Is It Better To Know?
Parents often become concerned, sometimes to the point of obsession, with what their children are doing. Until the age of 10-12, and certainly not past the age of 13, parents should know whatever their children are doing. Past this age, parents should ask themselves whether they should try to find out everything that their children are doing? Are the friends of the parents, or children, supposed to tell the parents what they see their children are doing? Should mentors, who're working with the parents, give parents, updates of their children's behavior?
The answer to these questions is that the parents' right to know should be based solely on what will be effective, or ineffective, for their children. Contrary to what many parents believe, they don't have an inherent right to know everything that their children are doing. This doesn't mean that they shouldn't find out what their children are doing. It means that this knowledge can be a double edged sword. It can be healing or damaging. What decides whether parents should, or should not know, depends on the individual circumstances, and whether the information will be used for good or bad.
In general, my advice to parents of mainstream children is the following: Children must believe that their parents trust them. If, for instance, they become aware that some of the things in their room have been moved, they'll understandably become upset. The knowledge that the parents may gain from looking through their children's room should be very significant, in order to validate losing their relationship with their children.
I believe that mainstream children deserve, and need, to be trusted. Parents need to keep their eyes open, but should not intrude into their children's private lives. Even when parents believe that there's a need to look around their room, they shouldn't let them know. This means that even when they find something wrong, or bad, in their children's room, it may be best to leave it there and deal with it at another time.
Sometimes it's dangerous for parents to know what their children are doing. Once children become aware that their parents know that they're doing something wrong, they'll react. Some children will limit their negative activities because they want to keep their parents' trust. If they believe that they've lost their parents trust, their behaviors may dramatically change for the worse. Other children, once they realize that their parents have "caught" them, become ashamed and give up trying to impress their parents. Still others will "shut down" in school and life.
Another reason it may be dangerous for parents to know what their children are doing, is because they can't put their children's activities in a proper perspective. Some parents would like their children to become Talmidei Chachomim; however, they see their children overly interested in sports. Although having a really strong focus on sports may limit an ability to be a true Talmid Chochom, nevertheless they must acknowledge to themselves that their children like sports. Acting on their disappointment can often cause more damage than the original disappointment.
Before parents decide to monitor what their children are doing, they should ask themselves what they'll do with the information. They frequently can't do anything with it. If that's the case, it may be better not to pursue their suspicions.
There are 3 categories of parents, each deserving a different amount of disclosure.
1) The effective parents. These are parents who'll know what to do with the information given to them. If they hear something troubling, they'll ask advice from Mechanchim on how to respond. They deserve almost total disclosure; almost, because after a certain point, offering more and more detail won't help the situation, and won't make the parents feel any better.
For instance, a mentor may become aware that the children are obsessed with the internet. Effective parents should be made aware of the problem, but telling them about every individual incident, how long it lasted, and to which sites they went, isn't offering any additional helpful information. It'll only succeed in causing them unnecessary pain. Instead, they should be made only aware of the degree of the problem (e.g. minor, average, or serious).
2) The well meaning but ineffective parents. These are sincere parents who lack the relationship and/or life skills to be a factor in their children's lives. These parents should be told enough to be comfortable that there are people who're dealing with the problem. By making them comfortable, they'll stay calm and not make the problem worse.
3) The counter-productive parents. There are no parents who believe that they're counter-productive, and therefore, even they believe that they're entitled to know as much as possible. However, anyone who believes that the parents will be counter-productive should be careful not to offer them any information that will damage the children or family. For instance, many parents who "suffocate" their children, still believe that they're responsible parents. Therefore, anyone who's aware that giving these parents information will cause them to have a negative reaction thereby causing the children to increase their negative behaviors, should not give them the information. In such cases, it's best to ask advice from experienced Mechanchim or mental health professionals.
My advice to all 3 groups of parents, particularly when dealing with non-mainstream, difficult, children, is that they should speak softly to their children the first time they do something wrong (e.g. coming home at 2:00 AM). The second time they should speak with more conviction, possibly even shouting. If their children still don't listen, they should close their "bedroom door", in order not to know about the negative behaviors taking place in their children's room, since they anyway, can't stop them.
The reason I believe that parents should "close their door" once they realize they can't stop their children, is because I know that parents can't always control their children. Becoming aware of their children's negative behaviors often causes parents to react. In many cases, the parents have no effective options, and reacting through their frustration and anger will only make things worse. Punishing the children will create resentment. Making rules that they won't enforce, will make them appear weak. From the parents perspective, knowing about their children's behaviors, makes them angry, hopeless, and less able to build, and sustain, relationships with their children. Therefore, it may be best for them not to know about their children's actions.
In general, parents need to lessen their need to know. They must realize that their children can think on their own, and that controlling them isn't possible. Knowing of their children's actions may help them guide their children, but too much information about them can be counterproductive. Once they have the information, the parents must react to that information with patience and wisdom.
To sign up for Rabbi Horowitz’s weekly emails, please click here.