Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mommy Mitzvah Notes

Happy Mother’s Day!  Some months ago I picked up a free Jewish magazine that arrived at my home and the moment I saw this article I knew it would be in my Mother’s Day column.  It was called, “Mommy Mitzvah Notes” by Risa Rotman.  I know these mitzvah notes will make you smile!

Dear Morah of All Mommies,
            Mommy took out the last chocolate bar after cleaning up the entire kitchen.  Just before taking a bite, little Yossi asked for some too. Mommy shared even though it was hard for her.  

To The Morah Of All Mommies,
            Mommy stayed calm when Cheryl had another temper tantrum. Mommy explained to Cheryl why she couldn’t take her to her cousin’s birthday party on the other side of the city, and when Cheryl continued to kvetch, Mommy ignored her and the tantrum finished quickly.

To The Morah Of All Mommies,
            Mommy’s friend asked why they didn’t see a different friend in the park anymore.  Mommy knew why but changed the subject so that she wouldn’t have to speak Lashon Hara.

Dear Morah Of All Mommies,
            Today Mommy’s neighbor got very angry at Mommy because she thought Mommy’s children had created a big mess in the common area.  Mommy knew her kids didn’t make the mess, because they had been at the shoe store with her.   But Mommy stood quietly while the neighbor shouted and didn’t interrupt. What an amazing Mommy!

Dear Morah Of All Mommies,
            Mommy bought some things in the grocery store. She was rushing home in the rain when she realized the cashier had given her too much change.  Mommy ran back to the grocery store to return the money even though the rain was beginning to get stronger.

Dear Morah Of All Mommies,
            Mommy went to the PTA get-together where she saw many of her friends. She was enjoying chatting with them when she noticed a lady sitting by herself. After a few minutes of schmoozing with her friends, Mommy went over to sit with the lonely lady. Kol hakavod to Mommy!

To The Morah Of All Mommies,
            Mommy was waiting patiently at the supermarket when someone pushed her very full wagon in front of her claiming that she’d been there before and just went to find a missing item. Mommy looked at the angry woman, and decided it was not worth arguing, and let her go in front of Mommy.

Dear Morah Of All Mommies,
            Mommy was about to rush through her morning brachot when she decided to say them out loud, concentrating on their meaning, word by word.

Dear Morah Of All Mommies,
            Mommy had a very bad cold this week, yet she managed to make sure everyone had clean clothes and some kind of normal meal.  

As Risa Rotman notes,  (pun intended), “Mommies are all superwomen, but does that mean we don’t do the little things that deserve mitzvah notes? Sure we do!”   There is nothing like the feeling of knowing that the little things you do are noticed and appreciated.  Unfortunately, our children, spouses, bosses, family, or co-workers don’t often write “mitzvah notes” for us.  So, we may need to write those mitzvah notes for ourselves.  

In Advisory we speak to our 7th graders about the power of positive and negative self- talk.  One type of “Positive self- talk” is actually complimenting yourself. Look in the mirror and tell yourself, “You are amazing!”  There is a body image curriculum of which I use a piece with the 7th grade girls called “Full of Yourself.” The normal connotation is to be egotistical and self- centered. But, when I frame it with the girls we discuss
- Liking yourself is not the same as being selfish
- Respecting yourself is not the same as being stuck-up
- Standing up for yourself is not the same as being pushy.
- Taking yourself seriously does not mean that you are too intense
- Telling the truth does not mean that you're too loud or that you talk too much
- Being in touch with your heart is not the same as being too emotional.

The first two items speak to the importance of the fact that you have permission to compliment yourself and to build yourself up. We need to stop being self- critical and focus on our strengths. As Kierea Miller says in her article, “Compliment Yourself!” “It’s time to stop comparing or complaining, and start complimenting.”  As we discuss in Advisory, what we tell ourselves affects how we feel about ourselves. We need to remind ourselves each day about all the things that make us special, or about feats we have achieved!  This type of self- talk is called affirmations.  It is so easy to focus on what we are not good at. We need to focus on what makes us incredible.

            Affirmations are most powerful when you say them out loud and even look in the mirror while doing so.  “I am a wonderful mother!” “I am patient!” “I am beautiful!”  Or perhaps we should write ourselves mitzvah notes and hang them up on our fridge, so that each day when we face the day we remember when every day should truly be Mother’s Day.

