Sunday, February 11, 2018

Never Too Late- Part II

After last week’s column, “Pre- Super Bowl- It’s Not Too Late For An Invite,” I received numerous e-mails from parents applauding the content of the column.  Some e-mails were from parents whose children have been left out. Some e-mails were from parents whose children always get invitations, but just felt for the children who did not.  I hope that I was able to bring to the fore an issue that affects many children.  One parent responded by sharing the social exclusion that occurs around Purim costumes- a topic I have covered before as well. |A group of girls decide to wear the same costume, and inevitably someone gets left out.

One e-mail that I received was not at all about children. It was by a parent who shared that this issue of “being left out”  does not only relate to the children, but also spills over to the parents as well. One example she gave was the bar/bat mitzvah carpool. As parents scramble when their children are in kindergarten to create bar/bat mitzvah carpools, (okay, I may be exaggerating...but only a bit), there are always families that are left out.  Whether it is a family that moved in after kindergarten or simply someone who is not well- connected, it is another example how we can make more conscious efforts to include others.  

Years ago, when I spoke my shul Sisterhood opening event, I spoke of how each one of us can remember the first time we came to Shul as strangers, and someone stopped us to say welcome and introduced him/herself. Even at a shul event like that day,  many of us reached out to someone we did not know before and offered her a seat. How lonely it is to come into a room and not be offered a seat. How isolating it can be when we each stick to our groups and don't welcome in the “new girl.” There is so much focus today on bullying amongst children and particularly social exclusion- leaving people out. Who are the models for this behavior of our children? We are. Do they see us welcoming in a new person in shul, and including someone standing alone in a conversation? When your daughter asks, “Hey, Mommy, did you know that woman?” You find a teachable moment and respond, “No, but she was feeling excluded, so I included her.”

Aside from modelling, what is the secret to raising children who are inclusive? The answer can be found in the parasha we read this past Shabbat, Shemot 22:20
וְגֵר לֹא-תוֹנֶה, וְלֹא תִלְחָצֶנּוּ:  כִּי-גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם, בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.
And a stranger shall you not wrong, neither shall you oppress him; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
In this past week’s parasha we find this concept twice,  (out of the 36 times it is mentioned in the Torah), to treat the stranger well, and remember that we were strangers in Egypt.  This pasuk lets us in on the secret- empathy. Imagine what it feels like to be a stranger- excluded and rejected.  Rabbi Ely Schestak, rabbi of Ahavat Achim in Fair Lawn, shared this past Shabbat at our Yachad Shabbaton, that in Egypt there was a clear caste system. There were the Egyptian elite and then the rejected Jews who were the slaves.  There was no hope for the Jews to be included and respected.  Every Jew has to obligation to recall that feeling of rejection before rejecting a person who no one wants to accept.

Children who are raised with empathy, who can imagine what it feels like to be left out, are the ones who sensitively include others.  Dr. Michelle Borba, author of Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed In Our All- About-Me World, “Empathy, the ability to put oneself in other people’s shoes, is the cornerstone for becoming a happy, well-adjusted, successful adult. It makes our children more likable, more employable, more resilient, better leaders, more conscience-driven, and increases their life spans.”  In our 7th grade Advisory program, we spend an entire unit called “Operation Respect” teaching the skills of empathy through learning about the plight of the homeless and visiting a homeless shelter.

Despite the fact that we know that empathy is integral to success in life in various arenas, research indicates that in the past 30 years, the empathy levels of teens have gone down by 40%.   “Almost 75% of college-age students today rate themselves as less empathetic, less likely to try to understand their friends by imagining their perspective, and less likely to be concerned for people less fortunate.”  The 2014 Harvard Making Caring Common report surveyed 10,000 teens regarding what they value the most.  80% chose “high achievement or happiness” as their highest rated value.  Only 20% rated “caring for others” as their highest value.  Four out of five teenagers said “their parents cared more about achievement than caring.”

Dr. Borba highlights that along with more focus on academics and less on empathy goes a rising rate of unhappy teens who are depressed and anxious. Aggression, bullying and cruelty have risen.  Research with cyberbullying shows that children who cyberbully show less empathy. Teaching empathy, says Borba, will lessen peer cruelty.

But, we can teach empathy.  In addition to modeling,  instead of asking our children when they get home, “What grade did you get?” a parent  should ask, “What kind act did you do today?”  “Unless we free up time for relationships, we may be raising a generation of kids who can’t see past their smartphones and jam-packed schedules to notice the human beings in front of them.”

