Monday, October 10, 2016

FOMO- "Focusing On Meaning Only" This Year

I recently read of a research study in Canada which evaluated the internet use of college freshmen. They found that more than 40% of those students had “problematic internet use.”   They had higher rates of depression, anxiety, impulsiveness and inattention.  

Similar research has been done with teens.  For example,  a University of Glasgow study, surveying students ages 11-17, found that teens who were more invested in their digital lives reported worse sleep quality, lower self-esteem, and higher anxiety and depression.  

But, despite the negative effects, teens have a difficult time tuning it out.  FOMO (fear of missing out) which was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, encapsulates the reason.  Pressure to be available 24/6, and the perceived necessity of responding to texts or posts immediately increases anxiety.

A  University of Michigan study confirmed what many of us intuit, that social media can make a person feel worse about himself.  The more people checked Facebook, the worse they felt about their lives.

Diana Graber, co-founder of recently asked her middle school students to try to go 24 hours without social media during one of three weekends. (Something, luckily, we Shomrei Shabbat  can do each week).  Only one of her 28 students was able to do so.  

Teens feel the more “likes” they get the more popular they are.  “Likes” translate to validation and attention, says Graber.  “It becomes a competition.  It’s anxiety- ridden because you get likes based on how many friends you have, and you have to keep posting things to get more friends and it’s like a vicious cycle.”  Dr. Darlene McLaughlin of  Texas A&M asserts, “The problem with FOMO is the individuals it impacts are looking outwards instead of inward.  When you’re so tuned in to the ‘other’ or the ‘better’ (in your mind) you lose your authentic sense of self.   This constant fear of missing out means you are not participating as a real person in your own world.”  

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

In an August article in the Wall Street Journal “Teens Who Say No To Social Media,” the author highlights that  social media use encourages teens to “constantly compare themselves to their peers.  (Thank you to Mr. Jonathan Stein for forwarding this article to me).   And, not just to their peers, but to Gigi Hadid, Kylie Jenner and other Instagram stars, models and YouTube celebrities whose exploits are relentlessly documented across social media. All of the comparisons are not healthy. Everyone has their Facebook-perfect happy life.  But you have to figure out your own self.  Social media doesn’t encourage people to do that.”  

In another recent study it was found that teens were “more likely to like a photo - even one portraying risky behaviors such as smoking marijuana or drinking alcohol- if that photo had received more likes from peers.”  Teens were using social media to make choices about how to navigate their real social world.  Peer pressure is not new, but social media has increased the intensity and speed.  “They’re constantly being judged. Their self-worth is constantly measure by other people’s response to every single thing they put online.”  

Interestingly enough, not all teens are constantly engaged in social media, according to  the Wall Street Journal article. This small group of teens who abstain from social media use- only 5-15% of teens- are internet savvy, but just do not like social media.  

“‘Parents are so afraid of having their kids feel left out,’ said Marnie Kenney of Washington, D.C., whose 14-year-old daughter Raya has opted out of social media. “They project their fear onto their kids.  Social media is just gossip, a lot of it.’”

Some solutions?  Teens that log on at night are particularly affected in terms of their sleep and mood.  A “digital sunset” might the solution where electronic devices are disabled later in the evening.  Many parents have talks with their children about internet safety, but very little about the impact of social media on their self- esteem and self- image.  Modeling limitations and healthy technology use ourselves is essential when it comes to impacting on our children. Are we suffering from FOMO as well?  Show them the power of good face to face communication, by first and foremost being there for them to talk. We can also empathize when they feel devastated after seeing a post of a friend, but also highlight that a post is only a glimpse of what happened.  We stress in our homes that we don’t post photos that can seem exclusive and hurtful to others.  Assert the importance of focusing inward and not outward, and not comparing ourselves to others.

FOMO- how about fear of missing out on the important things in life?  This message hit home to me this past Rosh Hashana as I head Rabbi Sturm, assistant rabbi in the Young Israel of State Island, speaking about the curse of FOMO and what FOMO can become. How many of us ever have fear of missing out on the rabbi’s shiur?  Fear of missing out on Tefilla if we come late?  Fear of missing out on volunteering in a local chesed organization?  Fear of missing out on any opportunity to grow spiritually?  This time of year, this is the FOMO we should be experiencing.   Let us not miss out on this opportunity to model for our children what true FOMO is.

This brings to mind a poem that I  included a few years ago in my blog, which bears repeating:
G-d doesn't have a Blackberry or an iPhone, but He is my favorite contact.
He doesn't have Facebook, but He is my best friend.
He doesn't have Twitter, but I follow Him nonetheless.
He doesn't have internet, but I am connected to Him.
And even though He has a massive communication system, His customer service never puts me on hold.

