Sunday, January 4, 2015

Having THE Talk- Are Teens Really Listening?

 “Why don't you ever listen?!?” Sounds like a common refrain in households where teens abide. It might escalate to “Hello! Am I talking to the walls?” At times it is difficult to ascertain whether their earbuds are in or not. The truth is, they have slyly tricked us all. They look like they are not listening, but they truly are absorbing every single word.

Research demonstrates that teens are in fact listening to what we tell them. 70% of teens identify their parents as the most important influence in their lives, according to Rice and Veerman. Research over and over again proclaims that teens emphatically state that their parents' opinions and discussions with them affect their decision making in all at-risk behaviors including drinking alcohol, engaging in other illegal substances etc.

Those conversations at dinner- where we see them rolling their eyes and eager to get out of the kitchen and on-line? That too is an act! When families eat dinner together children are less likely to drink, smoke, use drugs, have an eating disorder, get depressed, consider suicide, fail at school or have sex. They must be listening to something we're saying at those dinners!

In fact, teens actually like spending time with us more than they will admit. An Associated Press/MTV Study of Young People and Happiness of 2007 asked people ages 13-27 “What makes you happy?” The top answer that question was “spending time with family.” “Parents are seen as an overwhelmingly positive influence in the lives of most young people. Remarkably, nearly half of teens mention at least one of their parents as a hero.”

In an article written by a religious Christian named Steve Wright, he quotes another piece of interesting research, “The Barna Research Group found that Eighty- Five percent of parents with children under the age of 13 believe they have primary responsibility for teaching their children about religious beliefs and spiritual matters. However, a majority of parents don't spend any time during a typical week discussing religious matters or studying religious materials with their children.” Interestingly enough, he ends his article quoting Devarim 6:7-9 (otherwise known to us as the “shema”)- “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” Recite your values over and over until they practically get sick of it. Or more accurately, until they can recite it in their minds without your even being there. Don't ever stop having the “talks.”

For those who have been reading my column for some time, you will recognize that this is my opportunity to bring up my favorite Gemara regarding Yoseph, Yaakov and parenting. When Yoseph was in the house of Potiphar, far from home and his family, he faced the difficult situation of the wife of Potiphar. The Gemara in Sotah 36b describes, “It was taught in the School of R. Ishmael: That day was their feast-day, and they had all gone to their idolatrous temple; but she had pretended to be ill because she thought, I shall not have an opportunity like to-day for Joseph to associate with me. And she caught him by his garment, saying etc. At that moment his father's image came and appeared to him through the window and said: 'Joseph, your brothers will have their names inscribed upon the stones of the ephod and yours amongst theirs; is it your wish to have your name expunged from amongst theirs and be called an associate of harlots?' Immediately his bow abode in strength.”

Clearly Yoseph's father was far away in Canaan- how could he have seen the image of his father Yaakov in the window? That image of Yaakov that he saw was the voice in his head. Over and over he had heard his father say, “Good boys don't act that way. In our family, our values are...” And, of course, like any teenager, (Yoseph was just 17 when he went to Egypt), he said to his dad, “I know, I know- why do you keep on telling me the same thing?!” And, yet, Yaakov continued sending those messages. That is why, when faced with challenge to his morality, he heard that voice in his head.
So, when we have our frequent “talks” with our children they say to us, “I know, I know- enough already!” And, yet when they are faced with challenge, whether peer pressure to do the wrong thing or the temptation to engage in any at-risk behavior, they will hear our voices in their head, and practically see our images before them reminding them of what they should do.