As children we learned that the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128:1 states that Elul is an acronym for Ani l'dodi v'dodi li” - I am to my beloved as my beloved is to me-  depicting our relationship with Hashem which we work on in Elul. (Yes, I know we begin Adar at the end of this week!) But, the Shulchan Aruch also states that it stands for u'mishloach manot ish l'reaehu umatanot levyonim”-Sending gifts from a person to his friend and presents to the poor”(Esther 9:22). What does Purim have to do with Elul? It is not about Purim, but rather sharing that the way to work on our relationship with Hashem is through working on our relationships with others.  I imagine that the people of Shushan did not only give Mishloach Manot to their particular friends.  What would it be like if we delivered a package this Purim to someone who could use a friend?  What if we were to encourage our children to do so as well? What if we were to focus on the skill of empathy and encourage our children to imagine what it feels like to receive no packages on Purim day?
Thank you to all of you who responded to last week’s column, prompting Part II this week.  

Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade:  Students began a unit on organization, focusing on how to organize their bookbags.

Seventh Grade:  Students began a unit “When Life Gives You Lemons” and focused on what are the qualities that make people resilient and able to bounce back from failure?

Eighth Grade; Our 8th graders discussed the admissions news they will be receiving this week and the best way to react to the news. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Pre- Super Bowl- It's Not Too Late For An Invite

Today I spent some time with a colleague of mine who is a psychologist in another school. The topic of the super bowl and parties inevitably came up.  We discussed the social pressure it places on children to feel included.  How terrible it feels for a child to have nowhere to go when it appears that all his/her friends have been invited.  I shared with her the column I sent out last year about that exact topic.  This conversation today came on the footsteps of a conversation I had with a parent in our school this past week about her child who was not invited to any super bowl parties.   In re-reading my last year’s column, I realize that I feel just as passionate about the issue as I did last year.  And, the issue is still relevant.  Last year, I sent out that column after the parties were all over… too late. So, although I send out my column on Sunday afternoons, I thought that perhaps a pre- super bowl column would be more impactful this week.  (I will quote some of what I wrote last year, and supplement as well).  

...One example I gave of joy- living a life of meaning and giving- was “by thinking about and reaching out to others...Did he think about the boy who was not invited to any super bowl party and reach out?” I wrote that example with no one boy  (or girl) in mind, but rather in thinking about all the boys and girls I’ve worked with in the past 22 years of working as a psychologist in schools.  Every year there is someone not invited to a super bowl party.  Every year there is someone worried that he will not be invited. Every year there is someone embarrassed to admit he hasn’t been invited. Every year someone is excluded and sitting on the sidelines.

It need not be particular to the super bowl.  Every year there is a girl who had no partner in Coke and Pepsi at that bat mitzvah.  Every year there is a boy who has no one who requests to room with him at Frost Valley.  Every year there is a girl who feels as if she has nowhere to sit during lunch. Every year there is a boy who is not invited to get together Shabbat afternoon.  It is all about inclusion and ensuring there is not social exclusion.

Bullying has become a hot topic over the past number of years. I admit I do see bullying from time to time, but more of what I see is a particular type- social exclusion.  Dr. Rick Lavoie, in his book Last One Picked First One Picked On notes that 15 out of 20 times a parents has put his/her head down to cry- it is not about a child’s academic struggles in school. It is about social rejection.  Dr. David Pelcovitz shared that when looking at the research, people rarely can recall physical pain. They almost always recall the emotional pain of being excluded.  And, conversely, the ones doing the social exclusion almost never recall doing so years later.

And, it is not just about the directly nasty things kids can do to each other. It is often more about the nonverbal messages that children send to one another.  Smiling, or choosing not to smile at another can change a whole child’s day.   Tone of voice- how you speak to another. Initiating warm greetings- especially in a group, is quickly interpreted as sending a message that this child belongs.  We need to explain to our children that sending social inclusion messages- non-verbal ones as well, can help a child feel as if he or she belongs.  Your child can then can become a leader in his demonstrating compassion.  One need not be a close friend to deserve a smile, a greeting or a kind tone of voice.  The message should be the same to all- you have a responsibility to make sure everyone feels welcome.  

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 rub the faces of those who were not invited in it?   “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?