Best wishes for a G’mar Chatima Tova and a year of FOMO that is healthy for us and our children.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

To Life! What Is The Secret?

The “Unetaneh Tokef” prayer is for some the climax of the Rosh Hashana davening.  We can all hear the words of the Chazan “Mi yichye  umi yamut” “Who will live and who will die?”  On Rosh Hashana, we are focused on earning a decree from on High for a long life.

What is the secret to longevity?  A recent study at Yale University suggests that bibliophilia is the secret.  “People who read books regularly may add at least two years to their lives.” Those who read more than thirty minutes a day were 23% less likely to die over the 12 year study.  What might be the connection?  Perhaps when reading the cognitive processes which impact on longevity, such as empathy, are fostered.  In general, the cognitive benefits caused by reading increase the lifespan. (So, next time your child doesn’t want to read, tell him it’s good for his health!)  

We are all familiar with the research that being socially active impacts on longevity.  However, another recent study, surveying 3,000 people between 57 and 85, at the University of Toronto, found that family is more important to longevity than friends.  Those who indicated they had close family had a mortality rate of 6% versus those without close family who had a mortality rate of 14%.  Blood is thicker than water.  (So, next time your child doesn’t want to visit the relatives, tell her it’s good for her health!)

One other key to longevity has been found to be conscientiousness.    In the Longevity Project, Stanford professors Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin found that conscientious people who are “prudent, persistent, well- organized”- not at all care-free and relaxed-  tend to live a longer life.  They tend to make healthier choices- whether physically or even emotionally.   (Yes, another way to convince your child to not be a procrastinator!)

Kindness has also been found to lead to longevity.  The research of Dr. Stephen Post in his study, “Altruism, Happiness and Health- It’s Good To Be Good”  states, “ The essential conclusion of this article is that a strong correlation exists between the well-being, happiness, health, and longevity of people who are emotionally kind and compassionate in their charitable helping activities... there is wisdom in the words of Proverbs 11:25 “a generous man will prosper, he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Revised Standard Version). It can be said that a generous life is a happier and healthier one.”

Why does giving increase physical health and longevity?  It decreases stress, which is associated with health problems. Those who give to others even have lower blood pressure.  It promotes “social cooperation,” strengthening our ties to others. This brings us back to the research that social connections increase longevity.  

Honesty  has also been found to contribute to longevity and health.  In a study, subjects were asked to stop lying for ten weeks.  Subjects were given polygraph tests weekly to assess their lying behaviors that week.  In weeks where the subjects lied less, they reported fewer physical (sore throats, headaches), and mental health complaints.  What is the connection? Lying does create stress. “Being conflicted adds an inordinate amount of stress to your life.”  

And, then there is mindset.  A 2012 Yale Study found that a positive attitude allows people to bounce back more easily from illness and can lead to living up to 7.5 years longer than those who have a negative attitude.  

But, what is the secret according to the Torah?  There is a Midrash in Vayikra Rabba 16:2 which tells the story of Reb Yannai who had observed a peddler in the marketplace of Tzippori.  The peddler yelled out to the shoppers, “Who would like to obtain a potion for a long life?”  A crowd of people looking for the secret to longevity surrounded the peddler.  He then took out his Sefer Tehillim and read 34:14-15-
יג מִֽי־הָ֭אִישׁ הֶחָפֵ֣ץ חַיִּ֑ים אֹ֘הֵ֥ב יָ֝מִ֗ים לִרְא֥וֹת טֽוֹב: יד נְצֹ֣ר לְשׁוֹנְךָ֣ מֵרָ֑ע וּ֝שְׂפָתֶ֗יךָ מִדַּבֵּ֥ר מִרְמָֽה:
13. Who is the man who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good?
14. Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking guile

Reb Yannai finished this story by stating that he had read these pesukim all his life, but had never understood them until he heard this peddler.  

We all know the power of words and how the lives of others can be destroyed by gossip.  What might be the psychological support for not gossiping  leading to a long life? (Interestingly enough, there has been research that gossip is actually “good for you” as it can relieve stress?!)  

Let us look at the above research on longevity.  Lashon Hara creates rifts socially. So, if close social connections foster longevity, it makes sense that breaking those social ties diminishes one’s days.  Additionally, a positive outlook on life adds to one’s lifespan. People who gossip tend to focus on the negative, and do not give others the benefit of the doubt.  This negativity can lead to a shorter lifespan.  

