments that we make to ourselves. 
 According to Statistic Brain forecasts, 45% of people make resolutions this time of year, and only 8% keep them.  In considering why so many have such a difficult time sticking to resolutions they make, a piece written by  Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, z”l- the Piaseczno Rebbe, struck me as I read it an article called, “Wishes Are Not Resolutions” by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, (whom I believe is a Yavneh graduate).  Rav Shapira was a rabbi in the Warsaw Ghetto who was later murdered by the Nazis in the Trawinki labor camp.
Rabbi Goldberg quotes from Rav Shapira’s “spiritual diary” called Tzav V’Ziruz where he has the following entry:
“If you want to know if you you’ve progressed on your spiritual path over the years, the way to judge is to look at your resolution – at your inner drive – and not at your wishes. Only the inner drive with which you work to attain your desired goal is called resolution. But if you don’t work but rather just want, this is not called resolution. It is just some wish that you wish for yourself to be blessed with that desired objective. For example, the pauper who works to sustain himself, this is a drive, because he is doing something constructive toward it. But the wish that he’ll find a million dollars is just a wish to be rich and not a resolution. Every Jew would like to be a tzadik (righteous person), but this is no more than a wish; he’d like to wake up in the morning and suddenly find himself a tzadik. Only the level and state of being that you seriously work toward can truly be called a resolution.”
There is a difference between a wish and a resolution.  “We claim to want to do them, but the truth is they are just wishes. We wish to wake up one morning, as the Rebbe said, and find ourselves suddenly doing those things or living that way. Stop wishing and to start making real resolutions. Personal growth is the result of making a plan, spelling it out and holding ourselves accountable to keeping to it.” Resolutions also take effort and require hard work. Wishes are magical- wishing upon a star, birthday wishes etc.  
Rabbi Goldberg suggests that if you make resolution, create a plan and then set it as a reminder on your phone (one suggestion). is another good suggestion.  I wish you good luck…no- that doesn’t sound right- wishing has nothing to do with it. I join you in supporting your resolution for a practical plan for change.
Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade:  Sixth graders discussed how they think they did in their classes this past trimester- before receiving their report cards, and how to have conversations with their parents about their grades.
Seventh Grade:  Students began to discuss resiliency as they began a new unit “When Life Gives You Lemons- Coping With Adversity In Life.”
Eighth Grade:  Students wrote an “instruction manual” for themselves for their parents- this is what they would want their parents to know about them and what “makes them tick.”

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Report Card Conversations With Your Child

         In the next days, the first trimester report card will come out.  More important than the grades on the report card are the three conversations that will be had about this report card.  Three?

         First, is the conversation that your child will initiate with you.  “What?” you might say.  One might imagine that most children would avoid having that conversation with their parents.   In sixth grade Advisory we stress how parents appreciate when students are upfront and honest with them about their report cards, even before their parents see them.  (Most students have a sense of what their grades on the report cards will be even before they are out.  But, we do find that there are some students, despite seeing their grades all trimester, who are still clueless about their grades. We therefore also do an activity in Advisory where the students need to predict their grades before they see them.  We then see how accurate they truly were. If they were not accurate- why is that? What are they missing? ) The same with specific grades on tests and assignments- it is always a good idea to share your grades with your parents before they find out.  Why?  It sends the message to parents that we are not trying to avoid, hide or dodge anything. Rather, we want to partner with them to do better.

    This approach creates a non-combative atmosphere where parents and children are there to help each other.
We then actually role play with them the best way to speak to their parents.  Here are two scenarios we act out with them:

Parents Surprised By The Report Card:
Narrator:  Mrs.  Gold just received Joey’s report card. He got a C in Math and a D in Gemara.
Parent: Joey! Come in here right now!!!
Joey:   What (innocently)?
Parent:  (Angrily) Why didn’t you tell me you got a C in Math and a D in Gemara?  If you would have told me, I could have helped you!! Now, what should we do?!

