Sunday, December 4, 2016

Technology Addiction And Teens- We're In This Together

In 2011, I heard about the phenomenon of Half- Shabbat and wrote about it in my blog. I actually had  heard about the  existence of this behavior some time before that. The first time I heard about it I could not imagine what it meant. Is it sort of like keeping 1 and ½ days of Yom Tov in Eretz Yisrael if you are American? Not quite.
It is when someone in public appears to keep all the laws of Shabbat,  goes to shul etc.,  except that he texts his other friends who are “half-Shabbat” observers on Shabbat or engages on social media use. This phenomenon exists in every stream of Orthodox Judaism from the east to the west coast.  Why does this happen? How could this happen? How could it be that  children growing up in Shomer Shabbat homes and going to Yeshivot all their lives could lose the meaning of  Shabbat?  What are we doing wrong?  I, personally, was devastated. (The focus of my blog then was how to make Shabbat more meaningful- still relevant today).

Fast-forwarding to years later, I wondered if this phenomenon was still as prevalent as it seemed to be then.  I imagine it is still out there.  Although I did not find any articles from 2016, in a  2014 article in Tablet by Shira Telushkin, called “Shabbat Is A Day Of Rest- But Does That Mean I Can’t Text My Friends,” Telushkin deems half- Shabbat as still widespread.  

“He is a typical Modern Orthodox teenager from Boston. He comes from a religious family, attends Maimonides High School during the year, and spends summers at a Modern Orthodox camp. He is well-versed in his community’s prohibitions against using technology on Shabbat, but sometimes, he told me, on Saturday afternoons he and his friends ‘get so bored.’ That’s when their cell phones come out, in the privacy of bedrooms or basements, away from parents and other community members.
‘In the future I would definitely like a day of rest without technology,’  said the teenager who, like most students I interviewed for this article, asked that his name not be used, as his parents don’t know he uses his phone—or turns on lights in his room, or writes in his notebook—on Shabbat. ‘It’s not healthy to be so obsessed with social media. It’s not a necessity, it’s not water, it’s not air.’ But for now, he has no plans to keep his phone off throughout Shabbat.”
Even this young boy admitted he is “obsessed with social media.”  It is an obsession.  A 2011 story in The Jewish Week claimed that  50% of Modern Orthodox teens keep half-Shabbat, although others maintained it is closer to 17%.  
I revisit this topic because, as Telushkin notes, half-Shabbat simply mirrors broader society where “teenagers are addicted to cellphones, they don’t know how to live without their devices, and the peer pressure to stay socially aware at all times is unbearable.” Although Telushkin maintains that she does not believe it is as common as those fear, she does quote a high school student who said she is “‘dying from the guilt’ of breaking Shabbat, but she can’t stop.”  Sounds like an addiction to me.
The reason why there is this addiction is clear.  Almost all teens have smartphones, and checking on social media and or texting can be “quick and discreet.” And, most sleep near their cellphones so they are aware of them all day. In the Jewish Week’s   2011 article they note that this addiction is painful for the adults as well, (aside from their having their own addiction).  “Rabbi Perton said his day school recently tried to enforce a ban on using cell phones during school hours, ‘When we did take away a phone,’ he said, ‘the amount of pain the student was in was literally unbearable. The parents would beg and scream because they were getting it at home from their kid and just wanted to end their own misery.  If the students and their parents lose their equilibrium when a phone is taken away for a week, can such a child stop on Shabbos?’ the rabbi asks.  ‘I hope so, but do not know.’”
Chani, interviewed in that article said she started texting on Shabbat because “I was just so bored on Shabbat- I had nothing to do.”  That boredom is a reason that sets in- similar to the high schooler’s comment above.
