Sunday, January 6, 2019

Cellphone Addiction And Teens

           On December 31, in the New York Times Opinion column, Paul Greenberg wrote his article “In Search of Lost Screen Time” “Imagine what we could do with our money, and hours, if we set our phones aside for a year. More than three-quarters of all Americans own a smartphone. In 2018 those 253 million Americans spent $1,380 and 1,460 hours on their smartphone and other mobile devices. That’s 91 waking days; cumulatively, that adds up to 370 billion waking American hours and $349 billion.”  Greenberg then goes on to list different projects in which we could engage in 2019 instead of that phone time.  One such example is that it takes approximately 700 hours to learn a language. If we put aside our phones, we could learn two languages.  

            When Rabbi Ross alerted me to this article, I knew that I couldn’t pass up this week on part 2 of my “cell phone sermon.”  Not only because of this article but because of the follow-up e-mails from parents, after last week’s column.  (Yes, there were still New Year’s parties’ photos posted!)  The Times column clearly shows that as adults we have a difficult time “disconnecting.” Dr. David Pelcovitz often quotes a July 2014 study from Science Magazine where subjects who were told to shut off their devices became so distressed that when they were offered an opportunity to administer electroshock to relieve that distress 67% of the men and 25% of the women did so. We cannot tolerate the discomfort of putting away our phones. How much more so do our teens struggle!

            I referred last week to the article by Yonasan Rosenblum “Our Children Are Begging Us To Stop.” He quotes Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired as comparing the technology we have today to crack cocaine.  “It is beyond the capacity of parents to’s going straight to the pleasure centers of the developing brains.”  A South Korean study of teens showed that “teens with internet and smartphone addictions showed certain levels of neurotransmitter that results in a reduced level of controls and ability to concentrate without distraction.”   A Pew research study from May 2018 says that teens admitting to always being on the internet is 45%, almost doubling from 2014 when it was 24%. A 2016 Common Sense Media survey found that half of teens considered themselves addicted to their phones and other devices.  72% shared that they feel pressured to respond immediately to texts, notifications, and social media postings.

            Is there truly such a thing as “cell phone addiction”? As Ana Homayoun notes in her January 17, 2018, New York Times article “Is Your Child a Phone ‘Addict’?”
“although there is currently no official medical recognition of ‘smartphone addiction’ as a disease or disorder, the term refers to obsessive behaviors that disturb the course of daily activities in a way that mirrors patterns similar to substance abuse.”

Here are some questions to ask: Does your teenager’s mood suddenly change and become intensely anxious, irritable, angry or even violent when the phone is taken away or unavailable for use? Does your teen skip or not participate in social events because of time spent on the phone? Another red flag is spending so much time on a smartphone that it affects personal hygiene and normal daily activities (most notably, sleep). Lying, hiding and breaking family rules to spend more time on a smartphone can be cause for alarm, said Hilarie Cash, the chief clinical officer at reSTART, an internet addiction rehabilitation program outside of Seattle.

 Rosenblum also quotes the Atlantic article “Have Smartphones Destroyed A Generation?”  by Jean Twenge. Twenge studied the generation she calls iGen born between 1995 and 2012, who have “grown up with smartphones, has an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet.” As parents of middle schoolers, she shares research that:  Eighth-graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who devote less time to social media.

            And, let us not forget the impact of cell phone use on our children’s grades.  A study conducted by the London School of Economics found that banning smartphones led to a clear improvement in scores.  Each week I speak to parents, students, and teachers who are worried about their own or their child ’s low performance in school.  Often, when digging through the issue, we uncover that the phone is constantly by the child’s side while studying and doing homework.  The phone is continually competing for their child’s attention and he/she is clearly not focused on the task at hand.  No phones during homework time is often the solution.

            The climax of Rosenblum’s article is a survey to which he refers conducted on Yeshiva and seminary students by Debbie Fox. Over 50% of respondents shared that they wish their parents put more restrictions on their device usage.  And, so, let us listen to our teens!  Let us have time limits on their phone usage, with devices charged not in their bedrooms during the shut-down time.  They are begging us to help them stop- during homework time, during sleep time and even when out enjoying their friends.  With family vacations come up soon, phone usage and limits is an issue we should already be pondering.

            It states in Shemot 32:16 "V'haluchot ma'aseh Elokim heima v'hamichtav michtav Elokim hu charut al haluchot - The Tablets were God's handiwork, and the script was the script of God, engraved on the Tablets.” The Mishna in Avot 6:2 comments on this pasuk,  "Al tikrei charut ela chairut she-ein lecha ben chorin ela mi she-oseik b'talmud Torah, she-kol mi she-oseik b'Torah harei zeh mitaleh - do not read charut (engraved), rather chairut (free), only one who studies Torah is free because anyone who studies Torah becomes elevated.” This idea is counterintuitive as we know the mitzvot have so many restrictions, how does that facilitate freedom? True freedom is internal freedom- freedom from urges and desires. Otherwise, one is a “slave”  to one's instinct.  We need to help our children and free them from “digital enslavement.”

