Sunday, April 17, 2016

Imagination And Our Teens- A Message Of The Pesach Seder

There is an obligation as stated in the haggadah, "B'chol dor vador chayav adam lirot et atzmo k'ilu hu yatzah miMitzrayim" "In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he left Egypt."  (Pesachim 116b). As it says in Shemot 13:8 “And, you shall explain to your son on that day that it is because of what the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt.” One must imagine oneself as experiencing the Exodus.  This brought to mind an article I recently read in Time Magazine by Joel Stein "Inside the Box" on the world of virtual reality that is upon us.   

Stein spent some months going to virtual reality conferences and interviewing scientists involved in virtual reality techonologies. Yes, one can experience climbing a mountain in virtual reality, or one fly a plane. One can even feel motion sickness.  Google has set up a virtual-reality program called Expeditions where classes can go on a virtual field trip and never leave the building.   As a psychologist, the work of Xavier Palomer Ripoll interested me. He created animated situations that allow therapists to use with immersion therapy to treat anxiety disorders.   "'They currently use imagination.  They hold a picture of a plane and they say, 'Imagine you're in a plane.'" Using Ripoll's work a person can actually feel like he is on a plane.  But, as a psychologist, I'm not exactly sure I like the use of virtual reality for therapy.  What happened to good old fashioned imagination?  

Jeremy Bailenson founded Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab in 2003.  "He runs psychological experiments where people become aged versions of themselves to help them save for retirement; in a video how to deal with harassment, the user can become a young black woman being interviewed by an old white guy. After people fly like a superhero and deliver medicine to a sick child, they are more helpful when an assistant pretends to accidentally drop her stuff in the hallway...VR, he believes, is an empathy machine and should be saved for that purpose."  I'm not sure about this one either.  Why do we need an empathy machine?  Why can't we simply imagine the pain and feelings of the other without a “machine”?  

Virtual reality technology is incredible, but I worry when we depend on it to relay social/emotional skills.  I feel that the increasing use of such technology takes the place of encouraging the development of imagination in our children.

 Imagination is the key to success, as one can see that most successful people in life have vivid imaginations.  The greatest inventions of all time are the result of imagination. Imagination is also the key to finding creative solutions to problems.  It is fundamental to many aspects of cognitive development- creativity, cooperation, leadership, problem solving and even developing a good memory. According to Dr. Rosa Aekler and Janet Stanford, in their article “Imagination: The Gift That Keeps On Giving,” imagination allows us
  • To envision what doesn't yet exist, but could become possible.
  • To come close to experiencing alternative realities without risk.
  • To rehearse goals we will attempt to achieve.
  • To visualize solutions to problems.
  • To test a hypothesis in our mind.
  • To fulfill wishes and obtain gratification.”
 Children need to learn the ability to "creating pictures in their mind's eye that help them learn how to reach a desired goal," says Dr. Charlotte Reznick, author of The Power of Your Child's Imagination: How To Transform Stress And Anxiety Into Joy And Success.  We all know of the healing power of play for children where they enact scenarios from their real lives. It also helps them with empathy, as they can play the roles of others.  Research on preschoolers indicated that the more TV they watched, the less imaginative they were.  Television, for teens as well, needs to be paired with discussion, reading and critical thinking.

One example of the importance of imagination to success is Dr. Reznick's view of the importance of imagination for success in sports.  To combat thoughts like "I'll never be perfect" or "I'm afraid I'll let my teammates down" positive visualization techniques are essential. Some basic steps the involve one's imagination are:  1.  Concentrate on the feeling that gives you confidence. Imagine what it looks like. Which is bigger- fear or confidence? 2.  Then imagine filling one's whole body with confidence.  3.  Have  a chat with whatever fear is left.  Ask him what he is afraid of and what it needs form confidence. 4.  Imagine a calming place. Invite an "imaginary friend" to encourage you.  5.  Imagine in one's head each part of the action you want to accomplish.  6. Imagine being a spectator and what it looks like to see oneself succeed.  7. Visualize success using as many senses as possible- For example, when making a foul shot, what does the ball feel like? What sounds do you hear? What is the taste in your mouth? Smells in the gym? 8. Make sure to see success. When going up to bat, see yourself hitting that ball. 9. Use positive language when visualizing, “I can do it!”

In this world of technology, children spend most of their days paying attention to outside stimulation and little time paying attention to what is “inside,” which is essential for development of self-soothing, intuition and deep inner trust. Dr. Reznick said that it is imperative that parents make a "time to go 'inside' rather than 'outside' for information, stimulation, entertainment and knowledge for their children.  “I often tell kids that as much as there is on the outside, when they shut their eyes, relax, breathe slowly and deeply, connect to their 'inner computer' and let their imagination fly, they can go places they never before imagined."  She suggests that children need to take 3-5 minute breaks during technology use.

In today's world, there is no need to be creative or use one's imagination as one can simply google solutions to any issue.  Sitting around playing video games, watching television all day, does not do much for one's imagination.  

How often do our children say, "I'm bored?" Boredom can be constructive or destructive, as an opportunity to get into trouble. Sergio Diazgranados in his article on teenagers and boredom states, "Boredom plays such an imperative role in the growth of your teenager as it allows them to solidify their relationship with their imagination."  When one is bored, if one is able to take initiative and come up with something that is considered a sought after skill when it comes to careers.  But, when feeling bored, our teens often run to technology, not allowing themselves to feel boredom. “Boredom is recognized as a gateway to creativity, so if we can't be alone with ourselves and are unable to tolerate a lack of stimuli then we actually block out the opportunity to feel boredom and the possible creative thinking that comes out of that.”