This “technology addiction” prompted a study by Common Sense Media, an organization  dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology.  They “ empower parents, teachers, and policymakers by providing unbiased information, trusted advice, and innovative tools to help them harness the power of media and technology as a positive force in all kids’ lives.” I’ve mentioned Common Sense Media before as they are my go to before I allow my children to watch any movie, tv show etc., as they rate each of them.  Additionally, they have educational information for parents and teachers related to technology.   
50% of teens feel they are addicted to their mobile devices, according to the Common Sense Media study.  59% of parents said their children were addicted.  80% of teens said they checked their phones hourly and 72% said they felt the need to immediately respond to texts and social networking messages.  36% of parents said they argued with their children daily about device use.  77% of parents feel their children get distracted by their devices and do not pay attention when they are together, at least a few times each week.  (Stay tuned to next week’s column when I speak more about the Common Sense Media survey).  
We know this addiction is not limited to children.  In fact the DSM-5, which establishes mental health disorders, listed “Internet Gaming Disorder” as a possible addition for a future DSM.  In summary, the diagnostic criteria for Internet Gaming Disorder include:
1.  Repetitive use of Internet-based games, often with other players, that leads to significant issues with functioning.  Five of the following criteria must be met within one year:
  1. Preoccupation or obsession with Internet games.
  2. Withdrawal symptoms when not playing Internet games.
  3. A buildup of tolerance–more time needs to be spent playing the games.
  4. The person has tried to stop or curb playing Internet games, but has failed to do so.
  5. The person has had a loss of interest in other life activities, such as hobbies.
  6. A person has had continued overuse of Internet games even with the knowledge of how much they impact a person’s life.
  7. The person lied to others about his or her Internet game usage.
  8. The person uses Internet games to relieve anxiety or guilt–it’s a way to escape.
  9. The person has lost or put at risk and opportunity or relationship because of Internet games.  
Although technology is not a drug, and therefore the addiction is not exactly “chemical,”  “addicts” can become withdrawn, lost and depressed.  Sergio Diazgranados, in his article on Technology addiction, points to that boredom as one reason why the addiction is on the rise. We are thirsting the stimulation that technology provides. We are also seeking an escape from the stress of real life.  
What we do know is that in a Common Sense Media survey of Americans ages 8-18, children report that outside of school and homework tweens (ages 8-12) spend almost six hours per day  and teens spend almost nine hours per day using media. “Some would point to the sheer number of hours as evidence of an addiction.”  
What might be the negative repercussions of this addiction?  My column next week will outline some of those impacts. If this week’s column does not yet entice you to attend our December 12th workshop on “Setting Boundaries And Balancing Technology Use For Your Child” presented by Dr. Eli Shaprio, I hope that next week’s column will convince you.
Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade: We began the unit “Hey Dude, That’s Rude” with discussion of some commonly accepted, yet difficult, etiquette rules.
Seventh Grade: What are the steps of empathy? Students were trained in empathy exercises.
Eighth Grade:  Students completed their “Self-evaluation” forms where they shared with administrators the activities and talents they have about which we might not know. We then discussed how the election, with a tone of disrespect, might have impacted on Americans and how are we doing at creating an atmosphere of respect in Yavneh Academy.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Antidote To Entitlement- Gratitude

