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Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Rabbi Shmuel Gluck is the Director of Areivim, an organization that offers counseling, crisis intervention and referral services for teens and their families.
Positioning Each Child in School and Life: Part 2
The second condition for a successful school placement is to find a school that lessens, or removes, the children's existing resentment and resistance. If resentment is allowed to continue, regardless of the cause, it will lead to resistance, the children will not focus, and eventually fail.
Many children are not happy. Some are not happy for legitimate reasons; others for personal perceptions. Either way, their unhappiness creates a barrier between them and their chances of success in both school and life. I constantly remind parents that perception is more important than reality. If children believe that they're being mistreated, whether their belief is accurate or not, the parents must respond. Their response will vary depending based on the legitimacy of the children's resentment, but they must respond to alleviate the resentment.
The importance of removing this resentment cannot be overemphasized. Frequently, the only way to remove it is by "giving in" to the children, which often means spoiling them. Parents, who've been trained not to spoil their children, often ask me what to do. I begin by agreeing with them that spoiling children is definitely a "bad move". However, it's generally an isolated bad move. Unless it's repeated multiple times, the children won't become spoiled. The parents will have many opportunities to negate the negative effect of that incident.
Creating or increasing resentment, which in turn creates or increases resistance, is not only a bad move, it's a long term bad move. Resentment stays within children more heavily than does being spoiled and most other negative traits. Parents frequently have to make decisions, knowing that each option involves an act of "bad parenting". However, when deciding between two options, parents must remember that creating or increasing resistance and resentment, is almost always the option to be avoided.
Parents often ignore their children's feelings and make decisions based on what they feel is best for their children. They look for what's best "on paper". They often ignore their children's perceptions and discount their protests with the belief that, "children should accept that life is difficult" or, "parents always know what's best for their children". The result is that their children are being placed into schools or environments where they don't want to be. This causes them to become resentful.
I've learned that all people, not just children, will consciously or unconsciously, sabotage any plan with which they're not happy. This is a reality with which all parents must come to terms. Sabotaging the chosen school is the resistance discussed in the first paragraph of this article.
There are children who aren't learning as well as they should, and they're becoming involved in unhealthy activities. The parents believe that they would thrive if they were offered two things: a wholesome Torah environment and an academically challenging curriculum and the parents want to send them to such schools. Although this may be true, they're still ignoring the fact that the children don't want to go to such schools. Children who're forced to go to such schools, may make the best of it for the first few days or weeks. However, their resentment builds and creates resistance, which sabotages the otherwise logical plan.
There are two reasons I don't believe that parents should resent the fact that their children are sabotaging opportunities in school. The first is that parents often decide which of their children's weaknesses to resent and which ones to accept and pity. Learning disabilities and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) are considered acceptable weaknesses to pity. Immaturity, not wanting to grow, and not wanting to become a Rabbi, aren't weaknesses that should determine the need for a new school.
I try to impress upon parents that all of their children's character flaws, even those that seem to be the result of the children's personal decisions, are all a part of who the children are. When selecting schools or finding jobs for them, parents must remember that these flaws are all part of "who they are".
The second is thatparents must remember that, in today's society, they can't "tell" their children what they should and should not do. They have an inherent right to tell them because they're the parents, they pay for everything, and they usually have more experiences than their children. Nevertheless, if they're going to succeed with their children, they must learn the art of diplomacy and realize that their actual control is minimal. Even if they master the art of diplomacy they'll only succeed a little more often. They'll still fail to convince their children of their views.
Therefore, parents must pinpoint the cause of the resentment and choose schools that won't sustain the cause of the resentment. When searching for the cause, parents must be willing to accept the fact that they may be the cause of the resentment.
Common causes of resentment include:
A. Family dynamics. Some children shouldn't stay at home with their parents. Those who believe that their parents don't understand or won't accept them; those that come from a family that's broken by divorce or death; or those that have had emotional or physical abuse and are creating havoc in their home. In the case of divorce, for instance, I often tell parents that sending children to an out of town school will allow them to be "like all of the other children", because in a boarding or dormitory situation no one is with their own family. In all of the above scenarios the school selection must focus on out of town school options.
B. The children insist on a school that will allow them to stay home. If they're forced to stay in a dormitory, they'll feel rejected. This is usually a frustrating issue because they want to stay home for self serving reasons. They generally have a circle of friends, most of who are "hanging out". Despite the damage that may happen to them by allowing them to continue these relationships, parents must consider that if they send them out of town, they'll resist and sabotage themselves at the out of town school. Parents must acknowledge this to themselves and choose from the school options that will either lessen or remove any existing resentment.
C. Children placed in schools that are inconsistent with how they define themselves. The schools may be more, or less, religious than they want. They may have strong, or weak, secular departments. The other students may be cool or nerds. Whether the children are right or wrong is not as important as what their perceptions are. For example, if the resentment was due to a resistance to be "as Yeshivash as their family", then the selection must be limited to the less Yeshivash schools.
To be continued
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