I know there are children who make it hard to befriend them due to their behavior.  Some children experiencing this exclusion fall under that category and some do not. Either way, I teach my children that every child deserves to feel included.  No matter what.  I do invite parents and children to share with me if there is a child who could use some help with some of those behaviors that do make it difficult- those do need work. But, at the same time, no one deserves to feel left out.

I will spend this coming  Shabbat in Fair Lawn in Congregation Ahavat Achim with some of our 8th graders and Yachad for the developmentally disabled.  Yachad’s slogan is “because everyone belongs.”  Yearly, when looking around the room at the Shabbaton, this slogan applies to the Yachad members themselves. However, it also applies to our Yavneh students. It gives me such joy to see some of our students who do not always feel that they belong shine and connect with their classmates. Everyone belongs at the Yachad Shabbaton.  No judgemental preconceptions. It does not matter who had the coolest clothes or who is the best athlete.  Sitting with the Yachad members, playing a game or singing a song is all that matters.  If only all of life was a Yachad Shabbaton.  

Our children will need to learn the skills to bounce back from rejection and social exclusion. Life is not truly a Yachad Shabbaton.  Despite that, as parents, we need to remind them that life each day is a giant super bowl party. We can’t invite everyone.  There is an abundance of social pressure to fit in- especially in the middle school years.  Somehow, everyone deserves an invitation.  What role can we play in making sure everyone has a party to go to?

In this week’s parasha the Jews received the Torah. When they arrived at Har Sinai the pasuk says, ויחן שם ישראל נגד ההר “And the Jews camped by the mountain.”  Why the word ויחן in singular?  Rashi says, “כאיש אחד בלב אחד”- they were united like “one man with one heart.”  I have often heard the imagery that this means that the Jewish people are like one body.  When my arm hurts, my whole body is in pain.  When one “member”  of the Jewish people hurts, we all hurt.  When someone in my class feels excluded, I should feel his/her pain.
So, perhaps we can ask our children to sit and think about the boy or girl in his/her class who probably does not have a place to go tomorrow. It’s not too late for an invite.

Advisory Update:

Sixth Graders-  Students discussed the challenges of working in groups or with partners and how to manage those challenges.

Seventh Graders- Rabbi Yitzy Haber addressed the 7th graders to launch their next unit in Advisory "When Life Gives You Lemons- Coping With Adversity In Life."   Rabbi Haber shared his inspirational life story demonstrating through his humor how it is possible to cope and grow through life's difficulties. Our boys also did a lesson on the topic of foul language.

Eighth Graders-  Students began a unit their changing relationship with parents based on the movie Finding Nemo.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Family Vacations For Teens?