Returning to the paragraph from Devarim quoted by Mr. Wright, that perek does really stress in the importance of constant conversations with your children about issue that are important to you. In actuality, experts share that there aren't any big “talks” you should be having with your kids. Dr. Yocheved Debow, in her book Talking About Intimacy And Sexuality- A Guide For Orthodox Jewish Parents, stated, (page 8), “One of the biggest myths about how parents should provide sexuality education to their children is the notion of 'the big talk.' This is the idea that all parents must have one important and serious conversation with their children about puberty and menstruation and changes children should expect in their bodies. Some parents may choose to include something about sexual activity and their values in this regard during this important conversation. Once we have had a big talk with our children and presented them with what we perceive they need to know, we have successfully fulfilled our parental responsibilities in this area. This notion, however , is false. Speeches do not necessarily educate. There are no values that we transmit to our children in a single conversation, whether about faith or manners or respect or the importance of an education. We allow ourselves to be in an ongoing conversation with our children about many topics, which we address in different ways at different ages and stages of development. We encourage dialogue and listen to our children's thoughts and opinions about these matters. Our job actually begins when our children are very young...Remembering that educating about sexuality is in fact so much more than simply educating about the sexual act helps us recognize the need for conversations with our children over the years.”

( TO HEAR MORE OF DR. YOCHEVED DEBOW'S ADVICE AND EXPERTISE JOIN US ON WEDNSDAY JANUARY 7, 7:30 PM ON THE TOPIC OF “What Every Parent Needs To Know About Development and Sexuality: A Workshop for Parents of Children All Ages and Stages”).

They are listening, as we have proven above. So, let's not stop talking. Or as Mr. Wright ends his column, “Your teens are what are you saying?”

Advisory Update

  1. Sixth Grade- Students discussed what it is like to get their first middle school report card. They hypothesized why they got the grades they did and set goals for how they can do better. They also prepared themselves for a talk with their parents about those goals.
  2. Seventh Grade- Our seventh graders ended their unit on “When Life Gives You Lemons” focusing on the power of self-talk and affirmations in maintaining a positive attitude and achieving resiliency. They culminated this unit in a visit from Mrs. Shifra Srolovitz, a Child Life Specialist, who trained them in decorating stuffed dogs with inspirational messages for ill children, utilizing the skills they learned in Advisory.
  3. Eighth Grade- Students discussed the power of Instagram and social media in general and the impact it has on social exclusion and privacy. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Mi Lashem Eilai- Chanukah And The Social Lives Of Our Teens

“Mi lashem eilai” – Whoever is for Hashem come with me.  Chanukah is the holiday combatting the concepts of cliques (social exclusion), and negative peer pressure. You have to excuse me, as I just heard Dr. Norman Blumenthal present last week on the parent’s role in navigating a child’s social life, so my view of Chanukah was with these lenses. When Matityahu said, “Mi lashem eilai” – he was proclaiming that everyone- no matter who- can be a part of this movement.  All were welcome, as it was not an exclusive group.
Additionally, we know that by proclaiming “Mi lashem eilai” Matityahu was stating that no matter how pervasive the Greek culture is that surrounds them, and no matter how strong the “peer pressure” was to worship idols, they would stand up to that pressure and do the right thing.  The neis of Chanukah includes “Rabim b’yad m’atim” – the many in the hands of the few. The story demonstrates that even if the pressure that surrounds you is “great” the few who do the right thing can win over.  One need not give into the masses, even if it is difficult.
Dr. Blumenthal explained why the phenomenon of “cliques” is so common in the Middle School years.  During this time of preadolescence to adolescence they are switching their primary focus from their family unit to their peers as they “individuate.”  But, they are still transitioning, and not quite independent yet, and are still yearning for some sort of “family unit.”  They create a peer family in Middle School. Unfortunately, this creates some hurt as there are those who feel left out.
What is the best response to a child who is feeling left out, according to Dr. Blumenthal?  After you first empathize, it is important to help them move on and demonstrate to them how not to make fitting in to that group so important.  How your child deals with peer rejection will help him or her deal with more intensive disappointments later in life. 
Dr. Blumenthal talked about how the social lives of our kids have changed due to the advent of technology. Loweer levels of empathy and loss of privacy are two results, according to the research. (Imagine if Matityahu had access to social media- how quickly his army would have grown!)
I want to add another result of the growth of technology use among our teens.  The most obvious change is that we always knew that kids can say hurtful things to each other, but social media and the internet give them a safe outlet to express things they might not otherwise say face-to-face. Additionally, in the past, if someone said an insulting comment to you, you could go home and try to put it out of your mind. Today, the comment is always there in cyberspace, follows you to yhour house, and spreads quickly among your peers.
In a less obvious way, Instagram has changed social interactions as well. Our teens are posting photos of moments they experience.  Often, these are social gatherings where another peer was not invited.  It is inevitable that another child will be hurt- why wasn’t she invited to the sleepover?  Instead of dealing with these hurt feelings and “moving on” teens begin to check Instagram more frequently to see if they are excluded again.   True, as Dr.  Blumenthal said, your teen will not always be invited, and sometimes he needs to “tough it up” and deal with not being invited.  On the other hand, we need to sensitize our children how hurtful postings can be, and the potential distress they can cause.  In the “olden days” when we sent out invitations and not all were invited, we asked those who were invited to be discreet as to not hurt the feelings of others.  I want my children to be just as sensitive when posting on Instagram.  True, there is peer pressure to post those moments- as you look like a “loser” if you aren’t posting. Yet, it is about resisting that pressure to do that right thing.
As parents, it is wonderful to provide our children with social experiences. It is important to model to our children that more important than being in the “in crowd” is doing the right thing and being sensitive to others.