            The ideal is to establish some limits and guidelines before we hand the phones to our children the first time. These rules should include when the phone is allowed to be used and the consequences for not following the rules. Apps that help parents monitor use are key. Apple’s Family Sharing and Google Play have settings to help parents monitor use, and most phone carriers have their own parental control options. “Devices like Circle and apps like OurPact give parents the ability to automate access, disable access to certain apps after a certain hour and build in structured time off to promote rest.”  And, of course, there is the importance of our being role models in our abilities to shut down and put away the phones.  

            That brings us back to the Yavneh Parent Committee Suggested Technology Guidelines. We, Yavneh faculty, are grateful to our parents for spearheading this campaign and in particular to Jennifer Hooper and Susan Nadritch, chairs of our parent education committee, and Rachel Jacobs and Keren Nussbaum YPAA presidents.  We are also glad to see how many parents have joined this endeavor and have begun implementing the parent committee guidelines in their homes. Our YPAA  presidents just sent you an e-mail this past week as a follow-up to the guidelines (which were reattached to that e-mail) regarding unified grade shut-off times. Please take the time to fill out the survey and help us as parents unite to help our children.

Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade: Students set goals for this coming trimester and discussed how to achieve those goals.

Seventh Grade:  The girls continued their unit on coping with adversity in life focusing on the importance of mindset and grit.  (The boys have missed class the past two weeks due to early dismissals)

Eighth Grade: Students focused on better understanding the parent role in order to better empathize with parents and their needs and worries for us.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

FOMO, Posting and Teen Loneliness

            “A bride who upon being presented with jewelry by her groom in the yichud room promptly took a selfie and sent it out. At the very moment she should have been laying the foundation for a life with her new husband that is shared only by them and out of sight of the entire world, she was inviting the entire world into their private space.”  This truly has gone too far, as Yonatan Rosenblum writes in his article “Our Children Are Begging Us To Stop.”  Even the privacy of the Yichud room is posted for the world to see. We are living in a world where if it hasn’t been posted it hasn’t happened.

            The impact of this constant posting of photos of events, sleepovers, parties, trips to the mall etc. has had a terrible impact on our teens and the constant feeling of being left out.  It is no wonder that from 2007 to 2015 teen suicide has jumped 300% among girls and 200% among boys.  (There may be other reasons for that, which I plan to discuss at a different time, but most definitely the sadness caused by being left out plays a tremendous role).  FOMO is a constant worry for our children.  FOMO- fear of missing out was added to the Oxford English dictionary in 2013 “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.”  When viewing the posts of events to which he/she was not invited, the person assumes that it must be because of his/her low social status.  We all know that as children we also were not always invited. But, we often did not find out about it and definitely not  in real-time

FOMO is a significant component of social media anxiety experienced by our teens. As Sherri Gordon writes in her article “How FOMO Impacts Teens And Young Adults” “The problem is that incessant worrying about what everyone else is doing only causes teens to miss out on their own lives even more. In fact, FOMO causes people to keep their attention focused outward instead of inward. This, in turn, may cause them to lose their sense of identity and to struggle with low self-esteem. But worse yet, when they are struggling with FOMO, that means they are so focused on what others on doing that they forget to live their own lives.”  Research has shown that the more people use social media the worse they feel minute to minute. 60% of teens say they worry their friends are having fun without them.  51% say they are anxious that they don’t know what their friends are doing. And, this anxiety comes from worry about their friends!   There is a most definite correlation between the amount of time spent on social media and anxiety and depression.  This constant social media posting leads to less satisfaction with their lives and loneliness. 

Amanda Lenhart in her 2015 Pew study of teens, technology, and friendships reveals a range of social media-induced stressors:
-Seeing people posting about events to which you haven’t been invited
-Feeling pressure to post positive and attractive content about yourself
-Feeling pressure to get comments and likes on your posts
-Having someone post things about you that you cannot change or control

Research from the 2015 study, #Being Thirteen: Social Media and the Hidden World of Young Adolescents’ Peer Culture, finds that, “Young adolescents care deeply about being included by peers, and at this developmental stage, most have one peer group on which they stake their souls: peers at school. If they see something on social media suggesting that they are not included in this group, the stakes are high and young adolescents can quickly become anxious and desperate.” Study data shows that “one in five (13-year-olds) checks social media in order to make sure that no one is saying anything mean about them. More than one-third check to see if their friends are doing things without them.”

I have already had a child express upset about the upcoming New Year’s celebrations which he knows he won’t be invited to, and knows will be posted for all to see.  How does he even know these events are happening? His peers have already started posting about these parties… that haven’t even happened yet.  (This conversation is actually what prompted me to write this article).

What can we do as parents?  The first and most essential item is stress to your children how hurtful it is to other children when they are posting photos of an event to which others are not invited.  As adults, such posting can also be hurtful, how much more so for teens.  We also should model that “non-posting” behavior in front of our teens. When we are getting together with a select few, or our children are,  let’s not post.  Encourage your child to be an “upstander” and not be a part of the posting that perpetuates that FOMO. 