Officers from the Ontario Provincial police responded to a 911 call from a teenage call on August 12. She was calling to report that her parents “forced” her to go on vacation with them to a small town in Ontario, authorities said. The responding officers determined that there was no real emergency  and that it “appeared to be a case of  a teenager being a teenager.  Although she perceived this as a real issue, it was not an appropriate use of 911.”  No kidding.
As we approach the winter break, whether we are lucky enough to take the week off, or can take an afternoon off to take our children bowling, there most likely will be some family time.  While the stereotypical view of the teen is that of the Canadian girl above, in truth most of our children really do value and need the family time with us...although they may not always admit it.  
While the stereotypical teenager seeks independence from his parents, research does indicate that throughout their teenage years, teens do continue to spend time with their parents This parent-teen time is essential for their well-being as reported in “Time with parents is important for teens’ well-being.”  Research done by Professor Susan McHale at Penn State shows that, “The stereotype that teenagers spend all their time holed up in their rooms or hanging out with friends is, indeed, just a stereotype....Well into the adolescent years, teens continue to spend time with their parents and that this shared time...has important implications for adolescents' psychological and social adjustment.” Through home visits and phone interviews they found that while parent-teen time while others were present decreased, parent-teen time with just the parent and child increased.  Teen need and yearn for the one-on-one time with parents, while seeking independence at the same time.  
Anny Tyzeck, in her article “Why teenagers need quality time with their parents more than toddlers do” explores “teenage maternity leave.”  While one might assume that the quantity of time parents spend with their children is most important when they are younger, in actuality it is the opposite. When children are younger, if the quality of the time they spend together is good, then the quantity of time is not that important. However, the only stage where the quantity of time parents spend with their children does matter is during the teenage years.  Hence, the growing trend of “teen maternity leave.” (The same would stand true for teen paternity leave).  A study by the University of Toronto stressed the importance of having parents physically and emotionally available for their teens during those turbulent years. And, we all know the famous studies which indicate that the more time teenagers spend with their parents, especially during family dinners, the less likely they are to engage in substance abuse and other illicit behaviors.  A study in the Journal of Marriage and Family asserted that spending as little as an average of six hours with a teen led to the positive growth enumerated.  
While many of us may not have the time throughout the year for the one on one time with our teens, these family vacations  are an important piece of the teenager- parent bond and shared experience.   Family vacations are important for family connections.  וַיֵּֽלְכ֥וּ שְׁנֵיהֶ֖ם יַחְדָּֽו "and they both went together", as it says in Bereishit 22:6,  describing the trip that Avraham and Yitzchak took to Har HaMoriya on the way to Akeidat Yitzchak. As Rabbi Ari Kahn describes, they walked together. "They were on the same path, the same 'wavelength,' possessing a common destiny. There was no generation gap between the two." If only all our family trips had the same togetherness. 
Remember the family vacations of your youth when you played the license plate game in the car with your siblings? Nowadays, the family vacations differ as everyone comes along with his/her own technology. What is the impact of technology use on family vacations? A Tech Timeout survey conducted  by Harris Interactive highlighted that “electronic devices are destroying family vacations.”  47% of North American parents surveyed concur that technology use is ruining their vacations.  51% of North American parents find their family’s use of technology on vacation “annoying.”  We cannot truly connect with our teens when they are connected to their phones.  In the past we have attempted a Yavneh “disconnect to connect” during Chanukah.  How about a tech timeout during a vacation with family- even for an  hour a day?  
Common Sense Media suggests some tips for a connected vacation.  The first option is to actually leave the phones at home. I actually had a conversation with a Yavneh parent last week who parents three teens and stated that that is the rule on their family vacations. But,  if you do decide to have the children bring,  then set up some rules. For example, the inside/outside rule. Technology is only available inside the hotel room. Or, if that’s too extreme, one can set up rules like, “No phone when we are on a trip.” Or, “No connecting with friends until after dinner.” It would also surprise you how much kids enjoy old fashioned board games, if you bring them along.  And, yes, they may even like that license plate game...if you can remember how to play it.  Perhaps that Canadian teen’s parents should have thought about taking away her phone...Maybe she would have enjoyed her vacation more.
Advisory Update
Sixth Grade- Students finished their unit on Manners and Etiquette by discussing in-class behavior and focusing on a video where the teacher and student switch places.  Imagine what it is like to be a teacher...hmmm.
Seventh Grade:  Students discussed the impact of “put-downs” on others and how that small actions can make a world of difference.

Eighth Grade;  Students discussed the day they get their acceptances and reactions on that day.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Living Your Best Life Now- A Tribute

            When I find the time to make it down to my basement to exercise, there’s a channel I like to watch called JBS- Jewish Broadcasting Service.  Formerly known as Shalom TV, it is a Jewish television station, probably only watched by me.  It has Israel news each day in English and various programs for those of us who are avid watchers of the Israel and the Jewish scene.  A few weeks ago, I turned on a program called L’Chayim, which is a one hour interview show. I had planned to change the channel and noticed it was an interview of someone I actually knew, Rabbi Dani Cohen. Rabbi Cohen is the rabbi at Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford, Connecticut. I know him more because my father, a”h,  was director of Rabbinic Services at Yeshiva University and he mentored, as he called them, “his semicha boys.”  Rabbi Cohen was one of his boys.  

            Rabbi Cohen was being interviewed because he just came out with a book called What Will They Say About You When You Are Gone? Creating A Life Of Legacy.    On the front page are also the words “Live Your Best Life Now.” (The book is written for the general public, and not necessarily for the Jewish community, although he does quote a plethora of Judaic sources).  After watching the interview, since the book could not be found on the BCCLS website, I ordered in on Amazon, curious to read it. When the book arrived, my husband opened the envelope, surprised at its contents. Sounds like quite a morbid title.  I explained why I ordered it and cracked the pages open.     

            When I began to read the book, Mrs. Brueckheimer, a”h, was still with us.  Throughout this shiva week I have continued reading, as I focused on the lessons Mrs. Brueckheimer’s life taught us about living the best life.