The mitzvah of reliving the Exodus, is different from the daily mitzvah of remembering the Exodus (Devarim 15:15) as it requires that empathy component and the ability to imagine oneself in a circumstance without virtual reality.  The Rambam in the Laws of Chametz and Matzah 7:6 describes that he must act as a slave who is now experiencing the Exodus by engaging in actual behaviors that symbolize slavery and freedom.  Laws like reclining, eating matzah are meant for that purpose.  And, as Rabbi Naftali Hoff, in his article, "Reliving The Exodus" he notes that the Maharal adds in Gevurot Hashem 61, that one must view his generation as if it was the one leaving Egypt.  And, as the Rambam additionally states in his version of what we read in the haggadah, "In each and every generation a person is obligated to display himself (l'harot et atzmo) as though he just now left the slavery of Egypt." He says, "to display himself”- "L'harot et atzmo" instead of "lirot et atzmo" to see himself, and adds the word "now."  

We know that there are certain communities where they actually wrap matzah in a sack, and toss it over their shoulders.  They may even have seder participants call out "Where are you from?" "Mitzrayim," they answer.  "Where are you going?"  "Yerushalayim."  The actual enacting of the event is one way to trigger the imagination so that one can see oneself as leaving.

I am often grateful for the opportunity to take my teens to a shiur on Shabbat- when there are no smartboards, videos or interactive technologies. They must simply listen, imagine, contemplate and create with their minds. It is quite a challenge for many young people, and adults in today's world, but an essential skill.

Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hirsch Weinreb in his article, “Imagine That!” points out the difficulty that some have in fulfilling the mitzvah of seeing oneself as leaving Egypt. In fact, he told the story of a young rabbi he heard state that he sees this mitzvah as impossible to do. He then quoted the words he once heard from the Klausenberger rebbe, Rabbi Halberstam, who was a Holocaust survivor. Rabbi Halberstam said that before the war his mentor, (whose name Rabbi Weinreb could not recall), told him that he had no difficulty imagining himself being a slave in Egypt. In fact, he could clearly remember being there- the “burdensome work...the sighs and groans of his companions. He could even still see, in his mind's eye, the cruel face of his tormentors as they sadistically whipped him for not producing his daily quota of bricks.” The rebbe said there are two psychological processes needed for fulfillment of the mitzvah seder night- koach hadimyon- imagination and empathy. But, what the rebbe added was, “we are often restricted by our own tendencies to rely upon our reason, rationality and intellectuality. We underplay the powers we have to fantasize, to imagine, to dream freely. In a sense, we are slaves to reason and need to learn to allow ourselves to go beyond reason and to give our imagination free rein.” Rabbi Weinreb shared these words of the rebbe with the young rabbi, who responded, “But, the Klausenberger rebbe didn't say that learning to imagine and to empathize were easy.”

The Pesach seder is replete with parenting and education pointers. One of which is the importance of fostering one's imagination. This is a parenting task that we can work on all throughout the year- although not an easy one. On seder night, parents and children must work at it, as for now, virtual reality is still muktza on Yom Tov and we must still use our old-fashioned, yet rewarding imagination.

Advisory Update:

Sixth Grade- Sixth graders set goals for the third trimester of the year. They also began a unit on cell phone safety.

Seventh Grade- Students were introduced to the BDS movement and how Israel is presented unfairly and unjustly.

Eighth Grade- Students discussed their experience with the Holocaust play.  

Monday, April 4, 2016

Are Our Teens Ready To Withstand The Media Messages?

Around this time of year, if you look through the guide for your cable television, you are bound to see that the movie The Ten Commandments will be playing.  My son asked me if he could watch it this year.  Until now, I have always told him and the rest of my children that they cannot watch it as I was concerned it was not an accurate depiction of what truly happened in the Torah.  A child, who cannot differentiate, might grow up with mistaken and even heretic views of characters in Tanach or of G-d Himself.  I shared with him, that our discussion brings to mind the humorous quote of the head of Michalah Jersualem College for Women, who just passed away this year, HaRav Yehuda Cooperman, z”tl.  I can still see Rav Cooperman with a twinkle in his eye, (as he often would have when saying something he knew was humorous), saying, “The Ten Commandments- read the book first.”   

(Rav Cooperman was quite a unique man. He grew up in Dublin, Ireland where he earned degrees in both law and Semitic languages in from Dublin University. He later learned in Gateshead, England with the famed Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, and then at the Chevron Yeshiva.  After some years in the United States, where he earned his doctorate, he returned to Israel where he eventually started Michlalah, where women could earn a University degree in a Torah setting.  Rav Cooperman wrote his own commentary on the Meshech Chochma, and I fondly remember my weekly classes in his home with only a handful of young women in my program, where we studied his commentary with him- the author. Yehi zichro baruch). 

