Investing in Our Children
By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
A RANGE OF SOLUTIONS
The time has come for us to outline some of the initiatives that we will need to take in order to address the broader issues that I have been raising over the past few months. I think it is most helpful to think of solutions to these matters as a continuum – ranging from the education of primary-school-age children all the way across to addressing the needs of young adults who have succumbed to the ravages of substance abuse.
It is interesting to note – and perhaps counterintuitive – that there is far more in the way of services, attention and programs for those at the far end of the spectrum than is available for prevention and early intervention. It is certainly a positive development that there is a transitional living /life-rehab facility that assists teenage boys to regain their footing and lead healthy, productive lives (Home Sweet Home, 718-902-6666); and substance abuse facilities (Yatzkan Center, 888-715-9656, WWW.YATZKAN.ORG) for addicted children. As one who has publicly and passionately advocated in favor of services for our wayward children for nearly ten years, I have the highest regard for these programs and their lifesaving work. They – and their dedicated staff members – are worthy of our continued support.
… AND ACTING
The time has come, however, for us to be more strategic in our planning for the needs of our precious children. Firefighters are our heroes, but preventing fires is far wiser then fighting them. We are spending millions of dollars annually to rescue our children from burning buildings, but not nearly enough money and energy on smoke detectors – the preventative programs that can help avoid these tragedies. Proactive and preventative programs to combat substance abuse are far more successful and certainly more cost-effective than treating teenagers who have become hard-core ‘users’. The cost for one year of detox and rehab at a licensed facility is often $80,000 or more! Even if we factor out the horrible anguish of the parents, grandparents, siblings and extended family members of the addicted child (and the pain and confusion of the teenager him or herself) a simple financial analysis would suggest that prevention is the wiser approach.
We must engage in a paradigm shift and throw our passion and energy into proactive action that will create healthy living habits for our sons and daughters. This type of thinking – and action – needs to begin today. We do not have the luxury of sitting back and waiting for things to happen. Not while even one of our children is getting arrested for pushing drugs or dying of an overdose, r’l.
A TIME FOR VISION – AND ACTION
We will discuss several areas where initiatives can possibly be taken and attitudes adjusted:
- Recreational opportunities
- Training for educators
- Parenting initiatives
We must declare – early and often – that smoking and hard drinking are simply unacceptable. Parents and educators need to model responsible behavior at all times. The argument can be made that limited, responsible consumption of wine and liquor teaches children how to drink in moderation. But there is simply no place for hard drinking at shul simchos, kiddushim, or yeshiva chagigos. Period. Parents and community members should inform bartenders at simchos that they are expected to ‘card’ the kids (check their ID’s) before serving them alcohol.
As for smoking, we cannot operate under the assumption that our kids will not be tempted by the lure of the ‘Marlboro Mentch.’ We should be seriously considering developing and integrating Health Curricula in our Yeshivos and Beis Yaakovs that would include information about the importance of healthy eating habits and exercise – and ills of smoking and drinking. Many published studies have demonstrated the value of these messages. Additionally, we must absolutely forbid faculty members of our schools from smoking in the presence of our impressionable children.
RECREATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES – IN OUR COMMUNITIES AND SCHOOLS
There is an acute shortage of pools and exercise facilities in the Greater New York Area. Our children do not have enough access to healthy exercise and recreational opportunities. It is wonderful that we have created drop-in centers for boys and girls who are not doing well in school and need kosher, supervised recreation. But why are our mainstream boys and girls not worthy of similar opportunities? Allow me to frame the issue a bit differently. What are our teens supposed to do on a long Motzoei Shabbos during the winter? We are well within our rights to forbid them from frequenting establishments that do not meet our standards. But if we do not provide them with decent alternatives, we are dramatically increasing the likelihood that they will get into trouble. To use a sports metaphor, the best defense is a good offense. In football or basketball that means that if your team has the ball, the other team cannot score. In this instance, that means that when a child is engaged in productive and kosher activity, he/she cannot be involved in activities and we will all regret.
© 2003 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
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