Mark Twain once said, “The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”   His words target one perspective that often prevents us and our children from feeling gratitude- entitlement. As parenting coach James Lehman says, “The attitude of a child with a false sense of entitlement is, ‘I am, therefore give to me.’  It is imperative to challenge that false sense of entitlement. Why?  Because the entitlement prevents our children from  appreciating the value of hard work and the need to earn what they want. This is contrary to what they are presently thinking, according to Lehman, “You don’t need to do anything—everything will be given to you in life just because you’re you.”

Dr. David Pelcovitz points out that the name “Jew” -Yehudi comes from Yehuda which means to thank or express gratitude.  Jews are not called “Ivrim”- Hebrews or “Yisraelim”- Israelites. The name Yehudi indicates that the ability to be grateful is part of our genetic makeup.  Leah named her son Yehuda as she said, “This time, let me gratefully praise Hashem.”  Rashi comments that she was expressing, “I have taken more than my share, so now I need to give thanks.”  Dr. Pelcovitz points out that this is the opposite of entitlement.  “A Jew must acknowledge that he is a debtor who owes so much to his past; he is not a creditor to whom something is owed.  This attribute of gratitude is reflected is his name, his identity, and shapes his essential character- Yehudi.” One must recognize that he has received more than his share.  

Dr. Pelcovitz notes that one reality that leads to this entitlement is habituation.  We quickly become accustomed to “the most spectacular of gifts.” Related to this habituation is that research indicates that we tend to be less grateful to those who are closest to us.   It is, therefore,  not surprising that our teens display entitlement most with us.  Likewise, notes Dr. Pelcovitz, we feel entitled when it comes to our relationship with God as he quotes the work of Rabbeinu Bachya in Chovot HaLevavot,
People...grow up surrounded with a superabundance of Divine favors which they experience continuously, and to which they become so accustomed that they come to regard these as essential parts of their being, not to be removed or separated from themselves during the whole of their lives…They foolishly ignore the benefits the Creator has bestowed on them and do not consider the obligation of gratitude for Divine beneficence.”

Rabbi Dov Heller, in his article, “Mastering the Gratitude Attitude” also see this sense of entitlement as the culprit, preventing us from achieving gratitude.   “If you’re like me, you probably have a whole list of things you feel entitled to, and if you don’t get them, you feel cheated.  If you are unable to take a vacation or buy the home you’ve dreamed of, then life has robbed you of something you are entitled to!”   We feel that either life owes us something, or people owe us something or even God owes us something.  

But, this sense of entitlement is not reality, Heller continues. No one owes us anything.  Everything we receive in life is a gift.   “Eliminating entitlement from your life and embracing gratitude is spiritually and psychologically liberating...Once we understand that everything is a gift, we can begin to feel gratitude towards God, the source of all good, and grow closer to Him in an authentic and joyful way.”  Reminding ourselves that no one owes us anything is one way to combat entitlement.

Lehman adds that especially with teenagers, stressing these four truths is another way to combat entitlement:
  1. Money doesn’t come easily.
  2. People work hard to earn money; it’s part of life.
  3. If you want something, you need to work to earn it.
  4. You are not entitled to things you haven’t earned.
Lehman speaks about the importance of having children do chores around the house to earn money, rather than just receiving an allowance.

Some other truths to relay to our teens to combat entitlement are, as noted by  Mark Gregston in his article. “Teens Who Demand and Parents Who Don’t,”
  1. Stress the concept of “enough.”  Tell them when you think they have had enough.
  2. “Needs versus wants” - children don’t know the difference between what they truly need and what they would like.  They experience all needs with the same degree of intensity.  We need to clearly delineate the difference for them.
  3. Avoid Overcaring- when we do things for our children which they are capable of doing themselves it fosters entitlement.   
Gregston encourages us to state to our children, I owe you nothing, but I want to give you everything.”

Dr. Pelcovitz suggests another antidote to this entitlement and habituation- developing a habit of attention. By “consciously being mindful of how fortunate one’s condition is and how it could have been otherwise.”  At times, it is only when things go wrong we notice how good it is when things go right, states Gregg Krech when presenting his psychology of gratitude.  Keeping gratitude journals, or even having a daily discussion with your children, “What went well today?” are basic ways to attend to all that is good for which we need to be grateful.

Dr. Pelcovitz adds that prayer is another way to develop that habit of attention,   as one third of our prayers express the theme of gratitude.  The only part of the Amidah that cannot be relegated to the chazan is the “Modim” prayer. This forces us to personally articulate three times a day that we are fortunate and grateful.  As parents, we also model the habit of being grateful and expressing thanks to our children and our spouses by regularly doing so in front of our children.  

Despite the yearly Thanksgiving day, we live in a society which feeds the entitlement attitude, as Rabbi Heller points out.  “Compare the Bill of Rights, which focuses on our entitlements, to the Torah, which focuses on our responsibilities and obligations.”  In Judaism, every day is Thanksgiving, reminding us that nothing is coming to us. We need to earn it.

Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade-  Students continued our Organization unit with locker and bookbag organization systems, and discussion of how to organize the at-home workspace.

Seventh Grade-  Students engaged in “empathy exercises” and spoke about what it is like to step into the shoes of another.

Eighth Grade-  “What am I good at?” was a question that our 8th graders analyzed as they focused on their strengths and what made them unique.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Lech Lecha- Letting Go Of Your Teen

On the Election Day Professional Development Day the middle school staff met with Dr. Ethan Ehrenberg, from the NYU Child Study Center, on the topic of “Anxiety Goes To School” - what is anxiety in children? How might we see it in our classrooms? What can we do as teachers to support our children who are anxious?