Students Telling Their Parents Before Report Cards Arrive:
Narrator:  The report cards are being posted on Thursday.  Tuesday, Joey comes home and says to his parents at the dinner table…
Joey: Mom, Dad, can we talk after dinner?
Mom: Sure, honey.
Dad: No problem.
Narrator: Dinner ends and they all meet.
Dad: What’s wrong Joey?
Joey:  Well… it seems that I did not realize how poorly I was doing in Math and Gemara. I got a C in Math and a D in  Gemara!
Mom: Why do you think that happened?
Joey:  Well, I was absent for a week, and then I thought I was caught up in Math and I really did not.  And, in Gemara, I guess I was a bit lazy and did not realize how much work it was.  I won’t make that mistake again.  I have a plan of what I can differently next time.  Like, maybe I’ll review my notes each night. Or not study in front of the TV.
Dad: Well, I’m glad to see you have thought this through.  Let’s sit together to figure out a solution.

           Yes, clearly this might not be real life- except in the Brady Bunch, but our goal is to show students that it’s in their best interest to be honest and to make a plan.  We want them to show their parents that they are responsible enough to make changes.

          Then there is the conversation that we the parents have with our children after we see the report cards. Those conversations can make or break the next trimester and the tone of the relationships we have with our children.  A video was making its way around Teaneck Shuls,  (thank you to Mrs. Keren Nussbaum for forwarding it to me), called “How To Talk To Your Kids About Grades Without Stress Or Conflict,” presented by Joshua Wayne.  He highlights three basic goals for the conversation you are having with your child about his/her grades:
1. The grades conversation should always be a positive one.
2. The goal of the conversation is to build rapport and their buy-in.
3. The conversation should involve setting goals so the participants feel it is going in the right direction.  Our goal is minimize the stress and tension when it comes to discussing grades as it can weaken your relationship, hurt their academic performance and power struggles can cause them to “use grades to get back at you.”

So, what are some of the things we can do to minimize the stress and power struggles?
a. Stay calm- you are modeling for your child, and you are more prone to say things you don’t regret when you are calm.
b. Know your end game- Is it about getting all A’s or about his showing maximum effort and trying his best?
c. Keep it light.
d. Timing- Pick the right time when your teen is “available.”
e. Ask good questions- be in the “listening mode” not the “lecturing mode.” Some examples Mr. Wayne gives are, instead of saying “I think you could have done better,” say “How do you feel about your grades?” Or, instead of saying “I was expecting more A’s” say, “What were you hoping your grades would be like?” Another good one he mentions is, instead of saying “You spent too much time playing video games,” say, “On a scale of 1-10 how much have you applied yourself this trimester?”
f. Setting goals and making agreements- Ask her, “What do you want to see happen next trimester?”  How does she plan on doing it? This is where you help her set S.M.A.R.T. goals.  (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time Bound).
g. Be mindful of rewards and punishments- incentives are helpful for many students. Let us just be careful not to get into a situation where we “pay for grades.”

Rabbi Dovid Rosman, in his article, “Using The Power Of The Pencil To Recognize And Reach Potential”  tells the story of his 10 year old daughter’s report card.  He notes that the grades were all fine except for a grade in “Organization” in which she got an A minus, (still an amazing grade in my book!).  But, he noticed that the minus was written in pencil. “Look Abba, my teacher wrote the minus in pencil. She told me that she knows that really I can be much neater and that if I improve over the next half of the year she’ll erase the minus.”  Rabbi Rosman was floored as he felt this was a clever motivation technique-for the teacher to show the child that “you believe that their essence is greater…Instead of my daughter feeling badly or down for being disorganized, she was excited about the opportunity to show her teacher her ‘real’ self.”

          As teachers, we often discuss the important conversations we have with the students- which do not wait for the report cards, but happen all along the trimester.  These conversations are absolutely about the fact that all grades are in pencil- nothing is permanent.  The teacher is available for the student for any help that is needed, and provides guidance along the way.  Please do encourage your child, as I do the students who come to me worried about a class or a grade, to have a conversation with their teachers. What can I do to improve?  The specific feedback students get from these conversations are essential.  How can I better prepare for your exams or assignments?  These are the aspects of the class that worry me. This is what you, the teacher, can do to help.  If your child is uncomfortable reaching out to a teacher to request such a conversation, please feel free to ask the teacher to meet with your child.