 The author begins explaining the rationale behind the book.  Rabbi Cohen quotes the famous pasuk from Shlomo HaMelech in Kohelet (a pasuk that Rabbi Knapp also quoted when addressing our middle schoolers the day we returned to school after Mrs. Brueckheimer’s passing):
בט֞וֹב לָלֶ֣כֶת אֶל־בֵּֽית־אֵ֗בֶל מִלֶּ֨כֶת֙ אֶל־בֵּ֣ית מִשְׁתֶּ֔ה
It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting.
"How is that possible? We’d all rather be at a wedding.  Here’s the difference: The morning after a wedding we might say, ‘It was fun. I had a good time. I ate too much,’ and so on.  However, following a funeral, there’s a chance your life might be changed.  You confront mortality and a life well lived...and you may be stirred to reevaluate your own...Who are you? Who do you want to be?  How do you want to be remembered?”  

Rabbi Cohen then quotes Rabbi Menanchem Mendel of Kotzk, “My job in life is not to resurrect the dead; my job in life to resurrect the living.” How can we resurrect the lives we live every day to make them more meaningful?  He speaks of the life of Alfred Nobel, who actually invented dynamite.  When his brother died, a newspaper mistakenly thought he had died and the obituary was entitled “The Merchant of Death.”  He was taken aback as he then saw that that was how was going to be remembered. It was then he endowed the Nobel Prize as he asked himself after reading his “obituary” “Is this the way I want to be remembered? Is this my legacy?” Today, Nobel is remembered for his prize and his contributions to society.  Most of us do not get to see the “preview” obituary that Alfred Nobel did. Rabbi Cohen encourages all of us to contemplate each day how we will be remembered at 120.    He quotes a Gemara in Shabbat 153a, “Rabbi Eliezer would say, ‘Repent one day before your death.’ He asked his disciples, ‘Does a man know on which day he will die?’ He said to them, ‘So being the case, he should repent today, for perhaps tomorrow he will die; hence all his days are passed in a state of repentance.’”  Man should live each day as if it is his last.

Each piece of the book ends with a practical exercise. The first exercise is “Developing A Life Of Legacy Prototype” where he asks the reader to make a list of how he would like to remembered by his family, community and the world. He then even asks the reader to, believe it or not,  write his own eulogy by answering a list of 10 questions.  Some of the questions are, “What is worth fighting for?” “What are your dreams?” “Describe your best self.”   As the book continues, he speaks about some practical ways to make a difference each day and live the best life.

One practical (more upbeat) strategy he discusses relates to how we awaken each day and say “Modeh Ani.”  מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ חַי וְקַיָּם, שֶׁהֶחֱזַרְתָּ בִּי נִשְׁמָתִי בְּחֶמְלָה. רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ.
I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.
The way you begin your day frames your attitude towards what lies ahead.  Wow! I can talk, I can walk, and I can hear the sounds outside and smell the fresh air.  If God infuses each of us with new life today, we in turn must relish the chance to make the day a masterpiece!”  It is not about a “morbid” preoccupation of what will be said about us, but rather a positive outlook and conscious plan for each day as we awaken to accomplish something significant and make the world better.  This is something we can discuss with our children, as Hashem provides us with life each day to accomplish a mission.

As I absorbed the lessons of Rabbi Cohen’s book, I realized that Mrs. Brueckheimer, a”h lived the message of his book each day. When I took the students to pay a shiva call last week to the Brueckheimer family, Rabbi Brueckheimer shared how his wife would pack her bag the night before the next school day and even put it in her car.  Aside from expressing how organized she was, it also showed her love for her teaching and her efficient use of her time. No moment was ever wasted.  Mrs. Brueckheimer could be counted on to be there bright and early for minyan, and in her room during her lunch break helping students.  The students were cognizant of the fact that Mrs. Brueckheimer expected them to also make the most of their time, as she did hers. Students knew she demanded they show their best selves in class,  while compassionately grading their papers. More than teaching math concepts, she cared about their self-concepts.  One student, who never had her as a teacher, shared with me that from Mrs. Brueckheimer she learned that davening was a serious endeavor.  She knew, from the moment she entered middle school, that when Mrs. Brueckheimer was at minyan, she was expected to daven with attention, kavana and meaning.  That is the way Mrs. Brueckheimer  taught in her classroom as well, with attention, kavana and meaning.  There was no wasting time for time was precious.  