Advisory Update:

Sixth Grade: Students began a unit on their cellphone/ iPod  and some dangers that can impact the way they treat others.

Seventh Grade: Students discussed real-life scenarios when they see injustice in their lives and what would they do?

Eighth Grade: There was no Advisory this week due to play practice.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

The Stigma Of Mental Illness In The Jewish Community- What Can We Do?

This morning I joined hundreds of members of the Bergen County Jewish community at the Mental Health And Addiction Symposium sponsored by Communities Confronting Substance Abuse, (an organization spearheaded by Lianne and Etiel Forman, of which I have spoken in the past),  and Refaenu. 

The morning of workshops began with tackling the topic of stigma and mental illness in the Jewish community, as presented by Dr. Norman Blumenthal and Mrs. Lisa Twerski.  Those of us who work in this field have confronted this stigma often.  ( Ironically speaking, while the Jewish community is still working at getting to the point where people willingly go for treatment, Jews were actually instrumental in establishing the field of psychology.  Whether Freud, Adler, Erikson, Maslow, Kohlberg, Seligman some of the major theorists and creators of fields of psychology were Jewish.  And, yet, the stigma still exists). 

Dr. Blumenthal aptly stated that we need to shift our thinking regarding mental illness.  People truly believe that those who experience mental illness have “brought it on themselves.”  Likewise, mental illness is often seen as a sign of weakness or defect of character.  In essence, we need to view mental illness as no different from any other physical illness. Every illness has three components: a genetic predisposition, physiological illness, and an environmental component.  For example, someone with a cardiac condition may have a genetic predisposition as he has a history of heart conditions in his family. He has some illness- a clogged artery etc.  and of course the environmental component- too much stress at work, not enough exercise, too much fatty foods etc.  The same should go for mental illness.

Dr. Blumenthal pointed out so poignantly that in the same way that we say a mishabeirach in shul for an ill relative, and a person goes up to the bima and says, “My friend has cancer, please pray for a refuah shelaima,”  a person should also be able to go up to the gabbai and say, “My father is diagnosed with depression or my cousin has OCD, please daven for a refuah.”  Wow!  Mrs. Twerski pointed out that when someone has any other illness, the community rallies around the family with meals, carpools, and any support needed. With mental illness, the family is alone.

The stigma is so harmful that added to the stress of having an illness is the additional stress and pressure of needing to keep secrets.  This pressure does not exist with other illness.

Both Mrs. Twerski and Dr. Blumenthal mentioned that this stigma exists in all communities, but when it comes to marriage (shidduchim) it often becomes exacerbated.  Dr. Blumenthal pointed out that in essence, a person who has experienced the challenges of mental illness, and has faced difficulties and came through with resiliency may actually be better suited for marriage than someone who has not.  Who knows what difficulties life may present in the future, and the one who has overcome difficulties in the past may be the one to marry.

In his article, “Dealing With Depression” Rabbi Efrem Goldberg admits that as a young rabbi  when meeting a person with depression he too thought, “Why can’t he just snap out of it?” or “If he were to just focus on his blessings and simply choose to be positive he wouldn’t be depressed at all.”  He too was “ignorant and insensitive to what depression is all about.”

Rabbi Goldberg points out that our use of the word “depressed” is a disserve as we may use it to describe what we feel our favorite team is out of the playoffs. By using terms like this we deny that true depression is a chemical illness that can be incapacitating. (A combination of genetic, biological and environmental factors).  