           The report card is meant to be a guide for your student and for you to monitor progress and to set goals.  It is also meant to be a springboard for the important conversations- for both the succeeding student, (it’s wonderful to be recognized for one’s achievements), and for the not yet succeeding student.

Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade- Students began a unit on Time Management.  Much of the stress we feel in school is related to poor time management.
Seventh Grade- Seventh graders had a “Quality Circle”  where they discussed how we are doing in the middle school in terms of creating an atmosphere where everyone feels respected and accepted.
Eighth Grade- Continuing our Parent- Child relationships unit, students discussed what would happen if we actually switched places with our parents- would we understand them better and vice versa?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

May The Force Be With You- Life Lessons

Star Wars- The Force Awakens, the long awaited sequel has arrived. Daniel Perez, in his article, “From Jedism to Judaism: Star Wars as Jewish Allegory,” points out some of the unusual parallels to Judaism found in the the Star Wars movies. Jedi sounds suspiciously similar to Judah- Yehudi. And Yoda- the great rebbe of Luke Skywalker- sounds like “yada”- to know. He continues to point out how Aniken went “off the derech.” But, then in Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader does Teshuva (he returns). Then, of course, there is the Force. According to Obi Wan Kenobi, “it is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” The Force is, clearly, G-d who surrounds us and can be found in all living things. Perez also highlights the Dark Side and the Light found in Star Wars. This clearly depicts the Yetzer HaTov and Yetzer HaRa. And, the source of the light and darkness in Judaism is the same- “Lord, Our G-d, King of the Universe, Who forms light and creates darkness” (Yeshayahu 45:7).

How can we help our teens live lives of the Force? (Okay, maybe this is going a bit too far). In the past two weeks, I've been involved in coordinating two events to help our students find the Force within themselves.

First, our mock bar/bat mitzvah for our sixth graders. Then, later that week, our visit to the homeless shelter in Hackensack, with our seventh graders. Each event contained life lessons that would have made Reb Yoda proud. (Yes, I know he is not in the new movie!) To demonstrate, I will utilize some famous Yoda quotes.

As you might have heard, each year we invite our sixth graders to a mock bar/bat mitzvah celebration as a culmination to lessons we do on bar/bat mitzvah etiquette. They are thereby able to practice that which we had learned in Advisory. They receive invitations the day before the event, and a re told that we at Yavneh are sponsoring a celebration for a boy and a girl. I play the bat mitzvah girl- although they typically don't figure that out until the program begins. The highlight is my wearing my bat mitzvah dress- which brings to mind my first Yoda quote, “When 900 years old you reach, look as good you will not.”

The day has a number of goals:

  1. “Patience you must have, my young padawan”- keriat haTorah, speeches, courses, waiting on line for food- all demand patience. We encourage students to imagine themselves at their big day. Wouldn't they like that attention and focus?
  2. “You must unlearn what you have learned.” At times we pick up inappropriate behaviors from our friends. Our goal is to help them relearn appropriate behavior.
  3. “Control, control, you must learn control.”- It is tempting to take out that phone and text throughout the divrei Torah. That is where self- control comes in.

For our seventh graders, the inspirational culmination of the Respect and Empathy unit in Advisory is their visit to the homeless shelter. We spend over a month preparing for this visit, learning the roots of poverty in the United States today, and its impact on our Bergen County community. We also spend time learning and practicing the skills of empathy. Students spearheaded the campaign to collect hats, gloves and scarves. They are trained as to how to converse with the residents before we go. This year, Mr. Steiner led the students in song, as they sang “One Day” along with the residents. It was wonderful to see the students focus on giving and not only receiving during Chanukah.