For those of us who loved Mrs. Brueckheimer, a”h, she indeed created a life of legacy. Not only did she as a math teacher teach generations of students how to “count”, but she also let her students know that they did count,  and she made every moment count as she lived her best life each day.  We will miss her. May her memory for a blessing.   

Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade- Students discussed getting their first report card, why they received the grades they did and how to discuss it with their parents. They will work on setting goals for this new trimester this week.

Seventh Grade- Students discussed social exclusion and the harmful effects of the “grapevine” and gossip.

Eighth Grade- As the new Star Wars movie came out, students discussed the power of self- control and its importance.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Responsive Parenting

Recently, I attended a conference called “The Responsive Classroom.”  To quote from their p.r. material, “It is a way of teaching that creates a safe, challenging and joyful classroom and schoolwide climate for all children. Teachers who use the Responsive Classroom approach understand that all of children’s needs- academic, social, emotional and physical- are important.  The teacher creates an environment that responds to all of those needs so that your child can do his or her best learning.”   

            Whenever I attend a conference for “work” I always have my parent hat on as well. (And, am always looking for material for my next column!)  What could I learn from the Responsive Classroom to help me create a Responsive Family?  

The application of  the term “responsive” to parenting is not new.  The World Health Organization published a report in 2006 that “While children need food, sanitation and access to health services to survive and develop optimally, a warm and affectionate relationship with an adult caregiver who is responsive to the child's needs is equally important.” Research indicated that responsive parenting is associated with social competence, fewer behavioral problems, increased intelligence and cognitive growth, higher school achievement, higher self-esteem and fewer emotional problems.  

            What is responsive parenting, according to this research?  Responsive parents “Observe their children, notice and interpret their cues, and take prompt action.  They respond to their child with love, consistency, empathy, kindness and humanity.  They question and seek to understand their own responses to their children and the familial and cultural background that informs them.  Responsive parents help their children to learn more about their responses to their own emotions, and to other people.  These parents acknowledge that all children are individual unique human beings who need to be responded to in individual unique ways.”

            Much of what was found in this research was elaborated in the Responsive Classroom program. Here are some basic ideas found in Responsive Classrooms that I think all parents can apply to their home situations:  

a.             There is a positive sense of belonging and significance.  As noted in Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs- After basic physiological and security needs are met human behavior is then motivated by seeking a  sense of belonging.
b.            Common practices and traditions. In the classroom these would be daily activities. In my home, I like to think they are things like how we say Shema before we go to sleep, or our weekly Havdalah songs we sing.
c.             Sense of safety- We want our children to know that mistake making is good. We thereby support a growth mindset. As teachers do in the classroom, if we encourage our children to get involved with with low-risk situations, we can then highlight some mistakes and brainstorm together what can be done differently.
d.            Joy and engagement.  Being together should be joyful. However, there needs to be a  sense of purpose in what we are doing in addition to simply enjoying.

a.            Active and Interactive.  Students should be doing more talking than being taught.  Children should be engaged in more doing than listening.
b.            Use energizers to encourage more activity.  These are activities that might seem silly to the students, but shake things up and get them energized in the middle of class. Sometimes we need to take a break during the daily grind at home as well to re-energize.
c.             Appropriately challenging and purposeful. As parents, we can demand from each of our children different expectations based on their skill level.
d.            Connect with student interests and their strengths.  As parents, we too can connect with each child in our family differently.
e.            Allow students some autonomy and control.  When responsive teachers give students simple choices their motivation increases.  So, too we can as parents. “Would you like to wash the dishes or take out the garbage?”  


a.            Laying foundation for positive behavior- In a responsive classroom teachers ask the students what their hopes and dreams are for the school year. From there they create rules with the students. The teachers model what the rules look like. Rules are stated positively.  As parents we can do the same.  We sit with our children and create the rules together- incorporating their input as well.  Rules are always stated in the positive, “We put away the dishes”  rather than “Don’t leave a dirty dish on the table.”
b.            Prevention-  We work harder on reinforcing  positive behavior rather than constantly reprimanding. We use reminding language - remind them proactively beforehand of a rule.  For example, “We are about to go to the bowling alley. Let’s remember what we said about buying snacks.”  We use redirecting language.  When we want to redirect them after broken a rule, we ask them to stop, go back and do it again.
c.              Responding to misbehavior- We can respond by  loss of privilege. For example, “If you can’t put your phone down when I ask you, you lose phone privilege for the evening.”  Reparations- you break it you fix it- is another technique.  For example, “If you made the mess in the basement, you clean it up.”  Positive time out- Even with teens (although we don’t call it time out) it is  time to regain control.
d.             Solving chronic problems- Chronic behavior infractions are dealt with by creating a contract with a child in a problem solving conference one on one with the child.  If the issue is class-wide and the teacher would have have a class meeting. The same would stand for a family.