Studies involving thousands of children and college students show that anxiety has increased substantially since the 1950's. In fact, the studies find that anxiety has increased so much that typical schoolchildren during the 1980's reported more anxiety than child psychiatric patients did during the 1950's. Why the increase? There are many hypothesis presented. Some have linked the increase to the economy. Others have stated that this generation is more willing to admit when they are dealing with anxiety. One other suggestion by Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me is, "These results suggest that as American culture has increasingly valued extrinsic and self-centered goals such as money and status, while increasingly devaluing community, affiliation, and finding meaning in life, the mental health of American youth has suffered.”

Dr. Wendy Mogel writes in her book The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee, that an increased level of “fearfulness in children and intense protectiveness in parents was something I saw all the time.” Perhaps increased overprotectiveness has contributed to the increased anxiety?

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 "לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵֽאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ: " "Leave your land, your birthplace and the house of your father to the land which I will show you." (Bereishit 12:1). 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 to challenge himself with the unknown. Avraham must have felt anxious about going out on his own. The experience of Avraham's “lech lecha” contains a message for both children and parents. 

For children, it is important to understand that at times it is difficult to try something new and embark on a new “journey.” Whether it is the first time at sleepaway camp or trying out for the team even though you are nervous- you can do it! At times we need the courage to remind ourselves that we can do it. We have the skills. Our parents and teachers have confidence in us. No one said it would be easy. But, like Avraham, Hashem is with you to support you all the way.

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 growing up 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.

We are fearful of all that is out there in the world today. The internet, substance use, eating disorders- you name it. As parents, all we want to do is protect our children. However, there such thing as being over-protective. Dr. Sue Blaney calls that kind of parenting “Helicopter Parenting.” “Helicopter parents are hovering parents. They run interference, they pave the way for them, they fight their kids’ battles for them, they protect them at all cost. Helicopter parents don’t allow their kids enough rein to fall, or succeed on their own.”

Or, as Dr. Wendy Mogel writes in her book in a section called “Raising Your Children To Leave You,” “Keeping too close an eye on children is a stumbling block. If they don't have the chance to be bad, they can't choose to be good. If they don't have the chance to fail, they can't learn. And, if they aren't allowed to face scary situations, they'll grow up to be frightened of life's simplest challenges.” Dr. Mogel continues, “The Talmud sums up the Jewish perspective on child- rearing in a single sentence, 'A father is obligated to teach his son how to swim.' Jewish wisdom holds that our children don't belong to us. They are both a loan and a gift from God, and the gift has strings attached. Our job is to raise our children to leave us. The children's job is to find their own path in life. If they stay carefully protected in the nest of the family, children will become weak and fearful or feel to comfortable to want to leave.”

Our goal as parents is to develop resilient and self-reliant children who can face up to challenges even when we are not with them. Helicopter parenting creates the opposite. If we do it all for them, how will they learn to do it for themselves? This applies to academics, interactions with peers, athletics- in every arena. None of us want our children to fail. But, if we overprotect them, and never allow them to experience failure- they do not develop the requisite skills to cope with disappointment. They crumble. There is no greater protection that we can provide to our kids than to help them realize that they can fall and get up again.

Hashem did not simply send Avraham and let go. Rather, we see that Hashem says He is sending him to a land that He will "show him." Hashem, as parent, will show him how to get there, but Avraham needs to ultimately make the journey independently.

Do you recall those toddlerhood years when our children were learning to walk? We let go and allowed them to take those steps, but we stood nearby ready to help them get up again if they fall. We empower them to try on their own while at the same time giving them the message that we are always here to protect them and step in if needed.  

Advisory Update


Sixth Grade-  Students began a unit on Organization focusing on strategies to keep their lockers and backpacks organized.


Seventh Grade-  Students "debriefed" the Frost Valley Leadership Conference.  They also experienced a presentation from Mr. Jeffrey Slater from the Bergen County Housing Authority to prepare them for the next unit Operation Respect.  He focused on the root of homelessness and how our students will be partnering in the next weeks and will be visiting the shelter. 


Eighth Grade-  Students focused on testing taking strategies. 

Lech Lecha- Letting Go Of Your Teen

On the Election Day Professional Development Day the middle school staff met with Dr. Ethan Ehrenberg, from the NYU Child Study Center, on the topic of “Anxiety Goes To School” - what is anxiety in children? How might we see it in our classrooms? What can we do as teachers to support our children who are anxious?