When our children do see that post and feel left out, acknowledge that it is normal to feel left out. Let us help our teens view social media with a skeptical eye. Of course, not everyone is having the time of their lives at all times.  Whatever we can do to distract our children from constant social media watching is a huge help, or even scheduling specific times when they are allowed to check. (Stay tuned for more on limiting device time in the next weeks).

And, to quote myself from a previous column, “I know I have discussed this before, but it bears repeating.  Social media is a powerful tool when it comes to social exclusion.  Snapchat, instagram- again, without directly being “mean” to another, one can hurt others.  Every time a child posts a photo of party he’s gone to or a shopping expedition with friends, another realizes he was left out.  I am not saying that one is not entitled to go out with a few friends. But, why wound those who were not invited?   ‘I thought I was her friend. But, then I realized I must not be, as everyone was there except for me.’  How hurtful can one be?”  We know that not everyone will be invited to every New Year’s party- but no need to rub the faces of the other children in the fact that they weren’t invited.

Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade: Now that they received their report cards, they set goals for the coming trimester.

Seventh Grade:  Students began their unit “When Life Gives You Lemons” and began discussing resiliency.

Eighth Grade: Students began a unit of parent-child relationships.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Life Lessons From The Elderly

Every so often, like the Sunday of Chanukah, when all my children have a day off without basketball, homework, bat mitzvahs etc. we make a trip to Williamsburg to visit Mima Laya.  Mima Laya (Mrs. Leah Schoenfeld) is my great-aunt, my grandfather’s sister, who lives by herself in Williamsburg at the age of 92 (or so).  Mima Laya does not have any children, so her nieces and nephews have become her surrogate children.  My mother lovingly and loyally visits her on Sundays, brings her special treats, talks (very loudly) on the phone to her in Hungarian, and tries as best as she can to let her know that she is still loved. Each day, she takes a car service to the “Bazaar” as she lovingly calls it- a store of donated items sold for charity where she mans the cash register, still doing the math with pencil and paper.   At one point she was able to walk to the bazaar, but as her health concerns increase, she can’t make the walk to the place which gives her purpose and pays $12 a day to be driven both ways. 

To be honest, visits to Mima Laya are probably not at the top of my kids’ lists of what they’d like to do during their free time.  But, they know it is the right thing to do, and graciously sit there and spend the time.  Sometimes she will take out old pre-war photos of the family, most of whom were lost in the Holocaust,  and we hear about the lives of my grandfather, a”h, and his siblings before the Holocaust. We even had the opportunity to interview her about her own experiences in Auschwitz. But, Mima Laya is a woman of few words, and simply enjoys the company.

These visits are more important for my children, from my perspective because, “American culture has a reputation for disregarding its elders,” as I read in John Leland’s book Happiness is a Choice You Make- Lessons from a year among the oldest old.    While Japan even has a day called “Respect for the Aged Day” and China and India also are known to celebrate their elders, in America the elderly are often subject to ageism and stereotype.  This supposed American outlook towards the elderly is contradictory to Judaism’s view of the elderly- as it said in Masechet Avot 4:13-  quoting the pasuk in Vayikra 19:32
מִפְּנֵ֤י שֵׂיבָה֙ תָּק֔וּם וְהָדַרְתָּ֖ פְּנֵ֣י זָקֵ֑ן וְיָרֵ֥אתָ מֵּאֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ אֲנִ֥י ה׃
You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old (respect the face of the elder); you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
 About it is written, “and you shall respect the face of the elder” the one who as acquired wisdom” as the word “zaken” is an acronym for zeh shekanah chomchma- he who has acquired wisdom. The older they get the more wisdom they have to provide to us. In fact, studies utilizing scales of wisdom designed by Monica Ardlet at the University of Florida, indicated that wisdom does indeed increase with age. Those who score higher for wisdom also score higher for contentment.  Wisdom leads to better decision-making and more realistic expectations, less disappointment when things don't work out.  There is also a reduction of ego-centeredness with age.  That is truly zeh shekanah chochma.   Respecting one’s elders is a clear expectation in Judaism.

In his book, Leland spends the year gleaning wisdom from the elderly.  As he writes, his year with them transformed his own life and helped him find happiness.  Our visit with Mima Laya inspired me to highlight in this week’s column some of what Leland learned that year that I think we can apply to our own lives. (Much of what is listed below is in Leland’s own words).

1.    Find fulfillment in the present for the future might not come. Happiness is the state of living in the present and not worrying about the future. The elderly, have a certain kind of peace and balance in themselves and are not anxious about what will happen the next minute or the next day.  “Most of us live with this future every day, laboring under its weight.  To think like an old person is to journey unencumbered.”  Happiness isn’t something esoteric but an appreciation of the things already available in our lives.