Rabbi Goldberg points out that Judaism itself admits that mental illness is a true illness.  He quotes rabbinic sources for the reality of depression.
Over 800 years ago, Rabbeinu Yonah wrote: ‘Although there is a beneficial aspect to sadness in that it prevents people from becoming overly joyous over the pleasures of this world, nevertheless, one should not pursue the state of sadness, since it is a physical disease. When a person is despondent, he is not able to serve his Creator properly.’  The Talmud (Shabbos 30b) tells us about an evil spirit that is so dangerous it can be lethal and therefore, one can extinguish a candle on Shabbos to calm it. The Rambam (commentary on the Mishnah) explains, ‘The Evil Spirit is referring to melancholy. There is a type of melancholy that will cause the ill person to lose his mind when he sees light or when he is amongst other people. He finds peace only in darkness, in solitude, and in desolate places.’”  There has also been some suggestions for mental illness found in Tanach. (For example, King Shaul having a “ruach raah” -  is that depression, anxiety?).
Judaism has never denied the existence of mental illness. Yet, the stigma still exists.
In a groundbreaking article in a 2001 Jewish Action  Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot spoke of his own struggles with depression “Dimensions of Torment: A Young Man’s Story of Surviving Depression.”  In this article, he described his ordeal in great detail, which in of itself was a service to those suffering who could then see, “It is not just me!”  He too reiterated the fact that mental illness is an illness.It is no more possible for the depressive to emerge from his depression than for the cancer patient to will away his tumor or the diabetic to magically lift his own insulin level by wishing it upwards.”
Rabbi Helfgot wonders that the next time we read of someone in the Jewish community succumbing to the mental illness we should wonder,
...could these people have been helped before they reached the point of no return? Would they have felt less shame turning to someone if the community had created a culture where mental illness was not “someone’s fault” or reflective of a personal flaw, but a disease to be treated and discussed in the same way and with the same empathy that one speaks of kidney disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure?
...Too many of us still speak in whispers about mental illness. The stigma persists. This is troubling because mental illness is a condition that is experienced by many of our own flesh and blood. About 20 million Americans currently suffer from some form of clinical depression and close to one in eight Americans will experience some form of “major depressive episode” at least once in their lifetimes[v]. These statistics mean that either we, a member of our family or a friend or colleague will experience some form of serious depression sometime in our lives. It is a phenomenon that touches us all. Moreover, the stigma of mental illness is troubling because, God forbid, it perpetuates a climate where people who can be eased of their suffering are reticent to seek out the help and support they desperately need, lest they or their families be misunderstood, stigmatized, or treated as less than “normal” (read: the pernicious and debilitating concern, if not terror, that grips many in relation to shidduchim). In the worst cases, it may even lead to fatalities where untreated illnesses lead desperate people to take their own lives when all hope is lost and the pain can no longer be borne.
Why has the stigma persisted about mental illness while we have come so far with other illnesses? As Dr. Blumenthal asserted,  for some reason, perhaps stemming from Freudian psychology, there is a blaming component of mental illness-  particularly blaming the parents.  Today there is more evidence-based treatment and less blame.  And the person suffering from mental illness cannot be blamed for it. Just like someone who suffers from cancer cannot be blamed.

What can we do as a community to move ahead?  

Dr. Blumenthal stressed, first, as parents and educators, we can target the nature of education we give the children. We are often neglectful with familiarizing students with emotional vulnerability and the value of setbacks.  We are human.  The avot and biblical characters had emotions. We can have setbacks and emotional vulnerability.  It is okay to be sad and feel like you are on the brink.  We do need to teach our children about mental illness, just like we speak to them about other illnesses.  And, when someone we know is suffering from mental illness, explain to our children when it means to be depressed, anxious etc.

Rabbi Goldberg provided some areas where we need to be better educated. I am simply going to quote him because I could not have said it better myself:

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a perfect time to educate ourselves. As we resolve to be more sensitive, please consider the following:
·    Don’t use the term “depressed” unless it is clinically appropriate. Find another way to say you are sad, bummed out, disappointed or feeling blue. Saying you are depressed over a relatively minor issue minimizes the suffering of someone struggling with true depression.
·    When someone you know is acting differently or unusual, don’t judge them or jump to assumptions about them. Ethics of the Fathers (2:4) quotes Hillel who said: “Do not judge another until you have stood in his place.” Since it is impossible to stand in another person’s place, to be them, to have their baggage or to live their struggles, we can never judge another. Instead, we should be kind, sensitive, supportive and understanding of everyone around us.
·    Never assume you know everything going on in someone’s life or what motivates his or her behavior. Ian Maclaren, the 19th-century Scottish author once said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”  Cut others slack; give people the benefit of the doubt.
·    When you know a friend or family member has depression or other mental illness such as bi-polar, anxiety disorder, etc., be as supportive as you would be with someone suffering with a physical illness or disability. Offer help and assistance, check in, and let them know you are just thinking of them. Unlike acute illnesses, most of the time, depression is chronic. Once diagnosed, it can be controlled, lessened, or perhaps, even go into “remission.” But it is never cured. Support will be needed in some form always.
·    When reaching out to someone with depression, never judge, criticize or make comparisons. Don’t offer advice or minimize the person’s suffering. Simply listen, be present, and be a friend.
·    When someone has depression it places a tremendous burden on other members of the family who often need to take over chores, responsibilities and even produce greater income. Go out of your way to be inclusive of them, to check in on them and seek to unburden them.