Advisory Update
Sixth Grade: Mazel Tov! Our sixth graders experienced a Mock Bar/ Bat Mitzvah where they had the opportunity to put into practice the Bar/ Bat Mitzvah Etiquette they had learned.  Rabbi Frankel played the Bar Mitzvah boy and I was the Bat Mitzvah girl. The students heard Divrei Torah, waited on line at a buffet, did a chesed project and danced. 
Seventh Grade:  Students discussed how to cope with the little stresses in life and how combatting negative thinking can help us cope.

Eighth Grade:  Students just recently completed their “Self- Evaluation” forms for high school where they record extra-curricular programming in which they were involved.  They had the opportunity to contemplate “What am I good at?” “What makes me unique?”, followed by a lesson highlighting the importance of doing good for its own sake. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

From Gratitude to "Gimmee"- The Battle Against Materialism


Today I took my children on our yearly trip to the store to each pick out one toy to donate to the Chanukah Toy Drive.  It is one way we take a step back from all the commercialism that surround us during this season, and the lists they  have been making for the Chanukah presents they want to receive.  It is quite ironic that we begin this time of year with Thanksgiving, where we focus on being grateful for what we have, and then spend the rest of the month struck withthe case of the “gimmees” with yearning  for all that we don’t have.
This past week’s parasha speaks of the meeting of Eisav and Yaakov in Bereishit 33:8-9, 11), “[Eisav] said, ‘What is your relationship to this camp that I encountered?” And, [Yaakov] said, ‘[I sent it] in order to find favor in the eyes of my master.’  And Eisav said, ‘I have much, my brother, let what you have remain yours.’  [But, Yaakov replied] ‘G-d  has been kind to me, and I have everything.’ And, he persisted and [Eisav] took.”
The Chofetz Chaim on these words stresses the two different life outlooks that Eisav and Yaakov had.  Yaakov said, “I have everything”- I have all I need, and I have no need for anything more. Eisav, on the other hand,  said that he has “much,” but can always need more material possessions.  He will never acquire “everything” as he always wants more and more.  As we know “Eizehu ashir hasameach b’chelko.” “Who is rich? He who is happy with what he has.” 
How do we raise our teens with this Yaakov philosophy and not with the Eisav philosophy?
 Unfortunately, we are fighting a losing battle, as a recent research study by Dr. Jean Twenge and Dr. Tim Kasser, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin indicates. They surveyed 355,000 high school students starting in the mid-1970’s until today to monitor materilistic values.  Teens were asked questions regarding how often they wanted a new car, or their views on being wealthy one day.  Today’s teens desire money more than in the 1970s.  However, even though their desire for wealth and material goods has increased, their desire to work hard to achieve that wealth has lessened.   They are less willing to work to earn what they want. They call this a “fantasy gap” and it is consistent with previous studies which indicate increased narcissism and entitlement.   Twenge says that teens mistakenly believe that the “good life” is the “goods life.” 
Kasser adds that placing intense importance on money and possessions is associated with depression and anxiety, according to his earlier research.
What can parents do to combat this increasing materialism?  Twenge suggests limiting exposure to advertising.  Advertising does not demonstrate the hard work that goes into obtaining the objects they are advertising.  Having a discussion about the advertisements is also impactful.  Parents should also talk to children about how much items in their lives cost, so they can have more realistic expectations about the income needed to obtain the objects they want.  As I wrote in my previous blog, helping teens focus on gratitude for what they have and what others are lacking is an important way for them to put less focus on objects they want. 