The responsive classroom encourages teachers to consider, “What do you think, feel or imagine when you hear this word?” Most of us have fearful or negative feelings when it comes to discipline.  
a.            Discipline should rather relay faith in their abilities and give them the chance to try again. Avoid sarcasm.
b.            Rather than saying, “Can you sit down?” say simply, “Sit down.” Focus on the action you need.  Keep it brief.
c.             Be mindful of different developmental levels in classroom, and in your family- some need more time.
d.             We model positive behavior for our children.

Often, as parents we are so overextended and harried that we are “reactive” rather than “responsive.”  When we react  we are at a disadvantage as we react from the gut and our emotions take control.  The most primitive part of our brains is activated.  When we respond we take the time to be thoughtful and more logical.  We consider what we heard or saw and evaluate the best action to take.  We suspend judgment and preconceived notions.

 In essence, every one of us is a classroom teacher each day in our homes.  In Devarim 6:7 we are commanded, “ושננתם לבניך”  “And you shall teach it to your children.”  We are our children’s first and primary teachers.  We, however, do not always have the ability to attend a full day workshop to sharpen our skills as teachers to run “Responsive Families.”

Advisory Update:

Sixth Grade-  Sixth graders experienced a mock Bar/Bat Mitzvah to finish off their lessons on Bar/Bat Mitzvah etiquette.

Seventh Grade-  Seventh graders visited the Hackensack Homeless shelter as a culmination of their unit Operation Respect on empathy. They spent the past session seeing how they can apply what they learned to how they treat others in their own lives.

Eighth Grade-  “Why do good?” was a question the students explored with the help of Mr. Dennis Prager video of the same title. After just finishing their list of extra-curricular activities and volunteer experiences for high school, they stopped to consider, what would the world be like without goodness?

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Harassment And Our Children- Our Role

Parents cannot ignore the daily sexual harassment updates in the news. We cannot hear the revelations each day without wondering and worrying.

Recently, Mrs. Aviva Najman, had sent me an e-mail sharing that she had seen a documentary called "The Mask You Live In,” which discusses the development of boys in American culture today.  This video spoke much about how we are not doing enough for our boys to help them grow into well-adjusted, resilient adults. In addition, it spoke about the culture of harassment that is fairly common in today’s American society.

What is it about boys in today’s society,  and consequently, what can we as parents do?   

In the video, it speaks of the stereotypical expectations placed upon boys today. They are told to “Man up.  Don’t cry.  Be aggressive.  Be angry, but not sad.”  These messages lead to men who cannot express how they are feeling. They are more prone to not have relationships or friends where they can truly share their innermost worries, pain and  emotions. These boys lack empathy.  This “mask”  leads to internalizing pain and to more acting out and depression.  

Boys at the ages of 15-19 have 5 times the rate of suicide than girls in that age range. This is the time period when you are a “mama’s boy” if you show emotion. This is  just when they face the most intense pressure to hide, as they are told that “when they are in the most in pain they can’t reach out because then they will not be a real boy... They live in an emotional mask that prevents them from expressing true feelings.”  We, as parents, socialize our boys in this manner without even realizing.  We need to ask our boys how they feel  more often, and say,  “It is okay to cry.”  

In my family, we used to laugh that my father, a”h, was a big crier. No matter what event, he was the first one to shed the tears.  The older I get, the more I appreciate the importance of that quality. I hope I am raising my boys to cry when needed.

There are three myths that go along with this mask in society today.  The first is that boys must be athletic.  This discourages boys who have other interests, like art, music or academics, from pursuing them.  Boys feel this tremendous pressure to prove themselves athletically.  All of us who have had a young boy know that intense pressure.

The second myth is that having money is manly.  When boys in America today are asked what they want to be when they grow up they say, “Rich.”  