2.    Research actually shows that the elderly are more content and happy than we would expect.  Older people consistently report in research as many positive emotions as the young, and fewer negative ones. Laura L. Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, states that the elderly have “socioemotional selectivity” “as they know they have limited time ahead of them so they focus on things that they know will give them pleasure and do not fret about the things they don’t have or might need. Young people kiss frogs hoping they’ll turn into princes. Old people kiss their grandchildren. Maybe old people live literally like “there is no tomorrow. “ They consciously make the choice to be happy even when there are reasons to not be.  In fact, in MRIs, they found that the emotional processing center of the brain- the amygdala, fired more actively when they looked at positive images than negative ones, while younger brains reacted equally to both.  Their brains resembled the brains of those who meditate.The elderly minimize bad times in their lives and seemed to recall the positive emotional experiences more than negative ones.
3.            We become what our environment encourages us to be. If the environment encourages passive helplessness, that is what we become. (With the elderly, if they are treated as “conditions to be remedied and not autonomous actors in control of their lives” it clearly impacts their progress).  
4.            Transcend material concerns and focus instead on what’s really valuable.  Research by Lars Tornstam points out results from those surveyed ages 74-14 “Today I am less interested in superficial social contacts”. “Today I have more delight in my inner world.”. “Today material things mean less”
5.            Become less self- concerned and more aware of being part of a larger whole.  
6.            Instead of being lonely, value time alone for contemplation  
7.            Sometimes taking and allowing someone to do something for you, rather than insisting on doing it yourself, is also a kind of giving.  True generosity included enabling others to be generous.  Acceptance whatever kindness people offer you, and repay with what you can.
8.            Love like there’s no tomorrow.
9.            Instead of stewing over your complaints, begin to consciously give thanks for things I took for granted.
10.          Here is a lesson in giving up the myth of control.  If you believe you are in control of your life, steering it in a course of your choosing, then old age is an affront, because it is a destination you did not choose.  But if you think of life instead as an improvisation in response to the stream of events coming at you- that is, a response to the world as it is- then old age is more another chapter in a long-running story.  This is a lesson that can apply whenever we face any challenge in life.
11.          Never lose your sense of wonder at the world you’ve been born into.  The world is full of gifts.
12.          Some people are grateful seemingly as their default state, even when no one’s looking.  Their lives aren’t necessarily better than other people’s but they find more reasons to give thanks for their small rewards.  MRI studies of the brain when grateful indicate that gratitude is not just about receiving but also about reacting to the giver. It allows one to see the world as a benevolent place.  It is not enough to know you have something good. You have to be grateful for it.
13.          Realize the worst hardships are temporary, so don’t spend your days thinking of them.
14.          Gerontologists consider the tendency to sustain mixed feelings, rather than try to resolve them, as a component of elder wisdom, a recognition that life doesn’t have to be all good to be good, and also that it never will be.  The elderly view life with “happy in spite of” (a choice to be happy, acknowledging problems, but letting them get in the way of contentment),  while we focus on “happy if only”  (pinning happiness on outside circumstances- If only I had more money… if only I had a nicer house).
15.          Accept adversity, don’t strive against it.  We need to rescale our expectations to the world as it comes at us, rather than fighting against it.  We often think that if only we undo the impediments to our happiness we can be truly happy.  But, there are always more impediments, more reasons to not be happy now. `Impediments are the circumstances in which we find happiness.
16.          It’s amazing how many “needs” the elderly can do without.
17.          Try to be flexible, always recalibrating goals or what made a life worth living.
18.          Attending to false needs is a lot of work.  Once you let them go, it frees you to focus on things that are more rewarding and lasting. It also means one can stop feeling guilty about all the things you think you should be doing, but aren’t.
19.          “Being goal-directed helps you stave off bad health outcomes”, says  Patricia Boyle, a neuropsychologist in the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center.  It is important to sit down and think “What do I want my life to look like at the end of the day?”  “What do I want my mark to be?”  Find a purpose in life.
20.          One of the elders noted, “Whatever I do this second affects what the next second will be.  So I try not to do anything negative, which is my best insurance that the world will be better next second or at least not worse. But of course, my positive action may be undermined by 100 negative actions of others and so it may mean nothing. But I still have to follow that dictum.  You can call it optimism.”
21.          Have you ever stopped to think how amazing, really amazing,  life is?

            As Leland says he learned, “For centuries societies had relied on elders for these lessons and more.  It was only in recent times that this wisdom went unheard.  I wasn’t blazing new ground, but rediscovering some ancient connections. The blazing part was how happy the lessons made me and how I wished I’d learned them earlier...The elders’ gift to me was a simple one: a reminder that time is both limited and really amazing...Any turn might bring hot-buttered satisfaction or a trip to the ER; the challenge is to figure out how to live on the way to the bend.  So often we measure the day by what we do with it… and overlook what is truly miraculous, which is the arrival of another day....The good things in life- happiness, purpose, contentment, companionship, beauty, and love- have been there all along. We don’t need to earn them… We just need to choose them as our lives.”   

            Rabbi Boruch Leff explains why the elderly have this incredible wisdom by quoting the Maharal. He states that the physical forces are weaker with an older person, and they are consequently not prey to their physical instincts a young person might be. Therefore, the soul then becomes the “influential drive”  in their lives as “divinely given intelligence gains control over the base instincts.”  The elderly are then deserving of our respect. 