It was also found that children with low self-esteem were more likely to be materialistic, and they needed objects to make them “happy.” Children with high self-esteem find “happiness” through friendships, helping others and sports.  Research indicates that parents can decrease materialism by being accepting,  supportive and helping boost the self-esteem of their children, minimizing their need to use material objects to boost their self-images.
Clearly, we as parents often over-indulge our children, which can exacerbate the situation.  They often manipulate us by telling us that “everyone has it” and they will be misfits and outcasts if they don’t have that item.  The teenage need to fit in with peers includes the need to wear or have what everyone else has.  Due to actual neurodevelopment, adolescents often do not think about consequences and therefore,  the impact that their financial demands can make on the family is not usually their focus.  Whatever we can do to “just say, ‘No’” can help.  Instead of buying things for our children to show we care, we can try to spend time with them, (and not at the mall!)   
Some other ideas are:  Making them wait.  See if their desire for the object will die down if they do not get it right away.  Have your children prioritize what they want.  Setting an example, as with all behaviors is essential.  What is our own focus on materialistic objects? 
In a Christian newsletter I found on-line on the topic of materialism they encourage parents to ask their children the following regarding holiday presents:  “Have your teen make a list of the top five presents they want to receive.  Then ask: 1. What influenced you to rank your presents in this order? 2.  Do you think this present will be this important to you next year at this time? Why or why not?  3. Do these presents have any eternal significance to your life or another’s life? Do you think that should matter?  4. If we had the option to give our Holiday budget for presents to a needy family, would you agree to give a. all of it? b. half of it? c. some of it?  d. none of it?”
Experts also stress the importance of seeking out other families in the community who share similar values.  Luckily, Judaism highlights the fleeting nature of the material  and the everlasting nature of the spiritual. Within our own community/religion/culture we have the right messages if we reinforce them correctly.  By talking about the Eisav mentality which surrounds us with the our teens, in a frank manner, we can introduce them to the Yaakov mentality of being content with what one has . 

Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade:  Sixth graders began the “Hey Dude,  Don’t Be Rude” unit by focusing on Bar/Bat Mitzvah ettiquette and behavior.
Seventh Grade: Students focused on the secret to resiliency when it comes to facing adversity in life.

Eighth Grade:  “What Am I Good At?” was a question our eighth graders focused upon.  What makes them unique?  

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving Every Day For Our Teens

After each MGBL or Yavneh Youth League game, my kids know that I am going to whisper in their ears, “Go say, ‘Thank you,’ to the Coach.”  They then walk over sheepishly and say, “Thank you.”  And, when I pick up carpool and bump into my child’s teacher I say to my son, “Say, ‘Thank you’ to the Morah.”   And, each Shabbat morning, when we cross the street at the crossing guard, I again say to my children under my breath, “Say, ‘Thank you’.”   And, of course, I am still one of those old-fashioned moms who makes her children write hand-written thank you notes. 

We know that being thankful  or having gratitude is “menschlach,” but research from Dr. Jeffery Froh and Dr. Giacomo Bono indicates that children who are taught to have gratitude have improved mood, mental health, life satisfaction- all especially during adolescence when their identity is taking shape.  Teens who have high levels of gratitude  have less negative emotions and depression, and more positive emotions and happiness four years later.  Feeling grateful also motivates teens to help others. 