And, then there is the third myth that leads to what we are seeing in the news today. “Sexual conquest is associated with masculinity.”   This begins in preschool, as Dr. Judy Chu notes in the video. Even then, the boys created a “be mean to girls club.”  If we are raising boys that they cannot have intimate friendships and relationships with empathy then they begin to think that intimacy has to be sexual.  The male role models in the media are the superheros- aggressive, violent and “perpetual adolescents” who degrade women.  The hip hop culture reinforces these three myths- including aggression against women.  Violent video games perpetuate this aggressive, less empathic  culture.  This does not even include how the internet has opened up an explicit  world of pornography where women are objectified and brutality is used against women. Society is a place where “men are always supposed to be on the prowl.”  There is the “great set-up…We raise them to reject the feminine side (i.e. emotions), and then we wonder why they disrespect women.”

(As you know, we recently hosted the Bostoner Rebbe here in our school. When he enters the room, one sees a man in Chasidic garb,  and one might wonder what can our Modern Orthodox children relate to in this man?  As our children respectfully listened to his words of encouragement and “chizuk” I realized that they were being introduced to what a true role model is as we were sending this message to the children that this is the type of person worthy of admiration).

Then the culture perpetuates the notion that you never “rat out” a brother.  There is a code of silence that exists no matter what wrong he is doing. I cannot betray him or I will be marginalized. No wonder so much harassment is condoned.

We need to be raising our boys by expanding what it means to be a man.

In our Advisory curriculum, for years we have been doing lessons with both the seventh grade girls and boys lessons on sexual harassment.  I actually read the New Jersey state law against sexual harassment so they see exactly what is included- a  joke that makes you uncomfortable, a cartoon hanging on a wall, or a text.  How do girls want to be treated? What does it mean to be treated like an “object”?  What is the difference between flirting and hurting- when does it cross the line?  Why don’t victims tend to come forward? What if the perpetrator is a person of power- a teacher, a coach, a division head? How does halacha and the Jewish view of relationships protect us from harassment? We also do a lesson with them on “Sntiching,” and why we are often hesitant to stop injustice from happening when a friend is involved.  We also do a lesson with our students on “who is a hero”-  who is that we look up to? Are celebrities role models? What if they do something against my values, do I still admire them?  We thereby highlight the difference between celebrities and role models.

This year, in response to what is happening in the news, we did a lesson with our 8th grade discussing current events,  (in a developmentally appropriate manner), and how events like this can even happen to teens. We spoke again about the importance of teens reaching out to their parents when they are worried.

One topic we discussed was the harassment that happens on-line. Teens are very hesitant to share this information, as they worry that their parents will see all the rest of their communications, and take away their devices.  (Which brings us again to the issue of their technology use. PLEASE DO NOT FORGET TO RSVP AND TO JOIN US AT TOMORROW EVENING’S WORKSHOP AT 8:00 PM ON “YOUR CHILD IN A DIGITAL WORLD”!)

It says in Masechet Avot 2:6:
וּבְמָקוֹם שֶׁאֵין אֲנָשִׁים, הִשְׁתַּדֵּל לִהְיוֹת אִישׁ:

In a place where there is no man, strive to be a man.

When I hear the expression “be a man”  I think of this mishna. I also think of Shemot 2:12 when Moshe grew up and went to see his enslaved brothers and,

יבוַיִּ֤פֶן כֹּה֙ וָכֹ֔ה וַיַּ֖רְא כִּ֣י אֵ֣ין אִ֑ישׁ וַיַּךְ֙ אֶת־הַמִּצְרִ֔י וַיִּטְמְנֵ֖הוּ בַּחֽוֹל:
12He turned this way and that way, and he saw that there was no man; so he struck the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.

Moshe was a real man.  When he saw there was no man, i.e. no one around to do the right thing, he had to be the man.  And, one can see the empathy here- as it says in the pasuk before וַיַּ֖רְא בְּסִבְלֹתָ֑ם “He looked at their burdens”  - as Rashi says
וירא בסבלתם: נתן עיניו ולבו להיות מיצר עליהם
And looked at their burdens: He directed his eyes and his heart to be distressed over them.
That was true empathy- the ability to feel their pain. That is true manhood.  As we discuss current events with our children, and remind them about how to stay safe, I hope we also remind our boys about what it means to be a man.

Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade:  Sixth graders begin on unit on Manners and Etiquette and discussed some basic rules of polite behavior they may not have realized exist.

Seventh Grade: Tackled the topic of the need of the homeless and realizing that we all face tough times, as part of their empathy unit.

Eighth Grade: Eighth graders began to uncover what their interests are and what makes them unique.  They thought about how that relates to how they present themselves to their future high schools.