Studies involving thousands of children and college students show that anxiety has increased substantially since the 1950's. In fact, the studies find that anxiety has increased so much that typical schoolchildren during the 1980's reported more anxiety than child psychiatric patients did during the 1950's. Why the increase? There are many hypothesis presented. Some have linked the increase to the economy. Others have stated that this generation is more willing to admit when they are dealing with anxiety. One other suggestion by Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me is, "These results suggest that as American culture has increasingly valued extrinsic and self-centered goals such as money and status, while increasingly devaluing community, affiliation, and finding meaning in life, the mental health of American youth has suffered.”

Dr. Wendy Mogel writes in her book The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee, that an increased level of “fearfulness in children and intense protectiveness in parents was something I saw all the time.” Perhaps increased overprotectiveness has contributed to the increased anxiety?
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 "לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵֽאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ: " "Leave your land, your birthplace and the house of your father to the land which I will show you." (Bereishit 12:1). 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 to challenge himself with the unknown. Avraham must have felt anxious about going out on his own. The experience of Avraham's “lech lecha” contains a message for both children and parents.

For children, it is important to understand that at times it is difficult to try something new and embark on a new “journey.” Whether it is the first time at sleepaway camp or trying out for the team even though you are nervous- you can do it! At times we need the courage to remind ourselves that we can do it. We have the skills. Our parents and teachers have confidence in us. No one said it would be easy. But, like Avraham, Hashem is with you to support you all the way.

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 growing up 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.

We are fearful of all that is out there in the world today. The internet, substance use, eating disorders- you name it. As parents, all we want to do is protect our children. However, there such thing as being over-protective. Dr. Sue Blaney calls that kind of parenting “Helicopter Parenting.” “Helicopter parents are hovering parents. They run interference, they pave the way for them, they fight their kids’ battles for them, they protect them at all cost. Helicopter parents don’t allow their kids enough rein to fall, or succeed on their own.”

Or, as Dr. Wendy Mogel writes in her book in a section called “Raising Your Children To Leave You,” “Keeping too close an eye on children is a stumbling block. If they don't have the chance to be bad, they can't choose to be good. If they don't have the chance to fail, they can't learn. And, if they aren't allowed to face scary situations, they'll grow up to be frightened of life's simplest challenges.” Dr. Mogel continues, “The Talmud sums up the Jewish perspective on child- rearing in a single sentence, 'A father is obligated to teach his son how to swim.' Jewish wisdom holds that our children don't belong to us. They are both a loan and a gift from God, and the gift has strings attached. Our job is to raise our children to leave us. The children's job is to find their own path in life. If they stay carefully protected in the nest of the family, children will become weak and fearful or feel to comfortable to want to leave.”

Our goal as parents is to develop resilient and self-reliant children who can face up to challenges even when we are not with them. Helicopter parenting creates the opposite. If we do it all for them, how will they learn to do it for themselves? This applies to academics, interactions with peers, athletics- in every arena. None of us want our children to fail. But, if we overprotect them, and never allow them to experience failure- they do not develop the requisite skills to cope with disappointment. They crumble. There is no greater protection that we can provide to our kids than to help them realize that they can fall and get up again.

Hashem did not simply send Avraham and let go. Rather, we see that Hashem says He is sending him to a land that He will "show him." Hashem, as parent, will show him how to get there, but Avraham needs to ultimately make the journey independently.

Do you recall those toddlerhood years when our children were learning to walk? We let go and allowed them to take those steps, but we stood nearby ready to help them get up again if they fall. We empower them to try on their own while at the same time giving them the message that we are always here to protect them and step in if needed.  

Advisory Update

Sixth Grade-  Students began a unit on Organization focusing on strategies to keep their lockers and backpacks organized.

Seventh Grade-  Students "debriefed" the Frost Valley Leadership Conference.  They also experienced a presentation from Mr. Jeffrey Slater from the Bergen County Housing Authority to prepare them for the next unit Operation Respect.  He focused on the root of homelessness and how our students will be partnering in the next weeks and will be visiting the shelter. 

Eighth Grade-  Students focused on testing taking strategies. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Parents To Teen- "Vote For Me!"