            As I read Leland’s book., and thought about that “chochma” the elderly acquire and the mitzvah to respect them,  I considered the importance of schlepping our kids to the “Mima Layas” in our lives.  And, all this with the AARPs recent study that 1/3 of Americans report chronic loneliness, and isolation is  "about as deadly as smoking."   We all have Mima Layas- whether in our families, on our block, or in the local nursing home. How often do we take the time to learn the wisdom from the elderly that can help us live life more meaningfully and happily?

Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade:
Students learned about the middle school report card, predicted what grades they think they have earned and discussed how to discuss their report cards with their parents.

Seventh Grade:
Students took some time to apply what they learned at the homeless shelter to how they treat others in their lives, particularly when it comes to standing up for what is right when it comes to bullying.

Eighth Grade:
The lesson launched the piece of Advisory which will focus on “real life in high school.”

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Parents Unite! Don't Miss Our December 11th Workshop...Really!

Mi lashem eilai” “Whoever is for Hashem come with me,” was the rallying call of Matityahu to unite the Jewish people. The best way to stand up to the Syrian- Greeks- physically and spiritually- was to unite.  No matter what influences were surrounding the Jews, when they united they were able to triumph.
As parents, we are battling many negative influences that permeate the lives of our children each day. Whether from the media or from the overall culture in which we live, we often feel that as they enter the teenage years we are in battle. The problem is that we as parents do not unite enough.   

Last year, as you know,  we were privileged to host a parent workshop on the topic of setting boundaries and limits on our children’s technology use.  I know that I need not spend any more time on this topic, but there was an important realization that all of us parents who attended left with that night.  During one piece of the workshop, we broke into groups according to the ages of our children  to discuss rules that we think we should put into place in our homes when it comes to technology use.  We had the opportunity to hear some innovative ideas that others are already implementing. More importantly, we got the chance to see that we are all in the same boat and struggling with the same things.  We talked about the ages we had decided to give our kids phones.  We spoke about how much easier it would be if we were all implementing the same rules, (with some variation), across the board so that we need not be the only “mean parents.”  Wouldn’t it be amazing if before we gave our children phones we parents would have a meeting to discuss some across the board regulations that we can all implement?  There is strength in unity.  Just swapping ideas was supportive and helpful.  We had the chance to unite.

The conversation should sound familiar.  
Your child: “Everyone else is on social media. Why can’t I be?”
You: “I don’t care what ‘everyone else’ is doing. You can’t.”
Your child: “Why are you so mean? You’re the only parent who isn’t letting!”

You can fill in the blank, but this is a common interchange between a child and parent in the middle school years and beyond.  Let me let you in on a little secret. Not everyone is on social media.  Not everyone’s parent is letting. And, you are not the only mean one.  The problem is we never unite so we do not know what the other parents are doing.

Over 20 years ago when I worked in a high school, a woman named Connie Greene, the Vice President for the Barnabas Health Behavioral Network Institute for Prevention, came to give a series of workshops in my school regarding parenting and substance abuse.  She would laugh if she knew that I remembered a comment she made.  She said (not exact words), “Parents, you need to band together and ‘plot.’ The kids are smarter than we are. They are banding together and ‘plotting’ already. You need to unite too.” 
We need to talk to other parents and not isolate ourselves. We need to investigate what others are doing, and band together.  There is strength in numbers.  At the time, when I was working in that school, we spoke of parents getting together to meet about rules for parties. Any parent that was part of that group or “pact” would be considered a safe place to send your child to for a party.  Why aren’t we doing the same when it comes to technology?

Tomorrow night, December 11th, 8:00 pm will be our chance to unite about the technology use of our children!  Parents left last year’s technology workshop, where Dr. Shapiro stressed that it has to come from the parents,  inspired to form parent committees to answer the question,   "What can we, as parents, can do to help and support each other to keep our children safe?" That was the birth of the Yavneh Academy Digital Safety Parent Committee. These Yavneh parents, in grades 1-3, 4-5 and 6-8, worked together to create age specific guidelines that we as parents can all implement if we choose to band together. Rabbi Rothwachs’ presentation, where he will keenly highlight the struggles we are facing, will launch the distribution of these guidelines by the parent committee. The beauty is that they are not school-created rules. They are parent-created guidelines to help support us as parents.

About four years ago two of the parents in my daughter’s grade sent out the following letter to the rest of the parents in the grade, (I purposely left out the grade so that it can be more easily generalized).