There are two particular mitzvot in the Torah that guarantee a long life for their performance- sending away the mother bird and Kibbud Av Va’Em- Honoring one’s mother and father.  What is the common denominator between these two mitzvot?  Kindness.  With honoring one’s parents, one is to care for them, provide them with food and drink, guide their footsteps when they are old, etc.   With sending away the mother bird, the Rambam indicates that this mitzvah also demonstrates kindness as the mother bird need not suffer pain and watch when her eggs are being taken.

Going back to the research on kindness and longevity- it all makes sense. Kindness, whether through Kibbud Av Va’Em or Shiluach Haken,  has the physiological benefits and impacts the social connections.  Additionally, honoring one’s parents creates the familial ties that have also been shown to impact on longevity.

Another mitzvah in the Torah which indicates a long life- particularly in the Land of Israel- is that of having honesty in business: (Devarim 25:15)

טו אֶ֣בֶן שְׁלֵמָ֤ה וָצֶ֨דֶק֙ יִֽהְיֶה־לָּ֔ךְ אֵיפָ֧ה שְׁלֵמָ֛ה וָצֶ֖דֶק יִֽהְיֶה־לָּ֑ךְ לְמַ֨עַן֙ יַֽאֲרִ֣יכוּ יָמֶ֔יךָ עַ֚ל הָֽאֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ
נֹתֵ֥ן לָֽךְ:

15. But you shall have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shall you have; that your days may be lengthened in the land which the Lord your God gives you.

This pasuk leads us to the research on honesty and longevity.  Clearly, honesty in business is better for your spiritual and physical health!

These “secrets” to long life are really recipes for success in life.  We see many of these ideas expressed in the “Al Chet” we say on Yom Kippur:

And for the sin which we have committed before You with an utterance of the lips.
And for the sin which we have committed before You through speech.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by tale-bearing.
For the sin which we have committed before You by deceiving a fellowman
For the sin which we have committed before You by false denial and lying.
For the sin which we have committed before You by embezzlement.
For the sin which we have committed before You by disrespect for parents and teachers.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by a begrudging eye.”

They are all there.  All the secrets to a long life.  We need not wonder.  We need not search for the fountain of youth or any potion. May we recommit ourselves this Rosh
Hashana to choose life through recommitting ourselves to improvement in these areas and to model them for our children.

Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade- Sixth graders discussed the Success Guides written by last year’s sixth graders with tips on how to succeed in middle school.  

Seventh Grade-  Students began focusing on why communication skills are essential for relationships.

Eighth Grade-  How does one choose a high school? Who do they want to become in the next four years?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Parenting Prayers

As we began Selichot, our focus turns to Rosh HaShana which is  fast approaching. As I set aside time during these days to recite Selichot, I become more contemplative and reexamine my daily Tefillah as well.  “U’teshuva, u’tefillah, u’tzedakah…” - it is the season for prayer. But, I do remind myself of the importance of my daily prayer as well.

Whether during the Yamim Noraim or on a daily basis we struggle with making our prayers personal.  I have recently found a number of parenting prayers which poignantly make the point that we need G-d on a day to day basis, and can always turn to Him with even the smallest parenting frustrations.

I found myself recalling a tefilla that Mrs. Zohar Elazary, (one of our former Shlichim who returned to Israel this year), shared with me. It is meant to be tongue and cheek and a parody on Tefillat HaDerech,  but who needs prayer more than a parent of a teenager?  

בִּרְכַּת דֶּרֶךְ לְהוֹרֵי מִתְבַּגְּרִים
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנַיִךְ,
שתוליכנו אֶת גִּיל הַהִתְבַּגְּרוּת בְּשָׁלוֹם.
וְתַצְעִידֵנוּ בִּדְרָכִים בְּטוּחוֹת שֶׁלֹּא יוֹבִילוּ לְמלְתַעוֹת זַעַם וּמְרִיבָה,
וְתַדְרִיכֵנוּ לַעֲנוֹת בִּתְבוּנָה מוּל חוּצְפָּה יַסְגֵּא וּרְבִיצָה תִפְרָה,
כָּךְ שֶׁמִלוֹתֵינוּ יִהְיוּ לַנֶּחָמָה וְלֹא תַּהֲפֹכְנָה לְחרֵב פִּיפִיּוֹת.
וְתַגִיעֵנוּ לְמָחוֹז גִּיל 18, בַּחַיִּים, וּבַשִּׂמְחָה וּבְשָׁלוֹם,
וְתַצִילֵנוּ מִכַּף כל הוֹרְמוֹן וְחֲצְ'קוּן וְאַפְלִיקָצְיוֹת זְדוֹנִיּוֹת בַּדֶּרֶךְ,
וּמִכָּל מִינֵי אֲהָבוֹת נִכְזָבוֹת הַמִּתְרַגְּשׁוֹת לָבוֹא לְעוֹלָם.
וְתִתְּנֶנּוּ לַחֵן וְלַחֶסֶד וּלְרַחֲמִים בְּעֵינֵיהֶם וּבְעֵינֵי כָּל חַבְרֵיהֶם,
כִּי אַל שׁוֹמֵעַ רְטִינוֹת וְרוֹאֶה כָּל גִּלְגּוּלִי עֵינַיִם, אַתָּה.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, פּוֹדֶה וּמַצִּיל הוֹרִים.
(סְגֻלָּה הִיא לוֹמַר זֹאת שָׁלוֹשׁ פְּעָמִים בְּיוֹם,
וְהַמָחְמִירִין יִלְחֲשׁוּ מִלּוֹתֵיהֶם, שֶׁלֹּא תֵחַרְפֵנָה צְאֵצָאֵם)