Mental illness affects all of us.  Rabbi Larry Rothwachs, a prominent supporter for the needs of those facing mental illness,said in an article Mental Illness, Stigma, and the Jewish Community: Achieving Lasting Change” just this past week:

Do you or someone you know suffer from mental illness? If you answered yes, you are correct.  If you answered no, guess again. Tens of millions of Americans suffer from a mental disorder and, just as with cancer or diabetes, the Orthodox Jewish community carries no immunity.  Studies show that the incidence of mental illness within our community mirrors that of the general population. While the management and treatment of mental illness varies from person to person and depends upon the nature and intensity of the disorder, we are all directly connected to individuals with mental illness, whether we realize it or not.

And, as Rabbi Helfgot shared in 2001: (again, I couldn’t have said it better myself)
“It is long past time for us all to break the silence and speak openly about mental illness, not just at conferences of Orthodox mental health professionals, but in the public forums of our schools and yeshivot, our conventions and fora, and in the pages of our newspapers and publications. In much of our frum world, despite the fact that significant progress has been made, the vestiges of these stigmas linger on. It is time for this last stigma to fall and fall quickly in the spirit of menshlichkeit, rachmanut, and the recognition that we are all created b’tzelem Elokim.”
Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade: Students began a unit on social exclusion and peer harassment.  They learned the L.E.A.D.E.R.S. strategies for the bystander.
Seventh Grade: Students discussed the “bystander effect” and why people tend to do nothing when they witness injustice.
Eighth Grade: As our 8th graders are getting closer to their Holocaust production and commemorated Yom HaShoah, they viewed the movie “The Wave” and spoke about the lesson for our own lives.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Modern Day Slavery Of Addiction- The Parent's Role

This past Thursday evening Yavneh co-sponsored the Hidden In Plain Sight workshop along with the Bergen County Prevention Coalition, the Communities Confronting Substance Abuse and other local middle schools.  As I sat in the audience, I thought back to over 23 years ago, when I began working in schools when we initiated groundbreaking programs as we connected with SAMHSA and did substance abuse workshops for parents and programming for students. But, that was high school.  Now, we cannot wait until high school,  and we middle school parents and educators need to begin prevention in the middle school.  It is hard to believe. 

Thursday evening’s program included a presentation from a former addict who began using in middle school. He described how easy it is to get hold of the drugs (including alcohol) at such a young age. He stressed that his parents were were always “on top of him,”and made him call for approval wherever he was when he did not return home. But, they were clueless, and he described how they were hesitant to get into arguments with him when they were suspicious.

The presentation had three primary goals:
  1. To educate parents about the dangers out there, including the impact on the adolescent brain that drug use can have.
  2. To encourage us to communicate with our children.
  3. To share risk factors.

I will attempt in part of my blog this week to summarize the presentation for those who could not be there.

Part of the program consisted of the presenter showing us different places where teens hide their drugs, paraphernalia and even signs to look for like suddenly lots of scented candles hiding smells.  They showed us where users hide items in their sweatshirts, their closets, inside pringle cans with false bottoms, (which they can create or order online),  or even in special books that they can order online that are missing a chunk of pages and have a space to hide things.  

Over and over both the presenters and the recovering addict stressed the importance of speaking to your children.  As, I have noted before, and it has not changed in 23 years, teens may make it seem as if they are not listening when we speak to them.  However, teenagers who believe their parents would strongly disapprove of substance use were less likely than their peers to use them. Parents are the most powerful influence on their children when it comes to drugs.  Losing their parents’ respect is one of the main reasons teens do not  drink alcohol or use other drugs.  The  more conversations we have with them on the topic, and the more we make it clear that engaging in drug use is contrary to our values, the more impact we have.  

What should these conversations be like?
  • Always keep the conversation open and honest
  • Come from a place of love- even with tough conversations
  • Balance positive and negative reinforcement
  • Keep in mind that teachable moments come up all the time.  Be mindful of natural places in order to broach the topic of drugs and alcohol.

Any time we see a change of behavior, grades, social circles etc, it is time to keep an eye out and check in.  Some items one might notice are:
  •  Skipping class, declining grades.
  • Negative talk about school
  • Acting isolated, silent or withdrawn
  • Demanding more privacy and locking doors
  • Acting argumentative, and oppositional
  • Clashes with family values and beliefs
  • Sudden change in relationships and friends
  • Preoccupation with alcohol and drug- related lifestyle

(How to differentiate how some of these signs are different from the typical stormy teenage years is a topic for a whole other article. When in doubt...check it out).