Now that I am walking down memory lane, I can also still recall a class 29 years ago with my teacher, Mrs. Naomi Sutton.  Our class was on Kohelet, but I recall our having a discussion about the biblical movies that are on television. She shared that when she was a small child she stayed up late, unbeknownst to her babysitter, to watch a movie called David and Batsheba- made in 1951. She said, that to that day, every time she learns about David and Batsheva, she cannot wipe the inappropriate images from her mind.  (Interestingly enough, on March 8, a TV series debuted called Of Kings and Prophets- which depicted the books of Samuel.   It was cancelled after two episodes due to low ratings. Perhaps Mrs. Sutton got to the viewers?)

Then there is the Prince of Egypt a 1998 Dreamworks film which depicts the story of the Exodus.  My father, Rabbi Steven Dworken a”h, was at the time the head of the Rabbinical Council of America and was a consultant on the script with a representative from the Reform and Conservative movements as well. I can’t say that they actually listened to his advice. I know that since then there was a 2014 film, Exodus Gods and Kings, which I have not seen, but I imagine Rav Cooperman would say, “Read the book first.”     
Rabbi Benjamin Blech, in his article, “Exodus and Hollywood” describes how antithetical the 2014 movie was to the Torah and that it was even blasphemous.  Interestingly enough, “Here’s the result of a remarkable study. How many of the top 15 highest-U.S.-grossing movies of all time, adjusted for inflation, star comic-book characters? None. How many are based on the Bible? Two: The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur. The New Yorker recently pointed out an amazing statistic: The Bible is not only the best-selling book of all time – it is the best-selling book of the year, every single year.”
            I am not here to advise whether one should let one’s child watch biblical movies or television shows.  But, it does lead one to consider the impact that television and the media in general has on our life views. In my mind, I am embarrassed to say, Moshe did indeed look like Charlton Heston. 
In our 8th Grade Girls Adolescent Life classes we discussed how relationships on television impact our view of the way relationships should be. Whether that they are purely based on the physical, fleeting, unpredictable, disloyal etc.  We discussed a 2014 Huffington Post article, “How Movies And T.V. Are Changing The Way You Think About Love.”  Researchers from the University of Michigan stated that television and movies affect how people view romance and love and how they behave in relationships, and affect  relationship longevity and satisfaction.  Watching relationships on television often sets up couples for unrealistic expectations of what a relationship should be.  In this discussion, the goal is for young ladies to consider what truly is a meaningful, positive relationship, through the lens of Torah and not through the lens of the media.
So, after watching a television show or movie which presents a view antithetical to your family or religious values, as parents we need to find that “teachable moment”  where we ask questions, discuss and point out the weaknesses in the characters’ lifestyles.  We point out that relationships fostered on “The Bachelor” may be entertaining, but not real life.  We can even point out how Moshe was depicted wrong, and the inaccuracies in the story.  The Torah is truly a best- seller.  We should definitely make sure that our children “Read the book first,” and only once its contents are internalized, can our children withstand the messages of the media. 

Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade: Students discussed the different types of peer pressure- spoken and unspoken and the subtle “tricks” peers use to pressure us into behaving in certain ways.
Seventh Grade:  Students considered why children are often hesitant to approach an adult when something wrong is happening, and evaluated whether they would “do something” if there were a situation of injustice or misdeeds.

Eighth Grade: Do teens share too much on the internet and through social media? What are the dangers of doing so?

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Purim, Peer Pressure And Doing The Right Thing

 Esther became the queen. Isolated and alone, surrounded by those who lived a lifestyle contrary to the one to which she was used. Mordechai sends word to Esther to approach the king and plead to him on behalf of the Jews. Esther at first refuses, as no one approaches the king without being called. One could be killed! But, how could Esther just sit by idly and watch as her people are being destroyed?

This is a question we discussed in our 7th Grade Advisory program when discussing the bystander effect. Why is that people often see injustice going on and yet do nothing and simply sit by idly? We discussed the famous social psychology phenomenon called the bystander effect which stemmed from research spurred on by the murder of a woman named Kitty Genovese who was murdered as 38 neighbors witnessed and did nothing. (Recently, a book actually came out that shared that based on mistaken police reports, there was an error and a few people did intervene. However, the research is the same). The bystander effect also became known as the “Genovese syndrome.”

Why was Esther unwilling, at first, to intervene? She was worried that harm would come to her. This explanation makes sense to our middle schoolers, as very often, before they “do what's right” they evaluate the harm that might come to them. We call this the “snitching syndrome.” No one wants to be snitch. Why? One reason is being fearful of the consequences to oneself.

We then discussed in Advisory the three basic components of the Bystander Effect, to better understand why people are hesitant to stand up and do what is right.
  1. Bystander intervention- solitary individuals are more likely to intervene. Help is less likely to be given when there are more people present.
  2. Diffusion of responsibility- observers all assume that someone else will intervene and refrain from doing so themselves.
  3. Social influence- Bystanders monitor the reactions of other people in an emergency and see if others think it is necessary to intervene. If no one does, they tend not to as well.

In essence, no one wants to be the only one doing it. In some ways, that is the power of peer pressure. Why would I stand up for what is right when no one else is? Why would I resist the peer pressure to do nothing? That is the hard part of being an “upstander.” We discuss with our students the importance of doing so, even when no one else is. How does one find the courage?

Mordechai responds to Esther and targets her fears. First, do not fear your own harm. You will be killed anyway even if you do not say anything. We read with the students the poem written by by Martin Niemoller who had voted for the Nazi party in 1933, but by 1938 was in a concentration camp himself.

