Mar 12, 2013

Parents' Responsibility

In the "Kids at Risk- Revisited" issue of the (now defunct) Jewish Observer, one of the articles said that two of the most devastating culprits chasing our kids away are feelings of intense pressure and a lack of validation. The pressure, says the article, comes from constant criticism of parents, rebbeim and teachers.

In another article in the same issue, the author writes of the constant stream of simchos and mitzvos that seem to have taken over people's lives (chasunos, sheva brachos, bar and bas mitzvas, l'chayims-vorts, melave malkas, PTA's, shidduch meetings, Tehillim groups ...) and he asks: Is it any wonder that we have children at risk? The children are raising themselves! I would add, babies and toddlers are shipped out of the house for hours at a time, so who is raising them?

If you ask those who work with problem youth, they will tell you that often, if not most of the time, the problem is at home. Of course, there are other factors, but for the most part, home is the key.  This is very unpleasant for parents to hear, of course.  We are living in a time where "blaming" and "judging" are considered out of bounds.  And yet, the Vilna Gaon in his famous letter to his family wrote:

"I have left behind several Yiddish books on Mussar (morality). See that [the children] read them constantly, especially on the Holy Shabbos, when Mussar is the only thing they should read. Always instruct them according to Mussar books.

"Don't hold back from hitting them when they curse, swear or lie. Don't be lenient with them, because parents will be punished severely for the corruption of their children, G-d forbid. And even if one constantly teaches them Mussar, but they do not follow it, one's sorrow and shame in the World-to-Come will be great. As it is written (Vayikra 21:9), "She defiles her father" - [in such a case] the son of a righteous man is called "the son of a wicked man" (Sanhedrin 52a). Similarly in other matters, lashon hara and gossip."

note: Many mechanchim are of the opinion that in our generation, hitting children is not an effective chinuch tool (some qualify that by saying that it's appropriate under certain rare circumstances). 

There is a certain understandable inconsistency in how we look at chinuch.  We kvell when we hear good things about our children.  We have such nachas and think we did something right when our children do well.  But if things don't go well, G-d forbid, we talk about the child's bechira and how other children in the family are all right and how it's obviously not the parents' fault.  Do we talk about a child's bechira and how the fact that they turned out wonderfully is also not to the parents' credit?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I made a mistake and had to delete the comment. Basically, this situation reminds me of those diseases that have numerous possible causes and no one can identify the actual cause and what may cause the disease in one person may prevent it in another.
    Basically, a child has numerous interactions with numerous people throughout his life and his parents don't always act out of love for him but confuse self love for love of the child. The parents, however, don't realize that they are pushing the child further away. The child is likely to meet someone who either makes aveiras exciting or who helps the child justify doing them. The parents then wonder what went wrong.