Although I did focus on one issue of the presidential campaign in last week’s column, when  I recently read an article by Michelle Kinder called “Three Terrible Things The Election is Teaching Your Child,” I felt there were more “teachable moments” to be discussed.  Here are the three lessons Kinder highlighted that we our children are unfortunately learning. (In fact, there have been numerous articles written about whether parents should have even allowed children to watch the presidential debates!):
  1. “I can say whatever I think without regard for anyone else” Simply watching one of the debates was enough evidence of the lack of impulse control that adults had in reacting to each other.  Children need to learn that there is a difference between “reacting and responding.”  They can learn that when one is feeling emotional that is not the time to react. Rather, take a deep breath and focus before responding.
  2. “Anyone who disagrees with me is not only wrong, but bad.”   These candidates are thriving on the conflict. This is not the best way to learn to conflict resolution and compromise.  In our most recent unit in Seventh Grade Advisory on communication skills we discuss the some techniques toward working with others.  One technique we stress is  the importance of  using “I statements” and not “You statements.”  “You  statements”are blaming and say “YOU don't do that!  And, YOU always do this!!” The first thing a person wants to do when someone says a “you statement” towards them is the opposite. He or she  gets annoyed and defensive and that discourages cooperation.  Perhaps Clinton and Trump could use a few sessions of 7th Grade Advisory?
  3. “I am more inspired by my personal achievements than contribution to the greater good.”  As Kinder noted, this election has been  full overblown egos.  We would like to see more selflessness for the common good.

In Parashat Noach, we learned about those who attempted to build Migdal Bavel- the tower of Babel. “And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech.”  All seemed to be as if the people got along beautifully and yet they utilized this good spirit and  ‘Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ Rather than pursuing justice and good deeds, they pursued building a tower in order to make their names greater- for self- aggrandizement and ego.  And, therefore, Hashem said,
Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”  No longer were they working in unity. There began the conflict and even the misuse of speech we see in today’s election.

As parents, it is our job to talk to our children about the media’s misrepresentations and the negative ads.  We should discuss the “bullying” in which we see the candidates engaging.  We want them to understand that one need not be a bully to win.  One need not hurt others to appear strong. Bullying is not leadership.  Judi Zirin- Hyman, in her article, “Three Much- needed Parenting Lessons From The 2016 Elections,” noted that “Bullies Shouldn’t Win” is one message our children will hopefully learn.

Hyman also noted “Lesson Two: Don’t Put Anything In An E-mail Or Online That You Wouldn’t Want Everyone To See” a very poignant message for our tweens.  Wikileaks is only but one way our privacy can be easily penetrated.

“Lesson Three- How To Be Gracious When You Lose.”  It is not easy to lose- whether on the ball field or in politics.  But, it is essential to concede with dignity to the victor.  

What else can we as parents do?  Get your children to vote for… you.  Mrs. Sarah Chana Radcliffe, in her article, “Follow The Leader- Win Your Child’s Vote So You Can Maximize Your Parenting Potential” speaks about how as humans we are more than happy to follow the directives of another, but only if this “someone” is a person of our own choosing- hence, the the growth of democracies.  “As a parent, you are a potential leader...However, your child may ‘vote you in’ as leader or may not, as he or she sees fit.  If your child does vote you in, then he or she will look to you for guidance, trust your judgment, aim to please you, and try not to disappoint or frustrate you… On the other hand, if your child doesn’t vote for you, he may very well turn his back on your instructions.  He will find himself another leader- his other parent perhaps, or an educator another influential adult, maybe a peer…”  Radcliffe goes on to describe that if children vote in the wrong leader, or even do not have a leader, they end up engaging in at-risk behaviors and lead lives of pain and suffering.  We want our children to vote for us, “therefore, we need to know how to launch our campaigns.”  

Radcliffe says, it’s easy to get your child to not vote for you.  “Simply make him dislike you.”  Criticize him frequently and harshly.  Punish him, diminish him, neglect him, and ignore him.  Endlessly interrogate him, judge him, and accuse him.  Wear a frown and a scowl and never talk when you can yell.  How to get him to vote for you?  Get him to like you.  Not by bribes, or giving in to his every whim.  Rather, by setting boundaries, limits and discipline, with a smile.  Guidance comes out of positive feedback, gentle direction, encouragement and support.  He will vote for the parent whose eyes reflect consistent approval and true affection- even when having to discipline.  