There are ways that educators and parents can teach gratitude. Gratitude is a skill that can be fostered and strengthened.  One primary way is through Gratitude Journals.  In one study, by Dr. Froh and Dr. Bono, middle school students were asked to list five things for which they were grateful.  The other group were writing about things that were bothering them or basic daily events.  The ones with the gratitude journals felt more optimistic and even felt healthier physically.  They also reported being happier with their school experience.

Another technique is what Froh and Bono call a “gratitude visit” where students write a letter to someone to whom they are grateful whom they never properly thanked. This letter is read in person to the benefactor.   

Froh and Bono also taught the following skills to their students:
a.       Notice intentions- Don’t only notice what they did for you, but the thoughts behind the act, i.e. the times when someone noticed what you needed, remembered something you liked…
b.      Appreciate costs- Realize the time and effort that was needed to do something for you.   What did the person sacrifice to help you?
c.       Recognize the value of benefits- When others help us, it is a “gift.”

Aside from the above benefits to the children, gratitude in schools particularly, spreads to the teachers, staff and brings people together.  It creates connections between teachers and students.  That is why a “thank you” to “Morah” is always wonderful.  Children being grateful to their teachers is good for everyone all around- the children, the teachers and the school at large.  

After yesterday’s parent-teacher conferences and with the holiday of Thanksgiving approaching, I gave some thought to the gratitude that we as parents owe the teachers’ of our children. As a parent, I make sure to thank my children’s teachers for all they have done for my children, and all the hours they put into preparing for class. I may not always see eye to eye with each one of them, but I know the hours upon hours they put into their work, and the thought they put into my child’s progress. If my child comes home with a wonderful  Dvar Torah or an incredible piece of knowledge, I try to send a quick e-mail to the teacher thanking him/her.  When I think about it, I know that my parents used to do the same. I still recall a letter that my parents wrote to my high school after one Pesach, thanking them for all the knowledge we shared at the seder. That letter was hung at the school Open House for many years.  I definitely make it a point to have my children- even middle school ones who are “departmentalized”- write a  personal thank you note to each teacher at the end of the year.

How about gratitude that teachers owe parents? As a teacher, I thank the parents of my students for partnering with me, and for assisting the students at home when needed.  I thank them for communicating with me about issues or concerns they might have, or simply giving me a “heads up” that their child is having a bad day, and letting me know how I can help.   I thank them for not rushing to panic when their child comes home upset about something that happened in class, and rather reach out to me to see what can be done.  I also thank them for reinforcing a love for learning, and a serious attitude about respect and Kavod for fellow students and their teachers.

And, then there’s the gratitude that we as parents and teachers owe our children.  We need to be grateful for the days that they aren’t too challenging and make our jobs easy. But, we also have to thank them for the way they do challenge us to be better at our jobs- as parents or teachers.  And, of course, we thank them for the Nachat they give us, and the pride we feel when they internalize that which we taught them- even if they, as teenagers, will never give us the satisfaction of saying, “Thank you.”

Advisory Update:
6th Grade- Finished their organization unit by focusing on organizing backpacks, lockers and the workspace at home.
7th  Grade- Students focused on the concept of Resiliency and what skills are needed to achieve resiliency.

8th Grade- Eighth graders discussed some test taking tips.  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Fear Of Failure In Our Children