Prayer for the way for parents of adolescents
May it be Your will that you will lead us through the age of adolescence in peace.
And, walk us in secure paths that will  not lead to anger and quarrels.
And, lead us in a path to answer with wisdom against impudence and lying which should lessen and learning should grow.
So too, our words should be for a comfort and not turn into a double-edged sword.
And, let us reach the age of 18 with life, happiness and peace.
And, save us from the hands of all malicious hormones, pimples  and apps  on the way.             
And, from all types of disappointing loves that rage and come to the world.
And, grant me grace, kindness, and mercy in their eyes and in the eyes of all their friends.
Because You are a G-d who hears the grunts and sees all the eye rolling.
Blessed are You who redeems and saves parents.

(It is good luck to say this prayer three times each day.  And, those are are extra strict about religious standards whisper their words so their offspring won’t get “freaked out.”)

This prayer is clearly not one to actually recite on Rosh HaShana, but it does remind us that when we meet frustration on a daily basis, we always have Someone who understands and can listen.

This is another parenting prayer for teenagers I came across on-line by Kelli Mahoney, who although not of the Jewish faith, does express some important ideas:

Lord, thank you for all the blessings you have bestowed on me. Most of all, thank you for this wonderful child that has taught me more about you than anything else you have done in my life. I have seen them grow in you since the day you blessed my life with them. I have seen you in their eyes, in their actions, and in the words that they say. I now understand better your love for each of us, that unconditional love that leads you to great joy when we honor you and great heartbreak when we disappoint.
So today, Lord, I lift up my own child to you for your blessings and guidance. You know that teenagers are not always easy. There are times when they are challenging me to be the adult they think they are, but I know it's not time yet. There are other times when I struggle to give them freedom to live and grow and learn, because all I remember is that it was just yesterday when I was putting band-aids on scrapes and a hug and kiss was enough to make the nightmares go away.
Lord, there are so many ways of the world that terrify me as they enter it more and more on their own. There are the obvious evils done by other people. The threat of physical harm by those we see on the news every night. I ask that you protect them from that, but I also ask that you protect them from the emotional harm that comes in these years of great emotions. I know that there are dating and friendship relationships that will come and go, and I ask that you guard their heart against things that will make them bitter. I ask that you help them make good decisions and that they remember the things I tried to teach them every day about how to honor you.
I also ask, Lord, that you guide their footsteps as they walk on their own. I ask that they have your strength as peers try to lead them down paths of destruction. I asks that they have your voice both in their heads and your voice as they speak so that they honor you in all that they do and say. I ask that they feel strength in their faith as others try to tell them that you are not real or you are not worth following. Lord, please let them see you as the most important thing in their life, and that no matter the hardships, their faith will be solid.
And Lord, I ask for the patience to be a good example to my child during a time when they will test every part of me. Lord, help me not lose my temper, give me strength to both stand firm when I need to and let go when the time is right. Guide my words and actions so that I am leading my child in your ways. Let me offer the right advice and set the right rules for my child to help them be the person of God you desire.

Here’s another called “Prayer for Moody Teenagers.”
I’ve had it, Lord! I really am at the end of my rope. You know how much I love this child. Only you know the thousands of times I have prayed to you for the safety, wisdom, health, happiness and life dreams for this beloved child of mine.
But right now this child has turned into a mouthy, moody, sullen and non-communicative teenager. My prayers now are asking for guidance and patience for me. Help me, Lord!
Sometimes at night I can find my loved child asleep and peaceful and I remember all over again with a great rush of love, just why you blessed me as a mother. But today, this week, this month, it’s just hard.
Help me to remember in every situation that I love this child deeply and with all of my heart. Give me the wisdom to say the right thing – and the wisdom to say nothing when that is the right thing. Give me patience. Help me to remember that this struggle against me is a part of growing and becoming an adult. I want to remember that it is hard for both of us, and that I am at least the one who has memories of my own experience of those years.
Help me to keep a cool head, loving God. I am humbled by my powerlessness at times. Let me remember that I am not in control and never have been. You are. Thank you.