One other item they addressed in the workshop is striking the balance between privacy and making sure our children are safe.  We discussed searching your child’s room. “Searching your child’s room should be a decision you are able to defend. If you notice any change in your child’s behavior, unusual odors wafting into the hallway from their room, smells to mask other smells such as incense or Lysol spray, or other warning signs you need to find out what's going on behind that ‘KEEP OUT’ sign.  Your child needs to understand that the limits you place on him/her do not stop at their bedroom door.”

We, of course, spent much time talking about vaping/juuling. Teens need to know that a pod in a juul is an entire pack of cigarettes and kids are having 2-3 pods a day.  Some vapes even  look like highlighters!  Vapes are extremely addictive.   They also spoke about the party drugs, the opiates and marijuana. (Marijuana has more cancer causing chemicals than tobacco! It also can do significant permanent damage on a teen’s brain). We came away with a lot information… we wish we did not have to know.

This past month and a half our 8th graders have been engaging in a Substance Abuse prevention unit in Advisory.  These are some of the topics we covered in these sessions:
  • The impact substance use has on the brain, which are not always felt immediately
  • How a decision a teen makes know to engage in drug use can change his/her life forever
  • Drugs do not always make a person feel “happier” due to depressive after-effects
  • The dangers of drinking alcohol- including on one’s organs
  • The impact on one’s reflexes after drinking
  • How peer pressure impacts substance use
  • Smoking and nicotine addiction and its physical impact
  • Vaping and juuling- IT IS DANGEROUS!!!
  • What is in a vape? We discussed carcinogens.
  • Addiction to and withdrawal from vaping and long term effects.
In the next two weeks:
  • Even though marijuana is legal in some states for 21 and over it is still extremely harmful for teens. (addiction, chemicals, impact on body, mental health and cognition)
  • Cellphone addiction- 50% of teens feel addicted to their devices. The physiological effects.
  • The compulsion loop.
  • Impact on social skills and interactions
  • FOMO
  • How to curb cellphone and device usage.
  • And, of course, our constant discussions about peer pressure, and being an upstander, along with resiliency skills, that we have in all our grades

Our teens approached these topics with maturity, and you hope you continue these in-class conversations at home.

As we approach Pesach, it struck me how addiction is a type of slavery, as an addict is enslaved to a substance (or gaming, cellphones, gambling etc).  Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, in his article. “Addiction- Servitude to Substances”  highlighted this idea as well.  He quoted Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, a pioneer in the Jewish community in addiction treatment, who said that an addict is “someone who has lost control of his behavior. He is in servitude to his habit. In fact, the modern Hebrew word for becoming addicted is ‘hitmaker’, literally ‘to sell oneself’.”  The Torah makes clear that freedom from slavery is the ideal, as is noted as the central theme of the Yetziat Mitzrayim story and throughout much of Torah.  Additionally, the status of being a slave is to be avoided as we know that an indentured servant who wishes to stay enslaved beyond his years of servitude must pierce his ear, as a sign of rebuke.  Just like it is incumbent upon the family of the person who sells himself into slavery to redeem him, so too does the family of the addict, says Rabbi Twerski, need to redeem him from his “servitude to substances.”  

Rabbi Meir says that the Nazir, who does not drink wine, is called so (as per the Ibn Ezra), because Nazir means “crown.” “For all people are slaves to worldly desires, but the true king, who has a tiara and a royal crown on his head, is one who is free from his desires.”

Our goal as parents is to raise children who are true royalty, free from enslavement to their desires and addictions, and free to reach their spiritual, emotional and academic potentials. Only through prevention- at home and at school- can we partner together to raise teens free from addiction.

Advisory Update:

Sixth Grade: Students focused on the topic of popularity- is it worth it?

Seventh Grade:  Students continued their Do Not Stand Idly By unit as they saw how BDS is in the news daily.