What are the Yoda goals for this endeavor?
  1. “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm. Hmm. And, well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.” Our theme of 7th grade Advisory is “Prepare Yourself To Change The World.” We stress with them that even teens can change the world- or at least their corner of it. It does not matter that they are “just kids.” They clearly saw the impact they made on the residents during that visit.
    This quote can also be seen as a declaration not to judge a book by its cover. We spent some time in Advisory speaking with the students about how we often rush to judgment about the homeless when we see them. Often, those judgments are unfair. How often do we do that to each other?
  2. “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.” We are powerful. We each have light within us- tzelem elokim- a piece of G-d within us. And, so we can truly make a difference as we are made of greatness. Additionally, every person has that neshama- no matter who, and no matter where life's circumstances has led him. Each person deserves our respect and attention. Students interacted with the residents, looked into their eyes, and gave each one respect as they conversed with them on equal footing.
  3. “Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is.” Through learning about the financial struggles of others- even those in their own community with real life struggles- we hope students came to think about the futility in mere objects. Especially during Chanukah, when students receive so many material goods, we want them to think about what really counts in life and to appreciate all they have. One question students often ask is, “If the person is out of a job or struggling financially, why doesn't he go live with his family to help him out?” We often take for granted that we have family or that the Jewish community is like a family.

Just because I can't resist, here are a few last “Yodaisms” which I think are good lessons for our teens.

“No! Try not! Do, or do not. There is no try.” Put your all into everything you do. Don't attempt something half-way.
“If no mistake have you made, yet losing you are, a different game you should play.” Sometimes we need to reinvent ourselves and rethink our plan to solve a problem.
“Named must your fear be before banish it you can.” Identify what's standing in your way. Only then can you overcome it.
“Luke: I can't believe it. Yoda: That is why you fail.” Never stop believing- in yourself, in others and of course, in G-d. (Or as Yoda would have called it, the Force).

May the force be with you and your teens.

Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade- Students finished up the “Hey Dude, That's Rude” unit by focusing on behaviors that help students get along with teachers.

Seventh Grade- Students spent time focusing on scenarios based on real-life situations which stress how expensive it is to live in an Orthodox community today.

Eighth Grade- Students began exploring- what would happen if parents and teens actually switched for the day? Would we understand each other better?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Emojis And Emotions

The Oxford Dictionary word of the year for 2015 is not even a word.  It is the "Face With Tears Of Joy" emoji.   .
It was chosen as the "word that best reflected the ethos, mood, and preoccupations of 2015.”  
(Just as a quick background, the word emoji is from the Japanese which means e= picture moji= letter, character).  

How have emojis impacted the way we express our emotions?  

First, there is the general, intuitive and often spoken of impact of communication online versus face to face.  Technology use may lead us to communicate more with family and friends, but the quality of the communication is inferior.  Children who spend more time utilizing online communication have a harder time understanding emotions. In her article, “Face time vs. screen time: The technological impact on communication,” Chandra Johnson writes,  "These kids aren't connecting emotionally. Emails, texts- these lack the emotive qualities of face-to-face interactions... What's the balance? If all you're doing is using Facebook, you're not getting the interpersonal connection you need. Kids want to be hugged and touched, they don't want to be texted.  There's a basic need to fill that social bond."  

Dr. Jim Taylor asks whether a friendly emoji can replace those hugs? No.  Since communication is not just about words. Dr. Kate Roberts asserts, "Families text rather than having conversations" at the risk of underdeveloped verbal skills and emotional intelligence.  She shared that at Boston College they now have a course on how to ask a person out on a date!   For adults, communication via technology is a shortcut But, for children, it can  "rewrite a child's brain pathways in a very different way than how they would normally develop" affecting concentration, self- esteem, empathy - leading to personal relationships not being formed as deeply. 

Emojis were in part developed to supplement what is missing in a technology interchange when we can't read facial expressions.. Yet, we can't see "voice inflection, body language, facial expression, and the phermones released during face to face interaction."  

How does techonlogy affect parent- child communication? In some ways, kids are "hyper-connected." A friend of mine who works in a women's Yeshiva in Israel said that students are so "hyper- connected" to their parents that he'll receive a call wondering why the garbage wasn't taken out that day, as their daughter just called to "share."  We know that sleepaway camps, where cell phone use is not allowed, is very difficult for our hyper- connected teens.  Sometimes not being connected forces some independence and problem solving without parent involvement.

