Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Party On… Dude!

If everyone thinks that they have a handle on how their teenage children spend their time away from home, think again. An article in the Jewish Press by one of the true heores of Torah Judaism, Rabbi Yakov Horowitz should shed some light on what’s really happening. The scene described by would be horrifying to any religious Jew whether modern of Orthodox or Charedi. Here is what Rabbi Horowitz witnessed:

'Inside the pool hall and spilling out into the street were hundreds of frum boys and girls hanging out, cavorting, drinking, and snorting drugs. The kids ran the full range of Orthodox Jewry “ children from very chasidish to ‘modern-Orthodox homes. The behavior of the boys and the dress code of the girls were simply beyond belief. In fact, it was hard to believe that these were frum kids until you spoke to them.'

Before anyone thinks that these are just dropouts, or ‘kids at risk’… They weren’t. Rabbi Horowits points out:

'Dozens of cars stopped by, and what you would call mainstream boys and girls got out to see what was ‘going on’. Many of them joined the party “ at least as observers. A few of the kids told us that they and their friends rented bungalows in non-Jewish colonies or rooms in hotels throughout the Catskills where they party from Thursday night until Monday morning including Shabbos. '

What is going on here?

Parents, no matter how modern do not want to see their children snorting drugs. How can this happen? Do these teens need more sheltering? Or more supervision? What are parents supposed to do? Lock them up on their rooms? And where do these kids come up with these ideas? Where do they find the drugs?

I think what Rabbi Horowitz witnessed here is the result of a very complex set of circumstances. I am at a loss in explaining it. There are probably a lot of factors that are specific to each individual independent of the other, although there is very likely am overlap of factors that include many of the kids.

Just to mention a few: Some of it has to do with the actual parenting. What kind of role models are parents for their children? Some of it has to doing poorly in school On some cases it is just that not every child learns the same way and the cookie cutter type of education that exists in most schools will just not work on every one and some will be turned off from learning.

Adolescents need approval for what they do, just like every other human being. If they don’t get approaval from their parenbts and teachers (and in some cases their peers) they will turn elsewhere for it. They will soon find alternative ways to express themselves and get the vital approval seek in other, non traditional ways... mostly from like minded Combine that with the over-active libidos and sporot of rebellion that inhabits the psyche of the typical teen and you have a prescription of disaster as demonstrated by the scene described by Rabbi Horowitz.

How does one prevent this from happening to their own children? I’m not sure. But one should seriously reflect on the points I made above and deal with them before it is too late.

In the case of Charedim, parents need to recognize that there is a real world out there and sheltering children from its existence can easily lead to stealth moments like this. And if one who is unprepared to deal with it suddenly encounters it, who knows where his curiosity will take him. Remember that a lot of the Kids Rabbi Horowitz saw were good kids who just stopped in to see what was going on. And some of them… stayed.

Rabbi Horowtiz asks at the end of his article: Do you know where your children are?
That’s definitely the right question. But in my view we must dig deeper and try and understand the dynamic that causes young people to rebel in this way, whether they are from Modern Orthodox homes or Charedi ones.

It should be clear to everyone that Charedi families are no more immune to this kind of problem than are modern Orthodox families. It is a growing problem. And it isn’t exposure to the culture that is the cause. Television programming which is by far the biggest conduit of exposure to the culture for young impressionable minds. But it is only a faciltaor. It will show these kids what to emulate or how to emulate it. But the rebellion comes from a deepr place. And if the Modern Orthodox adolescent rebel is the first one to think of ways to rebel, he is not the last one to participate.

There is something terribly wrong with our Chinuch here. Whether it comes from the home or the schools; and whether it is through formal learning or by example. There was a time where events like this party were non existant. One could count on the fingers of one hand how many dropouts there were from a Yeshiva high school during the entire four year stay by any given student . Today there is a huge critical mass of young people who ‘party on’ like this. And they seem to be growing exponentially.

While it is true that as the religious population has grown so too has the population of troubled teens. I suppose that is somewhat of a natural outgrowth of the successes Jewish education has achieved since the fifties. But I don’t think we can attribute the problems to this alone. The Torah world has begun to deal with it. I don’t know if it can catch up to the increasing numbers of dropouts but omething needs to be done and quickly. Or were going to seeing a lot more parties like this.