Before you know it, the school year will be starting and our children will be in _______ grade, growing up very quickly.
One of the challenges that we, as parents of today’s children, face is our children’s access to technology through iPods and cell phones.
From our experience and those of our friends’, these devices present a whole bunch of issues as the children get older, more savvy, curious and sophisticated.  They are constantly exploring, texting, and being distracted.  In addition, group texts and the inability of younger children (and sometimes older ones) to appreciate the permanence and effects of what they write or send can lead to social, emotional and bullying issues.
So, perhaps we can band together in an effort to help our young children face these challenges and consider delaying the children’ access to texting and having their own cell phones.  
While we understand that doing so would be an unpopular decision with many of our children, it would be much easier to take such a position if others take the same stand and our child’s friends also do not have a cell phone or texting capabilities.    “But everyone else has it or does it” or “I will be left out if I don’t text everyone…” becomes less of a legitimate concern.
As the children get older, we understand that there are certainly conveniences of having a cell phone for things such as calling from a bar/bat mitzvah celebration or while out biking.  To that end, some families have invested in a “family phone” that can be used by the child on occasion to make calls but is not available as a personal phone/texting device.   We are also not suggesting banning iPods or tablets but perhaps considering ideas such as disabling the texting and safari (or other internet browser), so as to limit the otherwise free access at all times.
Please consider the above sentiments and email us if you would be interested in getting a group together to discuss these issues as parents. 
When I received this e-mail- sent purely from parents with no involvement from the school, I thought, “Hey, why didn’t I think of that?”  While I did not have to agree with every aspect of what they proposed, I wholeheartedly agreed that it would be so much easier to set limits if all the peers in my child’s class had similar limits. What if we as parents united? I can tell you, from experience, it worked. 
Whoever is for Hashem come with me,” was Matityahu’s rallying cry. “Whoever is for strengthening our teens and implementing good values come with me!” is the parent’s rallying cry.  Let us unite and support each other, and thereby strengthen our children.
Please note that a piece of this column appeared in a previous year’s column, but its message was worth repeating before our iParent: A Roadmap For Raising Children In A Digital Era workshop tomorrow evening.
Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade:  Knee- deep into our Hey Dude Don’t Be Rude manners unit, students discussed bar/bat mitzvah etiquette and proper manners, leading up to our mock bar/bat mitzvah to practice these skills.

Seventh Grade:  Seventh graders wrapped up their Operation Respect unit with a visit to the homeless shelter.  They performed a beautiful song and gave out gift bags with hats, gloves and scarves as they conversed with the “guests” in the shelter.

Eighth Grade:  Connecting to Chanukah they focused on materialism and what leads to true happiness.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Chanukah Rivalry?

As we celebrate Chanukah this evening, I envision the Chashmonai brothers who united under the leadership of their father Matityahu. Five brothers, joined arm in arm, for the will of Hashem.  There is nothing like siblings getting along. Then, I consider this past week’s parasha of Vayeshev where we read of the sibling rivalry of Yoseph and his brothers. Why couldn’t they “just get along”  like the Chasmonai brothers?  (Sounds like something we might say to our own kids after spending Shabbos lunch with that other family…)

And, the story of Yaakov’s mistake in the treatment of Yoseph which led to this jealousy that “caused” this sibling rivalry,  seems so obvious to anyone who has taken a basic parenting class.  Showing favoritism to one child over another is a no no!  Yaakov made it obvious that he loved Yoseph more and gave him a special coat which gave him a special status.  Rav Shimson Raphael Hirsch points out Yaakov’s parenting mistake,
“That all was not judicious or wise, that Jacob should not have listened to his tattle, that altogether to show favoritism to one child had only evil effects in the history of our forefathers, as indeed it has in any home, is stressed bitterly enough in the pernicious results which are shown in this story.  They are weaknesses which occur only too frequently in people’s lives, but are nonetheless weaknesses.”