Eighth Grade:  Students discussed the dangers of vaping as part of their Substance Abuse Prevention unit.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Snowplow Parenting

            Since the scandal of parents bribing SAT proctors and paying coaches to get their children into college has erupted the media has also erupted in reaction to the New York Times  article “How Parents Are Robbing Their Children of Adulthood” by Claire Cain Miller and Jonah Engel Bromwich. “Today’s ‘snowplow parents’ keep their children’s futures obstacle-free — even when it means crossing ethical and legal boundaries.”  Miller and Bromwich say that snowplow parenting is more prevalent with the affluent as they are like “machines chugging ahead, clearing any obstacles in their child’s path to success, so they don’t have to encounter failure, frustration or lost opportunities.”   The parents in this scandal wanted to pave the way for their children to get into the colleges of their choice, without having to face rejection. 

 Dr. Madeline Levine, author of “Teach Your Children Well: Why Values and Coping Skills Matter More Than Grades, Trophies or ‘Fat Envelopes’” notes that she often confronts freshmen in college who are not equipped to cope with everyday challenges without their parents plowing the way for them.  The examples she provides are unbelievable- the child who never had food with sauce as her mom in the past had even called friends’ houses before she ate there to let them know she doesn’t like sauce on her food.   And, of course, the ones who never learned to study on their own, so could not make it in school.  These parents have it “backwards” as Julie Lythcott-Haims says, “The point is to prepare the kid for the road, instead of preparing the road for the kid.”

            As I read of the stories in this article, I was reminded of what an acquaintance of mine who is now an executive director in an Israel yeshiva.  He shared that now that the students have phones, (which we did not have when we went for the year- remember the asimonin?),  he will get phone calls from parents in the U.S. that their daughter's toilet is stuffed.  This snowplowing is exacerbated by the constant contact we have with our children. 

            A poll by the New York Times and Morning Consult of parents of children ages 18 to 28,said that  three-quarters had made appointments for their adult children, like for doctor visits or haircuts, and the same share had reminded them of deadlines for school. Eleven percent said they would contact their child’s employer if their child had an issue. Sixteen percent of those with children in college had texted or called them to wake them up so they didn’t sleep through a class or test. Eight percent had contacted a college professor or administrator about their child’s grades or a problem they were having.

            When we snowplow parent we do not allow our children to “fail forward” as  Dr. Argie Allen-Wilson said on the Today’s Show following the publishing of the New York Times article. “When we fail, that gives you fuel in order to be motived for not if, but when the next curveball comes.”

            We may not be “snowplow parents” but there have been a number of other parenting styles or labels identified. I am listing some here for your “entertainment.” (And, you can find these in numerous articles!)

  • The lawnmower parent. This one is similar to the snow plow parent as he/she mows down all the child’s obstacles, struggles or even discomforts. Originating in a post by a teacher  The teacher author shared a story of being called to the office, expecting to retrieve a student's forgotten meal money or inhaler. Instead, a sheepish parent in a suit was dropping off an expensive water bottle after repeated texts from a child. Water fountains exist all over the school.
  • The helicopter parent- This parent is constantly hovering and overprotective.  While the snowplow parent may not do their child’s schoolwork for him, the helicopter parent may.
  • The tiger parent. This parenting style is the tough love, authoritarian style found in Amy Chua’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  For this parent, academics are definitely seen to be more important than free time.
  • The elephant parent. This parenting style seems to be the opposite of the tiger parent. This parent is always supportive, encouraging and even coddling,and is meant for children when they are very young.  Emotional security is seen as a priority.
  • Free- range parenting- Free -range parenting is a parenting philosophy where children are raised with less parental supervision to accept realistic risks meant to be consistent with the child’s developmental age. It is often seen as the opposite of “helicopter parenting.”
  • Bubblewrap parenting. These parents are often anxious themselves and often model avoidance to their children- as they avoid challenges and stress as a coping strategy.  Children of bubblewrap parents tend to be anxious as well.
  • The jellyfish parent. These parents have few rules and overindulge their children.  This term was coined by Dr. Shimi Kang in her article: The Dolphin Way: A Parent's Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, and Motivated Kids Without Turning Into a Tiger.  These are too permissive and their children have little self- control.
  • The dolphin parent. “The dolphin parent is the balance of these two extremes (the tiger and the jellyfish) and are authoritative in nature. Like the body of the dolphin, they are firm yet flexible. Dolphin parents have rules and expectations but also value creativity and independence. They are collaborative and use guiding and role modeling to raise their kids.”