Let's start this week's column with a little quiz that we give our seventh graders in Advisory.
Below you will read statements about real people. As you read each one, I want you to guess whether that person was a success (write “S” on the line) or failure (write “F”).
1. ____ Politician: Ran for political office seven times and was defeated each time.
2.____ Cartoonist: All he wanted to do was to sketch cartoons. He applied with a Kansas City newspaper. The editor said, "It’s easy to see from these sketches that you have no talent." No studio would give him a job. He ended up doing publicity work for a church in an old, dilapidated garage.
3. ____ Writer: His first children’s book was rejected by 23 publishers.
4. ____ Inventor: In the first year of marketing his new soft drink, he sold only 400 bottles.
5. ____ Actor: He went to Hollywood as an 18 year old, and after a couple of parts was unemployed for two years. As he ran out of money, he sold off his sectional couch, one section at a time, and lived on macaroni. He had no phone. His office was a phone booth at Pioneer Chicken.
6.____ Athlete: As a baseball player, he struck out more than any player in the history of baseball: 1,330 times.
7.____ Politician: Flunked the sixth grade. As a sixteen-year-old in Paris, a teacher had written on his report card, "Shows a conspicuous lack of success." He wished to become a military leader, or a great statesman. As a student, he failed three times in his exams to enter the British Military Academy.
8.____ Athlete: As a high school student, he felt so unpopular with the girls that he thought he might never be able to find a wife. That's why he took a cooking class.

Answer Key
  1. Abraham Lincoln. He was defeated for legislature, defeated for speaker, defeated for nomination to Congress, defeated for Senate, defeated for nomination to Vice Presidency, defeated again for Senate. Yet he didn't give up and became the sixteenth President of the United States.
  2. Walt Disney. The old garage he worked in was in such bad shape that it had mice. One day, he sketched one of those mice. The mouse one day became famous as "Mickey Mouse."
  3. Dr. Seuss. The 24th publisher sold six million copies.
  4. Coca Cola.
  5. Michael J. Fox.
  6. Babe Ruth. He held the strike-out record and also held, for many years, the home run record.
  7. Winston Churchill. He stubbornly refused to accept defeat and became one of the greatest men of the 20th Century. Though he was rejected many times by the voters of Great Britain, he finally became the Prime Minister.
  8. Michael Jordan. He was also cut from the Varsity team his sophomore year? The cut may have been the best thing that ever happened to him. Angry and embarrassed, he began to get up early each morning to practice with the Junior Varsity coach. Eventually he not only made the Varsity team, but became the most popular athlete in the world.
Many of us, if confronted with the above failures, would have simply given up. Why are some people able to fail and then pick themselves up and persist while others crumble? In Advisory, we focus with the students on the skills needed for resiliency and facing difficulties in life to answer that question.
In our Faculty Inservice a few weeks ago, we began the day by watching a TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson on the topic of creativity and education. (If you are interested in seeing the talk see Sir Robinson speaks of the importance of being willing to fail, and that most of our children are afraid to fail. “When they are young they are not frightened of being wrong. If you are not prepared to be wrong you will never come up with anything original.” In our society, we stigmatize mistakes, so children are fearful of failure.
Psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset- The New Psychology of Success, speaks of two mindsets – the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. She begins her book with the story of a research study she did on how people respond to failure. Children were given a series of puzzles to do. Some children when confronted by challenge said things like, “I love a challenge!” as if they loved failure. These children “knew that human qualities, such as intellectual skills, could be cultivated through effort...Not only weren't they discouraged by failure, they didn't even think they were failing. They thought they were learning.” These children had a “growth mindset.”
On the other hand, those with the “fixed mindset” think that human quailities are “carved in stone. You were smart or you weren't, and failure meant you weren't...If you could arrange successes and avoid failure (at all costs), you could stay smart. Struggles, mistakes, perseverance were just not part of this picture.”
To put in the laguage of a student, if you get a C on a paper, a person with a fixed mindset would say, “I feel like a reject. I'm so stupid. Why does everything always happen to me? It's unfair.” How would the fixed mindset person cope? “I wouldn't bother to put so much time and effort to do well in anything.” “Stay in bed.” “Eat chocolate.”
Someone with a growth mindset might say, “The C would tell me that I have to work a lot harder in the class, but I have the rest of the sememster to pull up my grade.” How would he/she cope? “I'd look at what was wrong on my exam, resolve to do better.” “I will speak to the teacher.”
These mindsets, says Dweck, change the meaning of failure. In a fixed mindset, failure “has been transformed from an action (I failed) to an identity (I am a failure).” So, the wonderful speller in class will be fearful of entering the spelling bee. Now I am a success. Why should I risk becoming a failure?
Dr. Dweck speaks of a study she did with seventh graders, and her results were so familiar to me, as I have experienced the same with many students. Students were asked how they would respond to academic failure. As above, those with the growth mindset said they would study harder. But, those with the fixed mindset would study less for the next test. “If I don't have the ability- why waste my time?” And, those students said they would seriously consider cheating. Additionally, instead of working to repear their failures, they try to repair their self-esteem by looking to hang out with people who are doing even worse than they are. In another study, college students who did poorly on a test were given the opportunity to look at the tests of other students. Those with the growth mindset chose to look at tests of those who did better. Those with the fixed mindset wanted to see tests of those who did even more poorly than they did, so they could feel better about themselves. People with fixed mindsets also attempt to repair their self-esteems by blaming others or making excuses.
Generally speaking, Dweck found that people with fixed mindsets had higher levels of depression, and did less to improve their situations. There were some with growth mindsets with depression as well, but the more depressed they were, the more they took action to confront their problems.
Our job as parents and educators is to raise children who “believe... their failures may still hurt, but failures don't define them.” From a young age, we encourage them to take risks by letting them know that it is okay to fail, and no matter what you will always be proud of them. Dweck stresses the importance of not praising their intelligence or talent, (a topic of a previous column!). She also speaks about how to encourage them after failure. Instead of telling them, “You're still the best and the other team didn't deserve to win,” say, “I know it's disappointing to lose, and you've worked so hard all season, but your team needs to practice their foul shots...” Sympathize, but also help him see what it takes to succeed in the future.
As Theodore Roosevelt said, It is not the critic who counts; nor the one who points out how the strong person stumbled, or where the doer of a deed could have done better.
The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually strive to do deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he or she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