Alice Robb, in her July 2014 article, "How Using Emoji Makes Us Less Emotional"  states, "They allowed us to communicate without saying anything, saving us from spelling out any actual sentiments."  We've gotten to the point where there is a social network, (which may have come out already- that's how much I know!), where you only need to use emojis to communicate.  Two days after they announced the launch of this new social network, 50,000 people already reserved user names- consisting only of emojis.  Can you believe that a man named Fred Benenson is now selling Moby Dick translated into only emojis, online for $200?

On the other hand, since our teens are already using emojis- how can we use them for good?  A new emoji appeared in the iOS 9.1 iPhone update.  It is called the "witness emoji"- .
 It is part of an anti-bullying campaign of the Ad Council.  The designers of this campaign began speaking to numerous teens and pre-teens,  keeping in mind the impact that peers/bystanders have on each other when they react to bullying on social media.  Most teens they interviewed said they do or say nothing when they see bullying on social media.  They did say they would be more likely to do something if they saw others asserting themselves.  Then this new emoji was born.  

The message of this emoji is to say, "Hey, I see this, I recognize that it's not okay, and I want you to know you're not alone."  The "I Am A Witness" app can be downloaded via the App Store or Google Play  so that everyone can post the Witness emoji when they see hurtful comments on social media.  Let's encourage our teens to use this new emoji to protect the real emotions of others.

So, whether the research indicates that emojis are good for our emotional development, they are here. We need to continue having face to face conversations with our children, and encourage them to have face to face dialogue with their friends. (Thank G-d for Shabbos!) If you can't beat them, then join them. Emomji- is the adoption of emoji by mothers (and fathers) to keep up with their children.

When we were kids, my mom would write us notes on the napkins in our lunchboxes and draw hearts and smiley faces,” says Tyler Schnoebelen, a linguist and the lead data analyst at Idibon. “Now, instead of being limited to doodles, moms can ornament their notes with symbolic nudges and emblems of affection: phones, foods, umbrellas — and you know, volcanoes.”

So, tomorrow, surprise your teen with an emoji... after you've had a face to face talk! 

Sixth Grade- Engaged in a lesson on Bar/Bat Mitzvah manners and behavior. 
Seventh Grade- Focused on how difficult it is in America today to make a living- contributing to their empathy for the homeless.
Eighth Grade- Students discussed the often complicated parent-child dynamic that exists in the teen years. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Every Day For Our Teens

Yesterday, I was in Massachusetts for my great aunt's funeral.  My Aunt Dorothy, a"h, was 99- a fiesty lady, with a love for Judaism, Tefilla, and music.   After the funeral, we had the opportunity to stop at the home of the family of Ezra Schwartz, a”h, to pay a shiva call. There were no words that could sufficiently express what we felt nor could we truly comfort the parents and siblings. When we arrived, the governor of Massachusetts was there. Ezra's mother shared with him a bit of the story of Ezra's last day, as she had heard from his friends. She shared that he initially did not intend to go on the chesed trip that day. He then found out that there would only be six boys available to go, and therefore felt he should go. He was very tired, and said, “I'll sleep on the bus.” He said to his friend, “Who knows if we'll have the same chance tomorrow?”|

Upon hearing this story, the Mishna in Avot 2:4 came to mind. The mishna states, “ Do not believe in yourself until the day of your death.” How does one know the day of one's death? One must live each day as if it is one's last.

One leaves as shiva visit like this one with great sadness, but also with the realization that one must be thankful for all one has. We often don't appreciate what we have until it is no longer there. We leave inspired to remind ourselves to be thankful, grateful and make the most of each moment of each day.

What better message to relay and with which to enter on Thanksgiving? How can we remind ourselves each day to be thankful?