"In Germany, the Nazis came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to
speak for me."

Eventually, even if it does not affect you now, it will.

How can we help our students find that courage? How did Esther find that courage? I recently attended a shiur by Mrs. Peshi Neuburger on the topic of Maaseh Avot Siman La'banim- the ways of the fathers are a sign for the children. (Disclaimer- I have taken some poetic license with some of Mrs. Neuburger's ideas. I cannot guarantee that she would agree with them all!) She explained the three basic ways to look at this concept. First, that our forefathers are role models for us, and we learn from them how to behave. That was a wonderful way for Esther to learn the courage she needed. She grew up in the home of Mordechai who was clearly courageously able to stand up and do what is right despite what those around him were doing. He was the only one who refused to bow down to Haman, even though he knew it could get him killed. Similarly, we can teach our own children the courage of standing up for what is right, by doing it ourselves. Let them see your resistance to giving in when something is against your value system. Express out loud why you made your decision to do something different, despite the “peer pressure” you are facing as an adult.

The second way of looking at Maaseh Avot Siman La'banim is that our forefathers are “spiritual progenitors.” When those before us work hard at inculcating a behavior or a character trait, in essence it becomes “genetic” and is passed down from generation to generation. We might call the first explanation above “nurture” and this one might be “nature.” It is in our genes. When our children are able to stand up and do the right thing, I like to think that they are not only modeling themselves after us, their parents, but also do not even have to think twice, as it is absolutely natural to them. Of course, they would never consider following the crowd and allowing an injustice to occur around them! It would be contrary to their very genetic makeup. It does not even need a decision.

The third way of looking at Maaseh Avot is that our avot were “roadpavers” for us, and literally events that happened to them repeated themselves later with their children. Mrs. Neuburger ended by quoting Rabbi Nisson Alpert on the pasuk in Bereishit 23:1 about Sarah, “And, the days of Sarah were one hundred years, and twenty years and seven years...” The Midrash Rabba recounts that Rabbi Akiva was speaking and saw that his audience was falling asleep, and wanted to awaken them. (Some things never change!). He said, “Why did Esther rule over 127 provinces? Esther who was the great, great granddaughter of Sarah who lived 127 years should come and rule over 127 provinces.” The midrash is trying to make a connection between the two women. Rabbi Alpert continues that “Sarah was taken by Avimelech, but no matter where Sarah was and no matter what circumstances she was in- she never changed. She was the same Sarah in her beliefs, the way she lived her life, without being influenced by the people of the nation where she lived. She was the same Sarah in the house of Avraham Avinu, the house of Pharaoh or the house of Avimelech. She never lost her faith and belief in G-d. When she was unable to have children and when she became the happy mother of a son- she was still Sarah. That is why she was called Sarah-from the word to rule. She ruled over the world around her and the world around her never had the power or the ability to change her from her world view and her way of life.”

We see the same with Esther. “She was taken from the house of Mordechai the righteous to the castle of Achashveirosh the evil. The situation changed completely, but Esther stayed the same Esther that was in the house of Mordechai... and the same when she ruled 127 provinces- those provinces didn't influence her. And, it was Sarah our mother who paved the road for Esther, that she was able to actualize the strength and courage to not be influenced from the change of environment and to remain with her strong faith as before. This strength is now part of the universal soul of the Jewish nation...”

The power to resist peer pressure is in our genes. After Purim, we are beginning a unit with our Sixth Grade on Peer Pressure and the skills needed to resist and say, “No.” I can speak about those particular skills in a future column. But, more importantly, as parents we can inculcate that pride and the courage of being part of a family, (your own!), and a nation, (the Jewish people), that stands up for what is right, resists peer pressure and does all that despite the influence of those around us- and will not settle for anything less. That is the message of Purim and the pride we feel as the children of Esther and Mordechai.

Advisory Update:

Sixth Grade: Students discussed the issue of popularity and whether it is important to be considered “cool.”

Seventh Grade: Dealing with real life scenarios students discussed whether there is a culture of not “snitching.”

Eighth Grade: Students finished off a unit on the irreversible impact of substance use. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Privacy Or Security For Our Teens?

Apple has been unrelenting and unwilling to allow the FBI to gain back access to the data from the iPhone used by one of the shooters in the San Benardino attacks in December.    An order signed by a magistrate judge has requested that Apple disable the feature that wipes out data on the phone after  10 incorrect tries to enter a password.  If  Apple would disable that feature, the FBI would thereby be able to find the password by attempting millions of password combinations.  Apple says that they cannot circumvent this feature.  The judge demands that Apple write software that can bypass the feature.  Apple is not willing as it would “spell digital disaster for the trustworthiness of everyone's computers and mobile phones.” It would violate privacy of the users.