We will always be their parents. They will always have to do what we ask them to do. But, wouldn’t it be easier if they chose to listen?

As this election day approaches, our children may not be old enough to vote.  But, they vote us into office daily. We want to win our children’s votes, by a landslide.  How is your campaign going?  

Sunday, October 30, 2016

An Election Teachable Moment

My daughter turned to me while doing a project on the election and asked, “What does it mean, ‘Is the candidate fit for the presidency?’”  Well, that’s a loaded question.  The purpose of this column is not to advocate for either candidate, but to rather share an issue that came up in my conversation with her.  Our discussion led to the “locker room talk” of Trump and associated headlines coming out of the woodwork, and the history of President Clinton and his indiscretions.  Both were issues she’d read about in her research, but did not quite “get” what they were about.  Here was a teachable moment, which I think should be utilized for all our teenage girls and boys.

Each year, in our Adolescent Life Classes we discuss the physiological and social/ emotional changes  our students go through during puberty and these adolescent years. We focus in our seventh grade year on the topic of sexual harassment and how the boys and girls treat each other.  We begin with a powerful short video created by Netsmartz called “You Can’t Take It Back” about a groups of boys who create a list of which girls are “hot” and which ones are “not.”  We focus with the boys about- how do they think the girls want to be treated?  Is it insulting to be judged based on only your body?   How does that make them feel? We actually discuss with the boys what sexual harassment is and that it is actually against the law.  We even go through the New Jersey State Sexual Harassment Law with them. Included in this definition is “gender-based remarks or comments….Verbal or written obscene comments…” etc.   Whether verbal, physical, or a rumor- all hurtful.  We discuss sexual harassment on-line, and why it is easier to say inappropriate things when we remain anonymous.   And, we stress the potential emotional impact of what they think is “just a joke” on the young women.  

The girls experience a similar curriculum. We focus on helping them realize that they should never accept any behavior that makes them uncomfortable- whether in school, camp, the workplace etc.  Often behavior on the bus comes up in this discussion, and we make it clear that despite there not being an adult chaperone, nothing that makes them uncomfortable should ever be tolerated.  They also learn about the legal expectations. The link between body image and sexual harassment is discussed, (as it is with the boys as well), and the girls are asked to consider the unrealistic and unfair expectations placed upon girls by society, at times.  We also highlight the reasons why girls may feel uncomfortable coming forward and how to overcome those hesitations.  We also stress to the girls that although we assume sexual harassment is often perpetrated by males against females, the opposite may be the case and we all need to be vigilant.

Despite this election’s bringing focus to the way women are treated by men, we also spend much time in Advisory discussing how teens should protect themselves from abusive situations in general.  As you know, there has been a shift in the educational world from only warning about “stranger danger” and now helping children realize that even someone they know can hurt them.   One way we uncover these potential issues in our Middle School curriculum is through scenarios that happen in camp, when parents are not nearby to assist.  Whether it’s the “practical joke” of opening the shower curtain,  or the adult head counselor who asks you to go the woods alone to help get ready for the campfire, we help them become aware.

As parents, we too should take the opportunity to catch these “teachable moments” and speak to our children about our values when it comes to the way men and women treat each other.  We model it for them on a daily basis, but it is important to verbalize our values in response to what they are hearing in the media.  

It is all about mutual respect.  As we learned this past week’s parasha, we are all created “b’tzelem elokim”- in the image of God.  “Zachar u’nekaiva bara otam”- both male and female He created them.  Each one of us is worthy of, deserves, and must demand that respect which is due to a creation of God. We each have a piece of God within us.  It is that “nishmat chayim”- the living soul within us- that makes us different from mere animal.  And, so it is up to us to act better and treat others better.  More importantly, we must never hesitate to demand better for ourselves!

Advisory Update:

Sixth Grade: Students had the opportunity to have an informal “How are you doing?” session with their Advisors to talk about how school is going overall for them.

Seventh Grade:  Seventh graders learned about the important communication skills needed to interact with others, which can also be utilized on Frost Valley.

Eighth Grade:  Students began discussing and even role-playing important interview skills.