The Gemara Shabbat 10b similarly states,  
ואמר רבא בר מחסיא אמר רב חמא בר גוריא אמר רב לעולם אל ישנה אדם בנו בין הבנים שבשביל משקל שני סלעים מילת שנתן יעקב ליוסף יותר משאר בניו נתקנאו בו אחיו ונתגלגל הדבר וירדו אבותינו למצרים:
And Rava bar Meḥasseya said that Rav Ḥama bar Gurya said that Rav said: A person should never distinguish one of his sons from among the other sons by giving him preferential treatment. As, due to the weight of two sela of fine wool [meilat] that Jacob gave to Joseph, beyond what he gave the rest of his sons, in making him the striped coat, his brothers became jealous of him and the matter unfolded and our forefathers descended to Egypt.
And, even Hashem, the greatest Parent of all, “lo yisa panim” (Devarim 10:17), will not show favoritism.  But, Yaakov was a wise man.  Even more so, he witnessed firsthand the effects of a parent favoring one son over another, as Yitzchak seemed to favor Eisav over himself.  Why would Yaakov make this mistake?
One might consider that Yaakov saw Yoseph as the son without a mother- a very logical reason to pay more attention to Yoseph than he did to the other brothers. Rav Hirsch describes Yoseph as “a motherless,and brotherless youth. All the others grew up in company with brothers and under the wing and influence of mother- love. Joseph stood alone.  He had lost his mother early in life, and Benjamin was still a child and no companion for the youth. With his half-brothers he did not feel entirely at home and felt more drawn towards the brothers of the maids…”
 Often, as parents, we find that we need to pay more attention to one particular child whether due a disability, a health issue or an emotional need. That special treatment is very difficult for the other children who often come to resent those “special” children who get more attention due to their condition.  
Caroline Buzanko highlights three reasons why children are often envious of those children who need more attention:
  1. Lack of parental attention- which is being lavished on the other sibling.
  2. Differential attention-  there are different expectations from that child, i.e. when it comes to doing chores
  3. Family functioning is different- they may be limited on the trips they go on, or they may not go out to dinner like other families etc.
Often we find the “typically developing” sibling may act out in order to get more attention. Others, may internalize and become more quiet and withdraw. Others become overachievers  whether to compensate for their sibling or to gain recognition.
In the case of sibling rivalry when a child is singled out for more attention,  it is important for the other siblings to receive accurate education and information about their sibling’s condition.  And, these conversations need to be ongoing and not just a one shot deal. Parents also have to plan intentional time with the other siblings.  It need not be an expensive trip, but even small gestures, says Buzanko, like notes of appreciation in their lunches- things to show them they are appreciated.  Additionally, it is important to not impose a caregiving role on the siblings. They should be as involved as they wish.   
In today’s society, in families where there is no need to favor one child, we are so careful not to show favoritism to any of our children. But, even we, enlightened parents of today, still catch ourselves saying things like, “Why don’t you clean your room like your brother does?”  or “Your sister came right away when I called you, why can’t you?”  Interestingly enough, not showing favoritism does NOT mean treating all children exactly the same.
Slovie Jungreis- Wolff, in her article, “Battling Sibling Rivalry” points to the sibling rivalry that often rears its head during Chanukah.  Why did she get a bigger gift than I?  Why am I always neglected? 
She differentiates between sibling disagreements and sibling rivalry. With normal disagreements, the children normally get along, and have fights and conflicts at times.
 Rivalry is defined as a contest, competition, or conflict. We are talking about brothers and sisters who are constantly competing against each other. Life is one big tug of war, each side pulling against the other.

These children are constantly measuring and comparing:
“Hey! Why did she get a bigger piece of cake than me?”
“When I was his age, you never let me stay up so late!”
“Why does he get a playstation for his birthday and you never bought a gift like that for me?”

At times, that rivalry continues into adulthood, as Jungreis notes,
“I should’ve gotten that raise!”
“Why does my sister have such a great life?”
“How did my brother ever get that job? I am so much smarter than him!”
Such individuals never feel at peace. They are forever comparing and don’t know how to be content with what they have.

The root of  this rivalry is people seeing life through an “envious lens.”  We feed this jealousy when we treat each child the same- give them the exact size slice of cake, buy all the children toys at the same time and overall try to treat them the “same.”  This is the error! No one in life is exactly the same. This fosters the contest and it grows “uglier.” When we teach our children that no two people in life are the same- we have our own talents, dislikes and even needs they come to realize they don’t need what their sibling needs.  Jungreis gives a parable:

Being jealous is like eyeing someone else’s gorgeous piece of luggage. Nothing inside fits.
When I was a little girl, I was taught that being jealous is like eyeing someone else’s gorgeous piece of luggage. You lug it home excitedly, open it up, and realize too late that nothing fits. Besides, half the stuff inside isn’t even your taste.

Parents should not help children eye the lives of others. Kids should know that every child in the family is appreciated for his or her specific individuality. We also should not encourage the tantrums and discontent by striving to make each situation equal...And part of being a mensch in this world is being able to look at others without malice.
Regardless of the ups and downs in sibling relationships, (even the Chashmonaim meet their downfall years later when two brothers fight over the leadership), it  is important to remember that research does indicate that having a sibling is good for you- it improves overall mental health, promotes altruism, makes you happier and even helps people live longer.  Hopefully, the Chanukah memories our children make with their siblings will be full of appropriate revelry and not rivalry, and  they will be content with the "luggage" they have received. 
Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade Students began a manners unit on appropriate “etiquette.”
Seventh Grade: Students focused on the roots of homelessness (in preparation for their visit this week) and trying to understand the homeless as people.
Eighth Grade: Students discussed the high school acceptance process and learning styles.  

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Food For The Thanksgiving Feast- The Sandwich

Parent teacher conferences and Thanksgiving are usually in close proximity to each other.  What is the subliminal message? Some cynics might say,  to be thankful we only have to go through it twice a year?  That we are so exhausted so we need two days off soon after? I rather see it as being a positive connection as we are thankful as teachers and parents for our students and all their hard work, participation in class and their unique personalities.  We are thankful for the time our teachers put into our children and the time parents spend at home helping the students manage their work. So, parent-teacher conferences should be a “high- five” session of - good for you! You worked so hard and you are appreciated.