            As parents of teens, we are constantly battling the issue of privacy in our own homes.  To how much privacy are teens entitled from their parents?  In our sixth grade Adolescent Life classes this week we discussed that one “job” of the adolescent is to separate and individuate.  Adolescence prepares them for adulthood, when they will (hopefully) living on their own and making their own decision. We know that it was programmed at creation, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother...” (Bereishit 2:24)- that at some point each person is meant to leave his/her parents and become independent.  (In our classes, we discussed how this often creates conflict with parents, as we do want to be independent, but we also still need them).  As children get older, privacy is an integral part of this separation.  On the other hand, we still have the responsibility to protect them.
            But, does privacy truly exist in this this social media, internet age in which we live? An article   written in a 2009 Harvard Magazine says it all, “Exposed- The Erosion Of Privacy In The Internet Era.”  Do I really need to know that you went to the supermarket or where you bought your favorite jeans?   And, teens- they share everything!  As Jon Henley writes in “Are Teenagers Really Careless About On-line Privacy?”,  they share their likes, dislikes, who they are with, and even photos of themselves doing things they shouldn’t be. A Pew Research study on 12-17 year olds points out that teens post the towns they live in, the schools they attend, their email addresses, their birthdays, and even some their cellphone numbers.  They simply demonstrate a “basic lack of awareness of the potential longer-term impact of information leaks…Many younger people just don’t think in terms of their future employability, of identity theft, of legal problems if they are being provocative. Not to mention straightforward reputational issues.”  In a New York Magazine article, Emily Nussbaum writes, “Kids today. They have no sense of shame.  They have no sense of privacy. They are show-offs…who post their diaries…”

            These behaviors are actually no different from what teens always have done.  “Teens are often involved in a process of identity formation that involves not just exploring different concepts of self, but presenting such identities to others.  That’s something they have always done- but today it’s done electronically.  Identity experimentation has bigger privacy consequences today than for past generations.”   Teens are actually less concerned about businesses or universities seeing their data. Rather, they are more concerned about their parents and their seeing their online use.  

            How does privacy relate to our children’s e-mails, social media accounts etc?  We need to strike a balance between their privacy and our needing to know what they are doing.  I do believe that it is important for parents to carefully monitor- not spy- on their children’s internet use.  What I mean is that you should actively tell them how you are monitoring them. Upfront, when they get their first iPod or phone you tell them what you are going to do to keep them safe.

 In our parent workshop on March 1, Dr. Eli Shapiro of the Digital Citizenship Project shared some data stating that 91%  of parents say they are aware of what their children are doing online. However, when surveying the children themselves, only 60% of kids say their parents know what they do online.  We need to be more vigilant.  Some parents have programs that actually notify them of certain key phrases that children are using that are of concern. (Dr. Shapiro spoke of a program called VISR, which is a monitoring program that picks up on any problematic language).  We encourage parents to know their teens’ passwords and randomly monitor their social networking.  Every so often check their browser history. (Although some are savvy enough to erase things from the history, it is still a good idea to check).  “Friend” your child.  Be upfront and tell your child you are doing any or all of the above to protect them.  And, explain why. 

Why? What should we tell them?  A recent survey of 802 parents asked what parents are doing to oversee their child’s “digital footprint.”  These are some issues on parents’ minds: a. The amount of information advertisers learn about their child’s online behavior.  b. Children interacting online with people they do not know.  c.  How the online activity of their children can affect academic or employment opportunities.  (We often discuss with middle schoolers how even high schools are savvy about their online activity).  d. How our children manage their reputations online.  e. Cyberbullying. I can personally attest to the terrible impact a text or a post can make. f. Limiting the amount of time spent online which prevents children from serious engagement in homework, interacting socially and even causes lack of sleep.

The word “privacy” also brings to mind “privacy settings.”  As parents we need to review our children’s privacy settings on social media.  Although I am in no way a technology expert, I found this blog at, which seemed to be helpful in terms of navigating privacy settings on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Whatsapp.

            How about privacy in general, and not just online?   Teens do need more privacy and “space.”  It is normal for teens to spend more time in their rooms. However, if a child spends hours upon hours in her room, never seems to want to talk, and is withdrawn, that is a warning sign to investigate further. How do you determine what is private?  Assess what you “need to know.”  One does not need to listen in on phone conversations or read his diary.  But, there also needs to be an understanding that privacy is a privilege, not a right.  If your child violates your trust, then you need to let him/her know that you will be snooping around.

            In Bamidbar 24, we notice that Bilaam, who was initially supposed to curse Bnei Yisrael, ends up blessing them. Why? Pasuk 2 tells us, “And, Bilaam raised his eyes and he saw Israel dwelling according to his tribes and the spirit of G-d came upon him” to bless them. Why? The Gemara in Bava Batra 60a, quoted by Rashi, states that he was moved to bless them because he noticed that their tents were built with their doors not facing each other- to ensure privacy.  This led to his beracha that we say each day in Tefilla- “Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov, mishkenotecha Yisrael” “How good are your tents Yaakov, your dwelling places, Yisrael.”   Despite living in an internet age, we know that privacy is an important Jewish value. 
            Rabbeinu Gershom, who lived about 1000 years ago, issued a cherem (ban) on reading the private letters of another.   Rabbi Aaron Tendler states that one case in which it would be permissible to the privacy of another would be if “doing so will help the person whose privacy is being invaded.”  Clearly we want our individuating teens to have their privacy. Last night, I was listening to the radio and heard a conversation about privacy (freedom) versus security when it came to Apple’s battle.  When it comes to our teens’ freedom, we want them to have security along with their privacy.

Advisory Update
Sixth Grade-   Students began a lesson on the need to feel popular. They also had a visit from the Reflections Improv group on the topic of  peer pressure.

Seventh Grade-  Students discussed the bystander effect and why we tend to do nothing  when we see injustice.