In this past Shabbat's parashat hashavua, in Bereishit 28:16, Yaakov awakens from his dream and says, “|Indeed, Hashem is in this place, yet I did not know!" Yaakov did not notice that Hashem was with him until that moment. I maintain that that is what Thanksgiving is all about - noticing that Hashem is in our lives. What does that have to do with Thanksgiving, and how can we relay that message to our teens? I say, the answer is berachot. “Berachot?” you might ask.

Eytan Kobre in his article "The Thanksgiving Project"  speaks of the incredible opportunity that our daily berachot provide in our focusing on being "thankful" each day.   The Kuzari notes that making berachot on the physical act of eating  can "greatly heighten the pleasure we derive and our appreciation for simply being alive."  It's an opportunity to have a bit of Thanksgiving in our daily lives.

 As parents of teens, we always struggle with how to inculcate this realization in our children. In fact, Rabbi Jay Goldmintz shares that these “middle years” are a normal time for children to question. “At this stage of religious development, some have begun to feel the tug of alternatives to the way that they were brought up.” Rabbi Goldmintz has shared how difficult Tefillah is often for children in middle school.  

Tefilla might be hard for some of our teens, but how about berachot?  Each month I meet with students right before Rosh Chodesh to help them write the inscriptions that will be placed in the Chumashim that they will receive from Yavneh Academy in honor of their bar/bat mitzvah.  I ask the students to consider, now that they are obligated in mitzvot, which mitzvah would they choose to work on and improve?  Very often children choose "berachot" as the mitzvah. It's easy to do, and takes no time, and it warms my heart when students think that is an important mitzvah.   As parents, we can stress these simple daily berachot in our homes, and thereby stress daily thanksgiving and focus on “Hashem is in this place.”

How about inculcating some "Hashem is in in this place" into Thanksgiving itself?       

Rabbi Benjamin Yudin  quotes a pasuk in Tehillim "Zoveiach todah yachabdoneni" "One who offers an thanksiving offering honors Me." Rashi understands the word "todah" as "admission" or "confession" instead of "thanksgiving."  The word l'hodot means both to admit and to offer thanks.  Rav Hutner, z"l, in discussing the beracha of Modim in the Shmoneh Esrai, feels that the two definitions complement each other.  When one says "modim" one admits that he cannot do it alone and needs the assistance of Hashem.   Once one admits that, one can truly express appreciation and thanks for what one has.  That is what Hakarat HaTov,recognizing the good,” is. First one must recognize that one is dependent, and then one can truly say "thanks." 

|Although Thanksgiving was not established by “the rabbis” it is a wonderful opportunity to help our children know that there is indeed Hashem in this place. We can be thankful each day as we say our berachot/blessings for all the blessings we have received. And, as Ezra, a”h, has taught us, to be thankful for each day and live it to the fullest.

Advisory Update

Sixth Grade Advisory- Students began a unit called "Hey Dude, That's Rude"  - a unit on Manners and etiquette when it comes to interacting with others.

Seventh Grade Advisory-  As part of their empathy unit and Project Respect students focused on, Why do people become homeless?  How do we usually treat or feel about the homeless?

Eighth Grade Advisory-
Students began a unit on Parent-Child Relationship.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

My High School Reunion And High School Choice

Last night was my high school reunion.  We all look exactly the same despite one of us being a grandmother!  (She and her daughter married young!)  We sat down with our classmates, and it felt like we had never left. 

This experience brought to mind a 2012 New York Magazine article, "Why You Truly Never Leave High School” by Jennifer Senior.  This article spoke to me as I attended my reunion and thought about who I had become, and as I sit with our eighth grades who are now choosing their high schools.

Senior describes how the high school years make a significant impact on the development of a person.  (This article contained numerous points of interest, which will definitely be fodder for future articles).  "Give a grown adult a series of random prompts and cues, and odds are he or she will recall a disproportionate number of memories from adolescence." This phenomenon is called "reminiscence bump" - suggesting that memories from ages 15-25 are most vividly retained.   She quotes Ralph Keyes, "Is There Life After High School?" "Somehow those three or four years can in retrospect feel like 30."   Interestingly enough, in the research, these years until recently were not given enough credit.   For many years, researchers believed that ages 0-3 were the essential years, and beyond that it was "tweaking." Laurence Steinberg, a developmental psychologist at Temple University asserts, "If you're interested in making sure kids learn a lot in school, yes, intervening in early childhood is the time to do it.  But, if you're interested in how people become who they are, so much is going on in the adolescent years." 