Advisory Update
Sixth Grade- They focused on organizational skills as they learned the P.A.C.K. Method to organizing their bookbags and lockers.

Seventh Grade- The boys engaged in a lesson about Foul Language and the girls focused on the power and danger of Gossip. This past Thursday Rabbi Yitzy Haber spoke to the entire grade to launch our next unit in Advisory “When Life Gives You Lemons- Coping With Adversity In Life” as he shared his life story of adversity and his way of coping with humor.

Eighth Grade- Students practiced interview skills and tips as they prepare for their high school interviews and for making a good impression in life in general.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Lech Lecha- See It, Say It, Do It

"Challenge by choice" and "Step outside of your comfort zone"- these are some of the themes our 7th graders lived the past few days at our Frost Valley retreat.   Each year the students leave mostly excited, yet with some worries. These "worries" may be about the physical activities, (all students choose the activity level with which they are comfortable, but some still worry), or social interactions (Will I like my room? Will I feel included?).  For some it is their first time away from home, and for some the first time not being in contact with their parents for a length of time.  Some of these concerns stem from hesitations of facing the unknown.  After the three days, all students return elated and proud of the "worries" they overcame on this trip.

As our children enter middle school, and embark on their journey towards adulthood,  they will have to face many worries and fears without us there to help.  What are some techniques that we as parents can teach them to help them overcome anxieties and fears?

In this week's Parasha, Hashem turns to Avraham and challenges him to step out of his comfort zone and go on his own journey by commanding "Lech lecha martzecha, umimoladetecha and umibeit avicha el haaretz asher arekah" "Leave your land, your birthplace and the house of your father to the land which I will show you."  It is as if Hashem is stressing with Avraham how hard it will be for him to leave that which is familiar to him and choose to challenge himself with the unknown.  How does Avraham overcome those fears?

As parents, when our children are faced with anxiety is it hard for us to resist the temptation to become "heroes" and save them from their fears.  (Assuming their fears are "normal" parts of adolescence and do not overly impact their daily living).   At some point we need to say, "This is part of life, and YOU need to go through this."  Hashem said to Avraham, "Lech lecha" - go for you.  Even though as parents it is painful for us to let go and allow you to experience life's challenges, it is good for you. It is for your self-development.