Eighth Grade- Students focused on the topic of the danger of substance abuse with the impact it has on your brain. 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Body Image, The New Barbie And Esther HaMalka

            On March 1, new Barbie dolls will be found on store shelves.  Barbie will now come in “three new body types and in a variety of skin tones and hairstyles.”   The new doll will be available in tall, petite, and curvy body types.  Barbie spokeswoman, Michelle Chidoni, stated, “the product line [will be] a better reflection of what girls see in the world around them.”  Evelyn Mazzocco, senior vice president and global general manager of Barbie, said, “We believe we have a responsibility to girls and parents to reflect a broader view of beauty.” 
            Barbie came up in conversation in the Adolescent Life Classes for seventh graders this week.   The girls focused on body image and the factors that impact on how we as women and girls view ourselves and our bodies.  We discussed the impact of the media.  The waiflike models or the photoshopped bodies we see in magazines contribute to our developing body images.  Barbie, is similarly affecting young girls.   Barbie is “so exceptionally thin that her weight and body proportions are not only unattainable, but also unhealthy.  The ultrathin female beauty ideal she embodies has been linked with the extraordinary prevalence of negative body image and unhealthy eating patterns among girls and women.” Until 2006, this was hypothesized, but not yet substantiated by the research.   In a 2006 study in the Journal of Developmental Psychology “Does Barbie Make Girls Want To Be Thin?  The Effect of Experimental Exposure To Images Of Dolls On The Body Image of 5-8 Year Old Girls,” the effect of Barbie on body image was explored.   Girls ages 5-8 were exposed to photos of Barbie or Emme (described in the article as U.S. Size 16).   (Studies on girls indicate that their desire to be thin begins at age six!)  In this study, they sought to demonstrate that “Dolls like Barbie can serve as an imaginary point of view from which to see one’s own bodily self, through which young girls come to understand the meaning of beauty and perfection by pretending to be their dolls, which are embodiments of the cultural ideal of the female body.”   Results of this study did indeed demonstrate that girls do experience, “heightened body dissatisfaction” after exposure to images of Barbie versus images of Emme. 
            Am I saying that we should all take our Barbies made before March 1, 2016 and throw them away?  No.  Likewise, we aren’t going to go and tell our daughters to stop watching commercials that feature the models mentioned earlier.   As parents, we need to educate them.  Through direct messages such as: “Beauty is not about weight.”  “Being healthy is important, not attaining a certain weight.”  “Each person has his/her own individual beauty.”  We reinforce the “self- talk” (as mentioned in my blog these past two weeks), where our young women tell themselves that “I am beautiful.”   As parents, and particularly mothers, we model for them as well. We never talk about weight in front of them.  We focus on eating healthy- not losing weight. We don’t complain about how awful we look in front of them.
             In our classes this week, we spoke of other sources of body image aside from the media- parents, peers and boys.  (The boys also focused on how they speak to and about the girls, and what true beauty is).   The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty has some incredible videos which I showed, among others, which highlighted that beauty is a state of mind. We need to work on that positive state of mind in the face of the messages which bombard us daily.
            In this week’s Mishpacha Magazine, Dr. Kiki Ehrenpreis’ research on the impact of weight on dating in the Jewish community was described.   She studied  “all stripes” of Orthodox Jews, and in all communities higher weight led to decreased frequency of dating among women (not men).  These findings are similar to research in the general “Western society.”  Interestingly enough, there was a difference between the Orthodox community and general society in that weight is a less of a factor in the religious sample than in the secular world.
            But, clearly, we have a fight on our hands.  We need to strengthen our girls to win in this battle for their positive body image and self-esteem. In class, we looked at the story of a girl named Bethany, a youtube celebrity, who felt her life was represented by the lyrics in the song Try by Colbie Caillat . The first paragraph is:
“Put your make-up on
Get your nails done
Curl your hair
Run the extra mile
Keep it slim so they like you, do they like you?”
We want our girls to understand if someone likes you just for your hair, nails, or your weight, then he/she doesn’t truly like you.  No one should ever make you feel you need to change anything about your physical appearance.  You are more than that.

In the book of Esther, we learn in 2:12-13 “Now when each girl's turn came to go to King Achashverosh, after undergoing the prescribed twelve-month care for women (for only then would their period of beauty-care be completed: six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and women's cosmetics with which the girl would appear before the king), she would be provided with whatever she requested to accompany her from the harem to the palace.” Each girl spent weeks and weeks engaged in a beauty regimen to be ready for the king’s approval.
Yet, in pasuk 15 we see, “And when the time came for Esther, daughter of Avichayil uncle of Mordechai, who had taken her as a daughter, to go to the king, she did not ask for a thing other than that which Heigai, the king's chamberlain, custodian of the women, had advised. And Esther found favor in the eyes of all who saw her.”  Esther had every piece of makeup and perfume available, and yet she asked for nothing and still found favor in the eyes of all who saw her.  Esther is a role model for our girls.  She was more than her physical appearance. Her self-esteem was not tied into the way she looked.  People adored her because of who she was, not because of what she looked like.  Another message of the Purim story. 

Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade: Students began discussing popularity and how it impacts them.
Seventh Grade:  Students came to understand that being silent when there is injustice going on can be just as bad as perpetrating the injustice itself. 

