Rabbi Shmuel Gluck is the Director of Areivim, an organization that offers counseling, crisis intervention and referral services for teens and their families.
There’s a saying that I often repeat to parents. “Urgency doesn’t create ability”. Parents frequently present a difficult and time sensitive situation to me that, if not resolved, will cause long term damage. By highlighting the urgency, they assume that I’ll be “forced” to come up with a solution. They are wrong.
In many cases parents repeatedly request their children to mature by listening to the advice of others who don’t want them to learn from their mistakes. Letting them learn from their mistakes would help them grow in leaps and bounds in a matter of weeks. However, in some cases, these children refuse their suggestions and interventions and choose to learn on their own. In many cases they do quite well, despite some scarring and some lost years. Despite the cost of growing “their own way”, parents must realize that they often have no choice but to sit back and Daven.
The most common situation involves teenagers that have left their homes and live at friends or neighbors. Their parents will call me, complaining about how this will affect their prospects for Shidduchim, how their schools will find out, and how bad an influence the families that took them in will be. The parents believe that I’ll call the teenagers and tell them to go home.
My response to them is that, “urgency doesn’t create ability”. Although I may share their appreciation for the severity of the situation and that, in the long run, the teenagers should be home, the question is how will this succeed and how long will it take. I’m then forced to spar with the parents who don’t consider me a member of their team. However, when the teenagers are back home, most parents become my friends.
Many parent’s, understandably, think in very neat “terms”. “Teenagers should be at home. Teenagers should listen to their parents.” However, they often forget that “situations” have multiple factors. I may be able to talk teenagers into going home, but they can leave the next day and go to some place even less healthy than where they were. In addition, since I was instrumental in “forcing” them to go home, they probably won’t even tell me where they’re now living. Even if they stay home, the problems that led to their decisions to leave haven’t been dealt with and they’ll become even angrier and more dysfunctional.
I, therefore, tell parents that although I agree that they should be home, and, that’s a primary goal, it’s still a long term goal. It’s not something that can be accomplished overnight and It must be done in a thought through manner.
The same concept also applies when trying to impose religion on teenagers, advising them to either increase their performance of Mitzvohs, or getting them to come back to religion. I’ve found that in the vast majority of cases religion is a symptom, and not the root, of other issues, and it makes more sense to discuss the root and leave the symptoms for later. Despite the urgency of getting the teenagers to Daven, or to Daven with a Minyan, there are other issues (e.g. emotional ones) that may have to be dealt with first. This may mean that the parents have to watch their teenagers ignore basic Mitzvohs and remain silent. (I’ve written an article that discusses the circumstances under which people can and can’t ignore this. Contact the office if you have an interest in this article.)
I also find it frustrating that after spending hours with teenagers they’ll call me either angry (if it’s a boy) or crying (if it’s a girl) because they hate everyone. Some well meaning individuals, began rushing them to undertake Mitzvohs.
When parents insist on rushing change, I generally disagree and offer them the following analogy: Businessmen who’re losing money don’t focus on making profits the following morning. They create business plans for the long term which will make them profitable in 6-12 months. They’re aware that focusing on tomorrow will fail and that 3-6 months from now, they still won’t be profitable. Only by “giving in” on tomorrow, will they show success later in the year. We must approach our teenagers the same way.
This concept is not only limited to teenagers in crisis. There are some children who do everything slowly. They can’t be rushed in making decisions. If they’re forced to do anything faster, it’ll only make things take longer. An urgency to get to a wedding, for example, will not make children move faster. They may be rushed, but, once again “urgency doesn’t create ability”.
The most common reason for urgency with boys is the parents’ desire for them to learn more Torah. I find many parents of 13-14 year old boys disappointed when their successful teenagers don’t learn on Shabbos afternoon or snow days.
The parents believe that their son is capable of becoming a “Godol” and they’d like the boy to undertake a schedule that’ll make him one. My advice to them is that not only will this urgency (or even only a perception of urgency) be unable to create ability, but it’ll actually damage the excellent chances the boy has of becoming a Godol.
Parents of girls want their daughters to have values that may take years to cultivate. In their urgency, they pressure their daughters to have standards far advanced of where they’re “holding”. This creates resentment and the rebellious behavior that parents fear.
The need to give change time is even more important when discussing clinical depression or intense unhappiness. Most parents can’t imagine anything more important than doing Mitzvohs, but in their urgency they overlook the fact that the goal is to effectively attempt change, and this often takes time. With depression everything takes a long time. Rushing the process will only “set” the teenager back.
Rav Moshe Feinstein was once asked what a mother whose daughter was depressed should do. His response was to make sure that the mother never looks upset in the presence of her daughter (Ohr Hachaim 4, 47). No advice was given about teaching anything to the daughter.
As a side note, I find it fascinating that our Gedolim, despite their total commitment to the Torah, are often very willing to “look away” from requesting immediate Mitzvoh performance and bad behaviors when it comes to teenagers, even if they may involve doing Aveiros. Contrary to what many people believe, Daas Torah is a patient and effect oriented approach that promotes long term solutions. Those that don’t follow this approach are generally intolerable and react to problems with a blinding urgency.
On several occasions parents reported to various Gedolim, that I told them it would be better for their teenagers not to go home since they weren’t ready. In all of these cases the Gedolim agreed with me and told the parents to give change time. In every case, B”H, the teenagers eventually came home of their own volition, and showed an interest in rebuilding their relationships with their parents and family. Since the teenagers were the ones that reinitiated the relationships, the relationships became strong and healthy.
For more information about Areivim or for copies of this or other articles please contact us by phone at 845-371-2760 or by e-mail at Areivim@juno.com
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