Phew! I’m exhausted by simply reading this list.  No worries- the kind of parenting we are doing is not at all on this list!  Or, perhaps we have bits and pieces of each one depending on the day.
            I think the most important piece to keep in mind is that overprotective parenting tends to promote a lack of confidence in our children. And, clearly, none of us fit into one category. Chances are, our parenting styles are a combination of many of them.  But, how can we tell the difference between providing necessary help and being a  lawnmower/snowplow/bubble wrap etc. parent?   How can we balance encouraging independence while at the same time being there to support them?  In some ways, we need to follow their lead and see if they are ready to go on their own. If they are a bit ready, let us help them go further.  I also try to ensure that my support empowers them at the same time.  Most importantly, I need to let go of the outcomes and consider whether I am helping them so that the outcome will be perfect?  Am I overly focused on the failures and successes of my children? If I am exhibiting controlling behavior and limiting their independence, then that is a sign that perhaps I need to take a step back.
            Research has indicated that “authoritative parenting,” as noted by Dr. Diana Baumrind, is the most beneficial for most children. As Dr. Denise Pope and Dr. Madeline Levine, Challenge Success Co-Founders note that authoritative parenting is  characterized by high responsiveness shown through warmth, love, and support, and high expectations shown by enforcing clear, consistent boundaries.   Research shows that this more balanced approach that combines nurturing encouragement and sensible limits is linked to development of characteristics that most parents want for their children such as intrinsic motivation, resilience, creativity, and persistence.”  It is just that they have not yet found a “cute” name for this kind of parenting- perhaps that is why it doesn’t often make The New York Times?
Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade: Sixth graders have begun speaking about what to do if you have a conflict with a friend?
Seventh Grade;  Students have continued delving into the BDS movement and their claims.  This past Friday they were privileged to hear from Mr. Jason Greenblatt, assistant to the President, about the Golan Heights declaration and how they can make a difference in standing up for Israel.  
Eighth Grade:  As part of their unit on addiction, the dangers of smoking were focused upon.

I look forward to seeing all of you on Thursday evening April 4  for an interactive evening presented by the Bergen County Prevention Coalition- Hidden in Plain Sight at Ben Porat Yosef School, 243 Frisch Ct, Paramus at 8 pm (doors open at 7:45 pm).


Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Daily Masks We Wear

On Purim, many of use wear all sorts of masks to disguise ourselves. There are a number of reasons suggested as to why we do so, the most common one being an allusion the hidden nature of the Purim miracle.  Michael Gourarie notes another reason in his article, “Unmasking.”  He begins that Purim is the holiday of joy- real joy, not a hedonistic or wild joy.

The boundaries that are broken with real joy are the barriers and fences that separate us from each other. The happiness allows us to develop a different perspective on ourselves and other people. We stop judging others by their external behavior and things they say and do, and we begin to appreciate their inner soul. We begin to understand that the annoying actions, feelings and personality traits that separate us from others are only external masks that conceal the true human being. Beneath the mask there is a pristine soul that makes him/her a special human being. The energy of the happiness allows us to break through the mask and see what is beneath. On Purim we dress up, reminding ourselves and others that our outward appearance and behavior is always a mask. We realize that all those things that separate us from each other have nothing to do with our real identity. The celebration of Purim gives us the ability to look behind the mask and discover the real person.