Eighth Grade: Students began to investigate the dangers of substance use, with the first focus on alcohol. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

My Thoughts About Thinking About Thinking

My column last week sang the praises of “Positive self- talk” and avoiding “stinkin’ thinking” all leading to Resiliency.  Clearly, the Wall Street Journal agreed.  (Thank you to Rabbi Penn for alerting me to the article).  Laura Landro’s February 15th article “Why Resilience Is Good For Your Health And Career” focuses on “employers that offer coaching in how to be positive in spite of stress say the benefits go beyond work.”   People who are more resilient are “more productive, less likely to have high health-care costs and less often absent from work.”  Consequently, employers are offering workshops and “resilience training.”
Mrs. Shifra Srolovitz, a Child Life Specialist at the The Stephen D. Hassenfeld Childrens Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at NYU, led a training with our seventh graders this past week on the type of thinking that benefits their patients. We, in turn, decorated stuffed animals with messages that encouraged upbeat thinking.  (Students eagerly signed up to deliver the “doggies” in coming weeks!)
Mrs. Srolovitz shared with us a program they implement in the hospital, that I have discussed in my column before, called Beads of Courage. As the Beads of Courage website describes, “Children who participate in the program receive colored beads that represent milestones, procedures, and acts of bravery. For instance, they get a yellow bead for an overnight hospital stay, a white one for chemotherapy, and a glow-in-the-dark bead for radiation treatment. It's not uncommon for children to amass 10, 20 -- even 35 -- feet of beads. It helps young patients track and celebrate their progress, but it also gives them a way to get through upcoming procedures, says Gwendolyn Possinger, the coordinator of Children's Memorial Hospital's Beads of Courage program in Chicago.   ‘A child facing another needle can look at his beads and realize that he made it through before so he can do it again.’”  By the act of created a chain of beads, the young patients are reminded of that upbeat thinking.
Resiliency seems to be inescapable this week.  The article, “Metacognition: How Thinking About Thinking Can Help Kids: A Powerful Skill For Building Resilience” by Rae Jacobson, recently arrived in my inbox.   Yet, the author champions a path to resiliency that is different from the one of which I spoke last week.  Ms. Jacobson stresses the importance of helping our children switch from “I can’t do it” to a proactive, “How can I do it?” To do so, they need to think about their own thinking= metcognition.  Why am I stuck?  What is frustrating me?  What do I need to do to get unstuck?  Many of us employ this strategy when we reflect on our own thoughts without even thinking about it, (no pun intended).  “It’s the running conversation we have in our heads, mentally sounding ourselves out and making plans.  Studies indicate that when children are taught metacognitive strategies early in life, they are more resilient and more successful in and out of school.”
Jacobson quotes some examples. Instead of saying “Math tests make me anxious,” one should ask oneself, “What is it about math tests that make me feel anxious and what can I do to change that?” Tamara Rosier says that often negative self-talk,  (that stinkin’ thinkin’), takes the place of metacognitive thinking.  So, not only should one replace negative thinking with upbeat thinking, but metacognitive thinking is essential for resiliency.  Metacognition can be used to change behavior. When they begin to think about their behavior, they are more able to correct it. 
What can we do as parents to promote this metacognitive thinking? We can ask metacognitive questions like:
·        What do you think is making it hard for you to work on this task right now?
·        What are some strategies that have helped you do well on similar tasks in the past?
·        Can you use those insights to help you with the work you're doing now?

 Metacognitive questions, says Rosier, will help your child begin thinking in a more reflective way. Questions should be:
·        Open-ended. Give your child some space to reflect on his thinking: Can you tell me more about why you think that?
·        Non-blaming. It can be hard to stay open when kids are acting out, but asking them to think about their behavior can help them learn to manage difficult situations in a better way: Why do you think you got so upset when Dad changed the channel?
·        Solution-focused. Encourage him to think about how he can use his understanding to change things in the future: How could you handle that differently next time?
Process-oriented. Ask questions that help your child get a better idea of how his thought process works: How will you know when this drawing is finished?

So, that upbeat thinking is not sufficient.  We need to challenge our children to become metacognitive thinkers as well.  What is the best way to do so?  To model it ourselves.  Out loud.  In the open- so they can actually hear the metacognition going on in our heads.
This is our first Adar of a double Adar year.  We all know “Mishenichnas Adar marbin b’simcha”- “When the month of Adar arrives we endeavor to increase our sense of joy.” There is a discussion as to whether this happiness only applies to Adar II- which contains Purim, or applies to Adar I as well.  It is an easy task in Adar II as we prepare for Purim. The festive atmosphere is tangible.  But, how about Adar I?   It is more difficult and therefore we truly need to “endeavor” and work at achieving happiness and optimism. What better way than to focus on increased positive self-talk and metacognitive thinking?

Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade: Through the character of Dear Dr. Friendship, students began to brainstorm about practical solutions when one has an argument with a friend.
Seventh Grade: Seventh graders began discussing the “bystander effect” and why people tend to do nothing when they see injustice.  (In turn, this helps us understanding what we need to overcome to do something).

Eighth Grade:  Students focused on the importance of resiliency when it comes to facing difficulties in life through our Super bowl heroes.  

Monday, February 15, 2016

Super Bowl 50 And Lessons Of Resiliency For Our Teens

 Those of you who have been reading my blog for years know that when the Super bowl is on in my house, I am usually also doing work on my computer, and keeping an ear open for a “writable moment” for my next column.