Hashem is sending him to a land that He will "show him." Even though Avraham never physically saw the Land, Hashem will help him visualize it.

And, in fact, later in the parasha, Hashem turns to Avraham and says, "Al tirah Avraham"  "Do not be afraid, Avraham."  After Avraham's answer that he does not have children, Hashem responds in 15:5,
"And He brought him outside, and said: 'Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, are you able to count them'; and He said to him: 'So shall your seed (children) be.'"  Again, when dealing with Avraham's fears, Hashem shows him something and helps him visualize his progeny, even though they do not yet physically exist.

I took some poetic license above, and highlighted the use of the technique of visualization in dealing with Avraham's anxieties and fears.  Research indicates that the technique of visualization is effective in reducing anxiety and even in achieving success.

On a most basic level, we know that athletes often use the technique of visualization to envision the actual swing, or shooting the basket, which often leads to success.  Their actual skill improves by "mental rehearsal." While in a Russian prison, Natan Sharansky played mental chess for nine years. Then, in 1996 he won a game against world champion chess player Garry Kasparov.

"A study looking at brain patterns in weightlifters found that the patterns activated when a weightlifter lifted hundreds of pounds were similarly activated when they only imagined lifting.  In some cases, research has revealed that mental practices are almost effective as true physical practice, and that doing both is more effective than either alone. For instance, in his study on everyday people, Guang Yue, an exercise psychologist from Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio, compared 'people who went to the gym with people who carried out virtual workouts in their heads.'  He found that a 30% muscle increase in the group who went to the gym. However, the group of participants who conducted mental exercises of the weight training increased muscle strength by almost half as much (13.5%). This average remained for 3 months following the mental training."

This research would carry over to any fearful situation or a skill or task at which one wishes to improve.  Your child is fearful of swimming? Have him imagine, visualize or mentally rehearse walking to the pool, approaching the edge etc.  Visualization has been found to enhance motivation, increase confidence and improve performance.

How does one visualize? Set a goal and imagine the future as if you have achieved your goal.  You then create a mental picture of it as if it is happening right now.  Attempt to imagine as many details as possible, and you need feel as it is happening.

Here are some steps, according to Cathy Puet Miller:

1. Internalization: See your goal in your mind's eye
2. Externalization: Imagine the situation when you've attained your goal- this time with your eyes open
3. Forecasting: This requires expanding on externalization. Play out a whole scenario in your mind. See how people behave towards you. What else is happening?
4. Emotionalization: Focus on all of the positive emotions you will have when you achieve your goal.
5. Verbalization: Picture your goals and the scenario you painted during your forecasting exercise. Say out loud what the scenario is that you see.

Dr. Sarah Radcliffe calls this visualization “positive imagination.”  She says that anxious children are experts in “negative imagination” as they always anticipate the worst.  So, if a child is afraid of making a fool of himself in front of the class when presenting his oral presentation, instead of telling him, “Oh, that won’t happen,” have him envision his successful execution of the speech, and winning top speaker.  After using this technique often enough, children can “’see’ good marks on a test, a successful sleepover, a safe flight…As the child makes these happy endings, he is simultaneously rewiring his nervous brain, laying down the circuitry for confidence and security.”

Visualization also helps students with reading comprehension, as according to Keene and Zimmerman in the book Mosaic of Thought, "Proficient readers spontaneously and purposely create mental images while and after they read. The images emerge from all five senses as well as the emotions and are anchored in a reader's prior knowledge.  Each day, our students are bombarded with the visual images of TV and video games. In contrast, most students view reading as a passive activity. But a simple technique -- visualization -- can transform students of all ages from passive to active readers; visualization can help students cross the boundary to improved comprehension.”

Dr. Lynn Hellerstein, in her book See It Say It Do It, says that along with the “see it” (visualization) should come the “say it” – say out loud a declaration of your vision and confidence, (I can swim well! I can keep my head under water! I love swimming!”  And, then that all leads to “do it.”

As parents of teens we say ‘Lech lecha” to them as they grow older. As they gain the skills to envision their goals, they are on the path to independence and resiliency.