Somehow, when we wear the real masks on Purim, we may be more real than we are when we wear “masks” all year long.
Once the chag is over, notes Esther Kurtz, in “The Masks We Wear” we may remove the makeup and costumes, but we then again slip on the psychological masks we wear most of our lives. The psychologist Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, spoke about the “persona” which is Latin for the masks worn by Roman actors, that all of us wear to fit into the society and culture in which we live.
Of course, there is a positive aspect of wearing masks. It allows us to respond appropriately to a co-worker, even when we might be inclined to yell at him. It helps us to display patience, even when we have “lost it” with our children.  It allows us to use the CALM technique (Cool down; Assess options; Listen with empathy; Make a plan), and look calm, even when we are not. Our calm, in turn, helps keep our child calm. There is some healthy inhibition that we do display which does help us with interpersonal interactions. Masks can also protect us when we need to put up a brave front, when we are nervous, but do not want to let on that we are, or do not want a family member to worry as well.  
There are also “aspirational masks”- as one might wish to be more calm, so he acts as if he were, and eventually his behavior might change and he might actually be more calm.  This brings me to my favorite comment of the Sefer HaChinuch on Mitzvah 16-
דע, כי האדם נפעל כפי פעלותיו, ולבו וכל מחשבתיו תמיד אחר מעשיו שהוא עוסק בהם אם טוב ואם רע,
You must know, that a man is acted upon according to his actions; and his heart and all his thoughts always follow after the actions that he does - whether good or bad.
The Sefer HaChinuch continues to say that if someone who is evil decides to do mitzvot eventually his heart will go after his actions and he will become good. And, vice versa, if a Tzaddik is forced to engage in evil behaviors, eventually he will become evil.  “Fake it until you make it” may have some benefit.  
One more item about positive masks, when it comes to raising our children. We often have character traits and behaviors we would like to inculcate in our children. We need to follow the “oxygen mask principle” which is put your own mask on first before you help your child.  Children notice everything about us, and absorb the behaviors they see us do. We need to work on ourselves first- which at times involves putting on that aspirational mask.
Of course, there are also negative aspects to wearing masks. Teens, especially, are known for the masks they wear.  While our teens have been preparing their Purim masks for weeks now, adolescence itself is a busy stage of life where they are constantly trying on new identities to see what fits.
In “The Teen Mask In The Classroom- Understanding Why Teens Wear A Mask And What It Is Really Covering Up” Maggie Dent speaks about the masks we confront daily with teens. Of course, there are the physical masks, (much of which are not allowed in a Yeshiva dress code)- heavy makeup, body piercings, and unusual clothing choices. But, then there are the “metaphorical masks.” Teens are searching for independence, while at the same time searching for their identities.  "Who am I?", they wonder.  They also are desperate to belong. Some teens try on different identities while growing up, thus wearing different masks.  Some are so desperate to be accepted, they wear a mask to make themselves seem like everyone else.  And, of course, they are terrified of others thinking they are not good enough. In a video that we show the sixth graders in Advisory we call this the “terrible toos” - people will think I’m too thin, I’m too fat, I’m too smart, I’m too dumb, I’m too… you name it.
Dent names particular masks that our adolescents might wear:
The invisible mouse, (never wants to be noticed, hardly speaks in class, always wears headphones and looks away), princess nasty- ( dresses to “kill,” is the fashion police and particularly good at eye rolling at others), the Jock, the smart alec, the drama queen, the clown, the bully, the people pleaser, and the victim (who wears the “poor me” mask).  The more uncertain a teen feels the more he may feel the need to wear the mask. The more respected and safer he feels, the more he is able to be his authentic self. It is our job as the adults in their lives to help them feel respected and safe so they can remove their masks. Children should never be defined or judged by the masks they wear.  The masks are all worn when our teens are frightened and uncertain and they are trying protect themselves from your seeing who they really are- whether the sadness, anger, or confusion inside.  The more they trust the adults around them, the more easily those masks will come down.
But, in general, there is a lack of certainty and security in the teenage years which often looks like arrogance and bravado, as they wear those masks to cover their insecurity. They may say we, as adults, have no idea what we are talking about and their saying that  is often a mask.
As adults another way we can help them find the strength to remove those masks is by modelling for our children comfort with who we are.  We need to every so often talk about our own strengths and model self-love, so that they can be kind towards themselves and not have to pretend to be someone else. This does not mean we do not speak about our lackings and strive for improvement,  (also important to model for our children so they see that we too are not perfect), but to stress that our motivation to improve is internal and not external.
Then there is the mask that often boys are encouraged to wear, where they are raised “don’t talk about your feelings, be strong, never show weakness.”  I wrote  about this in 2017 after watching the 2015 documentary  “The Mask You Live In” which discusses the stereotypical demands placed on boys today to mask their feelings  which often leads to their covering them up with anger.  The film depicts how boys are often raised to not be their authentic selves, and to cover up their true feelings.  They may look cold or detached, but are truly full of anxiety and hurt feelings. But, unless they articulate those feelings, we cannot help them.  We, as parents, need to encourage our boys to express their worries and thoughts.
So, how do we know if themasks we and our teens are wearing are healthy or harmful, asks Kurtz.  If you are thinking “What if people saw/knew about this?” then that is a sign you are not donning the mask for yourself, but you are donning it for others.
This Purim, as we wear our masks, may we look beyond our own masks and the masks of others to discover the real person underneath the mask.
Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade:  Students began a unit on Friendship and discussed how to choose a friend.
Seventh Grade: Students began delving into the BDS issue, how it impacts Israel and why it is an injustice.
Eighth Grade: Students finished up a lesson on the dangers of alcohol.