The first writable moment came in the form of Michael Oher. Although his team did not win the Super bowl, he had a winning life story, as portrayed in the 2009 movie The Blind Side. Oher was one of 12 children being raised by a drug addicted mother and was struggling in school. He was in and out of foster homes, and his father was murdered while he was in high school. Oher was adopted by Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy when he was 16. He improved his academics and become a star football player, later to be drafted by the Baltimore Ravens, and most recently by the Carolina Panthers who made it to the Super bowl.

The life story of Michael Oher served as an inspiration to many. His mother shared, the lesson to be gleaned form Oher's life is, “Don’t count people out.” But, she stressed that this lesson is not just one from his early life, but from as recently as last season. “Last season the NFL pro wasn’t in a good place. After a toe injury caused him to miss a few games for the Tennessee Titans, he was released from the team last February. The following month he got a break when the Panthers signed him to a two-year contract.”  Tuohy reflected, “ many people counted Michael out last year and here is a life lesson for everyone: Don’t count people out. When people are determined and they work hard, you don’t know what can happen. Here’s a kid who didn’t listen to what people said about him. He kept working. He kept focused, and he kept doing the right thing.” 

Oher did not listen to what others said about him. He didn't listen to the voices around him. Instead he listened to the voices inside himself. What voices? Those of the voices that lead to resiliency, as we discuss with our seventh graders in Advisory, otherwise known as “positive self-talk.” When facing difficulties in life, we conjure up “upbeat thinking.” Positive self-talk. We tell the students that it is exactly what it sounds like - talking to yourself. It is telling yourself you can do it, it will be okay, you have succeeded before and you will succeed again. It is what you would tell a friend when he/she is faced with trouble, but instead, you tell the same thing to yourself. As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right.”

But, often, we fall into the trap of negative thinking. Some common types of negative thinking are:
  • Catastrophizing: Everything bad is a horrible disaster. (Is it really that bad?)
  • Expecting the Worst: This makes you more anxious. What if people don’t like me? What if I fail my test? What if I forget everything I studied? (What are the chances of that really happening?)
  • Should”s Always saying to yourself, “It should be this way.” “It must be this way.” “I should have done it that way.” (Who says things have to be a certain way?)
  • Thinking in Absolutes: Saying things like, “I’ll never get it right.” You exaggerate reality.
  • Blaming- Trying to blame yourself and even sometimes others. (Stop blaming and look for solutions!)
  • Yes...but- When you get advice or hear a possible solution you don’t really give it a chance.
  • Focusing only on the problems: You dwell on the problems without thinking about how to solve it.
  • Negative labels: You label either others or yourself. For example, “She’s stupid.”

Students learn that when faced with difficulty or any type of stress in life they can modify that “self-talk” which helps them succeed. They can make positive coping statements before, during and after a stressful situation. For example, the student is doing an oral report on the Revolutionary War and is very nervous.
- Positive self-talk/coping statements before the situation:
I’ve researched a lot about the Revolutionary War and I can share that knowledge
- Positive self-talk/coping statements during the situation:
    I’m doing my best- that’s all anyone can ask.
-Positive self-talk/coping statements after the situation:
    I handled that situation pretty well.

Michael Oher had the ability to counteract the negative thinking that permeated his neighborhood and family, and modified his self-talk to reach success.

Scott Abel, in his article The Lessons of Peyton Manning, highlights a similar idea. Manning, another Super bowl player coming to the end of his career, taught us, “Don't practice stinkin' thinkin'” “Manning had setbacks. Like his mistakes, some were minor and some were major. Manning missed all of the 2011 season. He had not one, not two, not three, but four separate neck surgeries that took him out of the game. There were questions about whether he could ever play at that level again.
When you suffer a setback in diet or training, do you just give up and say 'This isn't for me,' or 'I'm never going through this again.' That's a defeatist, stinkin' thinkin' attitude. Four neck surgeries couldn't keep Peyton from coming back better than ever.”
On the other hand, Cam Newton of the Panthers stormed out of the post-game interview dejected by the loss. “Before abruptly standing up and walking away from the podium, Newton dodged reporters’ questions, saying nothing was memorable about the game. He offered only short answers to questions, repeating that Carolina was simply outplayed.  'They just played better than us. I don’t know what you want me to say. They made better plays than us, and that’s what it came down to. We had our opportunities, it wasn’t anything special that we did.'” I suppose we'd all be upset in the same situation, but hopefully he returned to his hotel and began practicing some upbeat thinking and positive self-talk. As we say in Advisory, “After a setback you can be either bitter or better. The only difference between those two words is the “I”- I have the choice to grow or sink under hardship.”
This past week, as we participated in Sharsheret Pink Day, our students became a link in the chain, (Sharsheret meaning chain), of hope. We chose to have our students participate to support this wonderful cause, but to also pay tribute to all the strong women and their families who remain hopeful in the face in life's difficulties.

As we tell our students, we hope they will never have to face that level of difficulty. But, when it comes to everyday stress, setbacks and disappointments, they know the secret to a Super bowl level of resiliency.

Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade:  Students engaged in a lesson on how to work in pairs and cooperative groups when things get challenging, as they are involved in Science Fair preparation. 
Seventh Grade:  Students focused on positive self-talk and affirmations.
Eighth Grade:  Students discussed the effect of the media using the Super bowl commercials as a springboard for discussion.