Steinberg points out that our preferences in life are often based on those adolescent years.  For example, "No matter how old you are, the music you listen to for the rest of your life is probably what you listened to when you were an adolescent." 

Neuroscience explains why this is.  As I've mentioned before in this column, just before adolescence the prefrontal cortex begins to rapidly develop. This area of the brain governs our ability to "reason, grasp abstractions, control impulses and self- reflect"- all of which are intellectual skills needed to develop an identity.  "Any cultural stimuli we are exposed to during puberty, can, therefore, make more of an impression, because we're now perceiving them discerningly and metacognitively as things to sweep into our self- concepts or reject.  'During times when your identity is in transition,' says Steinberg, it's possible you store memories better than you do in times of stability.'"

There are a number of other neurological changes in adolescence that make this time period in life so impactful. One such change is that there is more dopamine activity during this time period than during any other time of life.  This causes everything an adolescent feels to be more intense. 

To make this all even more "intense"  psychologists Joseph and Claudia Worrell Allen point out in their book Escaping The Endless Adolescence, that a century ago when adolescents did not continue on to high school and worked in factories or farms they spent their days alongside adults during these tenuous years.  Now, "teens live in a biosphere of their own" as they spend only 16 hours per week with adults and 60 with their peers (and even more in Yeshivot).  Then students create their own hierarchies and divisions based on what they deem important- clothes, looks, sports ability. It is easy to be labeled in this environment. According to researcher Bene Brown, 90% of adults interviewed said "their unwanted identities and labels started during their tweens and teens." And, whatever strategies we gain to fight those feelings during the high school years, we generally will use for life. 

As I attended my reunion and read Ms. Senior’s article, it again struck me how important the choice of high school is in a child’s life. It cannot be said better than Steinberg said. These years determine “how people become who they are.”
We, therefore, do discuss with our students in Advisory- whom do you want to be come in the next four years?   First, what do they think high school is like? How do they envision high school and the high school experience? Second, how do they envision themselves in high school? What kind of person would they like to become in the next four years? This is a difficult conversation for some students who have never seriously thought about the person they want to be. This is the age when they can begin to think in this way.  And, even if the high school decision is already made, it is good for your child to think about- how do I want to grow in high school?  Of which opportunities should I take advantage?  Should I wean myself from my present friends and look for ones who are a better influence on me?  Do I want to become more independent and responsible in high school and rely less on my parents to help me with work?  Do I want to take my religiosity more seriously?   High school is an opportunity for our children to start fresh. We want them to take this step with thought about whom they can become.

As parents, we need to ask the same question, “Whom do we want our children to become?”  The research clearly states that during these next years their identity is formed, their self-concept is solidified and their preferences are determined- from their choice of music to choice of friends.   

A Pew research study in 2011 found that the largest share of Facebook friends- 22%- are high school friends.  Although I may not have kept in touch with many of my high school classmates, as I saw them last night I knew that they all played a role in forming who I am today.   I can still recall the conversations we had hanging out by the payphones and the carbon paper we used to take notes for someone who was absent. (Yes, I went to high school in the Stone Age).   We reminisced about the teachers, the trips, the color wars and the workload.   I look back on those years as the right choice for me.  May those of us who are making choices for our 8th graders find similar success.

Advisory Update:

Sixth Grade- Students continued their Organization Unit and further focused on locker management.

Seventh Grade-  Students flexed their muscles and engaged in “empathy exercises” and focused on the importance of not judging a book by its cover.

Eighth Grade-  Our 8th graders focused on the skills of goal setting and set goals for this year as they lead into high school. They each set these goals on a website called “Future Me” and will receive a list of the goals they made this week the day after graduation. Will they be able to say they achieved their goals?