Before we continue,  I do want to stress that many of our children are a pleasure most of the time. But, interestingly, how many of us turn to say a personal prayer to G-d when things are going well?  

With the beginning of school coinciding with the school year, I really liked this parenting prayer for a successful school year:
May it be a year of learning and growth, a year of new experiences and understanding.
May they outgrow their shoes and may they not lose their jackets.
May each day bring something new and may routine guide their steps.
May their pencils be sharp and their minds even sharper.
May they revel in the joy of each new fact learned, each right answer, each small accomplishment.
May the erasers on their pencils get as much use as the tips.
May they learn that wrong answers can be just as important as right ones.
May they ask questions, lots and lots of questions, and may their teachers be patient. Very patient.
May they make friends and build relationships, and may they make lifelong connections.
May they be kind and polite and each one a mensch of the highest order.
And, may this year be filled with blessings.
I recently also found this parenting prayer in the Times of Israel written by Ysoscher Katz the night before his son’s siddur play.  I think the words hold true for even our teens- who are many years since their siddur play.

Many have started off on this path, but few have persevered. The obstacles are many. You will often find yourself hitting a wall, encountering bleakness and fog, or plain simply run out of gas. Stay the course!
when the chips are up, or when they are down;
when you strive for transcendence, or when you are searching for immanence;
when you are trying to reach outward, or looking to run inward;
when you are awash in joy and happiness, or when you are overcome by fury and sadness;
when you are filled with certainty, or when you racked by ambiguity;
when you believe, when you are in doubt, and, even if you find yourself straying off the path;
Keep on praying.
Let the siddur’s words be your soundtrack as you traverse life. May it be the songbook for when you ascend life’s peaks, and your balm as you hover over its lows.
But, do not let the words fool you. Prayer is not unidimensional. It is different things at different times. It can be dialogue or monologue, personal or communal, aspirational or fatalistic, affirmative or rebellious, or … whatever else you want it to be.
It can be done orally or silently, stoically or filled with agitation.
As the Psalmist says: ואני תפילה. Prayer is identity. It is who you are, not what you do.
As you open your eyes tomorrow morning you will say “modeh ani” — I thank. Let that praying stance stay with you forever.
Ve-ani tefilah! — And I am prayer
As we as parents turn to G-d for support, we model for our children what true Tefilla is and hopefully inspire them to have a relationship through prayer as well.

Each year, right before Rosh Chodesh Sivan, an e-mail often circulates in religious circles.  Shelah HaKadosh wrote a prayer to recite for one’s children on the day before Rosh Chodesh Sivan.  The  sentiments are true all year long and especially this time of year. Here is a link to that prayer and its translation:

As parents, we are busy praying for a successful, happy and healthy year for our children.  Our hearts are full of the prayers above, at times with humor and at times with utmost seriousness.  They do remind me of the importance of focusing on asking for parenting support when in shul in the days ahead.

I would like to end this prayerful article with a tefilla that I found in the book called Aneni- Special Prayers for Special Occasions. This book has many different prayers for parents to say for their children.  But, I’d like to focus for a moment on the prayer called, “תפילת בנים על אבות-  “Children’s Prayer For Their Parents”  found in a book called “Shaarei Tzion.”  Here is an excerpt:

“May it be your will, Eternal, our G-d and G-d of our forefathers that our father, mother and we be healthy and strong enough to serve You truly and happily.  Instill in our hearts to listen to our father and mother, and help us to always honor them as You wish…”

Just as it is not always easy to be a parent who makes the right choices and therefore we need Hashem’s guidance daily, so too it is not always easy being a child who interacts with his/her parents as is appropriate.  They too need that extra siyata d’shmaya, help from Heaven.
As we approach Avinu She’bashamayim, our Father in Heaven, during these weeks ahead, may our parenting prayers for our relationships with our children and for their success in the year ahead be heard.

Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade;  Students discussed the skills needed for a good discussion in Advisory.

Seventh Grade;  Students began a unit on skills needed to be a leader, as they embark on the Frost Valley preparation unit.

Eighth Grade:  As they returned from their Corn Maze team work trip last week, students spoke about the book Who Moved My Cheese which highlights how a maze depicts frustrations in life. How do we deal with change and frustration?