But, what if there are areas that your child needs to work on or he has not succeeded in every area?  Gratitude is again the answer.  Research shows that employees are more motivated to work hard when their bosses show appreciation. And, vice versa. Employees are prone to work less when their bosses are too demanding or they fear losing their job.  But, how do you show gratitude to a child?  I would like to reframe gratitude and view it as “praise”- which is more effective.  Yes, each day in the Amidah, as we teach our children, we say בקשה , שבח and הודאה- praise, requests, and thanks. We know that thanks comes after we have received the “requests.” And, while there is value in that thanks, perhaps there is greater value in the “praise” that is not dependent on the results.

On Election Day, our teachers were privileged to hear several presentations by Dr. Tom McIntyre (Dr. Mac).  Dr. Mac is a professor of special education at Hunter College of the City University of New York where he directs the graduate program in the education of students with mental health and behavior disorders.  He is the author of four books and his informative, is the world's most visited classroom behavior management website. Fitting in to our year-long theme of “communication” Dr. Mac presented practical and easy to implement research- based positive techniques and communication tips for teachers to help promote motivation and cooperative behavior, solve problems (or better yet, prevent them), promote self- control and strengthen their positive relationships with their students.   

One area of focus for Dr. Mac was the area of praise.  Dr. Mac stressed, unbeknownst to many, that there have been thirteen types of praise studied in research and only two have been shown to work, and some are even counter-productive and harmful. Teachers spent time learning how to praise our students effectively.   And along with praise, how do we utilize criticism that teaches and motivates?  As we leave parent teacher conferences today, how can we as parents utilizes some of Dr. Mac’s tips to most effectively praise and share critique?

Dr. Mac quoted the research of Dr. Carol Dweck on praise, which we have mentioned in this column before. We often praise our children “You’re so smart!” or “You’re an amazing math student!”  This simply sets them up for negative feelings about themselves as they are more fearful of “messing up,” more prone to giving up and not working hard, and less confident in the long-term.  On the other hand, praising children for their effort- their perseverance, strategies, improvement, leads to greater self- confidence. “You worked so hard. You took amazing notes with bullet points, and then tested yourself using your flashcards.” And, even when they don’t achieve the grade, they still get praise for their effort, “ You worked so hard on this. I am so proud of your effort. Let’s see what we can do together to figure out what you do not understand.”  We should never praise the product, but rather the process.  Again, this is שבח- praise and not הודאה- thanks, as it is not results based.

But, what if it isn’t all praise and we need to critique? How we critique has to do with the mindset of the “critiquer.” Dr. Mac spoke of symptom separation- when it comes to speaking with our children about areas they need to improve, we need to remember we are frustrated with the behavior and not the child. This reminds us of the pasuk in Tehillim 104:35 “Sinners will be destroyed from the earth” יִתַּ֚מּוּחַטָּאִ֨ים | מִן־הָאָ֡רֶץ Note that it says "חטאים” sins and not “חוטאים- sinners. In truth, it is the sins that we want to disappear, not the sinner himself. We need to separate the child from the behavior. Rather than perceiving it as a child who is irritating me with not following through on what he is supposed to be doing, it is a difficult situation and he needs my caring and empathy.  The manner in which we react to their “failure” to either do the work or behave, will determine how they react. We are the thermostat for adjusting the temperature in our homes, so we need to manage our own emotions first.  

Dr. Mac shared with use the Chinese symbol for crisis: 危机. It is composed of two symbols- one that means danger and one that means opportunity.  We need to be careful that when we critique our children we are not just focused on the “danger” but also on the “opportunity” ahead for change.  We need to exude calm, make it clear what you need the child to do- but avoid “You” statements”  and focus more on “I” statements. No, “You are always forgetting your homework.’ Rather, “I need homework done first before…”   Just make sure a “you message” is not imbedded in an “I message” like, “I need you to stop acting lazy.” Most importantly, we do not want to predict a negative future when critiquing, “You will never get into high school with these grades!” “You are going to fail the test!”   We want to show them that we are hopeful that they can do it.  We need to be careful not to use an accusatory tone. And, there needs to be a belief statement that you believe he/she can do better, “I know if we put this plan into effect you can…” And,whatever you do, do not reminisce and go back to the past. “Remember when you didn’t take notes  last year and you failed?”  That child knows you don’t believe in him/her and are predicting failure again.

Additionally, children are willing to take criticism if they believe you believe in them.  Dr. Mac quoted research that states that in life we probably hear three positive things to one negative.  Our morale starts lowering when we hear only 2 positives to 1 negative.  That led Dr. Mac to speak about the criticism sandwich which he calls “emotional health food.” Criticism is digested better when it is delivered in a sandwich of positives. You start off with a praise, then the critique and then the encouragement that you know he can do it.

As we leave parent teacher conferences and decide how to share the good and not so good news with our children, may Dr. Mac’s advice regarding praise and criticism, like the sandwich,  be “food for thought.”

Advisory Update;
Sixth Grade:  Sixth graders learned more about time management and how to organize their schedules. Some groups began an unit on manners and etiquette.

Seventh Grade: Students began a unit on empathy and the skills to empathize with others.

Eighth Grade:  While filling out their self-evaluation forms, which assessed their interests in terms of co- curricular and extracurricular activities, students discussed how each child needs to focus on his/her own strengths in life.