In last week’s column, I included a risk assessment form designed to assist parents in evaluating their children. This week, I would like to spend some time discussing in greater detail some of the issues raised in the questionnaire, and share with you some of the thoughts from the teens that recently attended yeshivos/seminaries in Eretz Yisrael.
ACADEMIC SUCCESS AND LEARNING PROFILE:
Your child’s past academic success is an extremely important issue to consider when contemplating sending a child to Eretz Yisroel for the year.
In assessing appropriate school settings, you may wish to consider:
- Does your child have a track record of success in previous years in school?
- How is his/her attitude to studies?
- Are there any learning disabilities?
- Have you had any testing done in the past?
- Is it possible that there are learning disabilities that may have gone undiagnosed?
All of these factors should be considered in your decision-making process as you search to find the right program for your child. If your child has been learning well and is achieving success, it is, in theory, easier to find a program that is geared to his or her needs. If your child’s learning profile requires specific attention, it may be more challenging for you to find a program geared to his or her needs.
GETTING IN, OR GETTING ON
Very often, parents are (rightfully) anxious about the application and admission process and may be tempted to withhold information about learning issues regarding their child. Although this attitude may be entirely understandable, it is usually counterproductive. If you are worried that sharing this sensitive information may turn off potential schools, those schools are probably not right for your child. Bear in mind that getting your son or daughter in to a school is not the most important objective. Getting into a school where your child will thrive is what you should be considering. Placing your son or daughter in a school setting for which they simply are not equipped – or is not equipped for them – will often result in frustration and anxiety for your child and the faculty members. If your child has a specific learning profile and requires an educational program to address these needs, you will be well served to share this information with prospective schools.
Being 6,000 miles from home is a ‘trip’ in more ways than one. Having a child (especially a boy) who loves a ‘buzz’ (thrill) requires that you look very carefully at the level of supervision that he has while in Eretz Yisroel. Again, just bear in mind that this does not mean that you should not send a thrill-seeker, only that you send him to the right, well-supervised program – or perhaps defer his learning in Eretz Yisroel for a year or two. (I listed AGE as a risk factor – especially for boys, who tend to mature later and are at much greater risk for getting into trouble when unsupervised.)
A huge question for parents to address, primarily for boys, is what will our child do during his or her down time? Please be aware that there is a great deal of unstructured time – in the evenings, on weekends, and especially during bein hazemanim breaks such as Purim, the summer months, and around the Yomim Tovim. Your child will have blocks of time with little or no structured activity. Unless your son is a true masmid (diligent student) who learns every free moment, he will have lots of time on his hands.
I think it of great value for children to have healthy hobbies in their formative years, and opportunities for exercise. I also attribute the exponential growth in cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption among our teens partially to the lack of opportunities for early-and-often exercise in school and on the weekends. Children, especially boys, who do not have hobbies, play sports, or find healthy recreational activity are more likely, in my opinion, to engage in smoking, drinking, ‘clubbing’ or other dangerous activities. I therefore included a lack of hobbies as a risk factor. Which brings me to …
Sorry to be so blunt, but cigarette smoking is much more prevalent among our teenage boys then we would care to believe, and alcohol consumption is far, far too high. Don’t believe me? Don’t trust the other ‘talking heads’? Then, do your own homework.
Here are some ideas:
- Ask several teenage boys what percentage of their friends are smoking (I did, and the answers range from 20-50%, or more)
- Ask your local Hatzolah member how many calls he has responded to over the past 12 months due to teens ‘overdoing it’ with alcohol. (I have heard horror stories of teens who have become nearly comatose or beyond from alcohol overdoses due to hard, unsupervised drinking at ‘vort’s, weddings, and other parties.)
Obviously, these are exceptions rather than rules. Most of our sons and daughters are doing well or wonderfully is school. But we need to address these issues and realize that we are not immune to their ramifications.
Above all, please get to know your child before you consider sending him (or her) to Eretz Yisroel – where there is no legal drinking age, and cigarettes are available in vending machines.
From The Mouths of … Teens
Three years ago, when I wrote the columns in The Jewish Press about sending teens to Eretz Yisrael, I spent quite a bit of time interviewing a number of young men and women who recently spent time in yeshivos and seminaries in Eretz Yisroel. The people I spoke with range in age from 17 to 30, and run the gamut from high achievers to slightly-at-risk teens to recovering hard-core substance abusers. Their perspective should be required reading for all parents – and particularly those who will be sending their sons and daughters to Eretz Yisroel.
I was impressed with their candor and the thoughtfulness in which they grappled with the issues that I presented to them. There were hardly any glib responses or off-the-cuff comments. And even those who started with one-liners and banter settled in for reflective discussion after a moment or two. What was most striking about these conversations was the sense that the young men and women – almost every one of them – were agonizing over what I should be writing in these columns on the overall subject of sending post-high-school children to Eretz Yisroel. They all felt that there was great value in spending a year in Eretz Yisroel – for most of the kids. But they acknowledged that there are serious flaws in the current system that need to be addressed.
Almost all of the people I interviewed felt that:
- For most of the kids, it is a wonderful experience.
- Parents need to do their homework very, very carefully when selecting a yeshiva or seminary. Picking the right place is critical to the success – or failure of their child.
- Many or most 18 or 19 year-old boys are simply not equipped to deal with the challenges of unfettered freedom 6,000 miles from home.
- Some children spin completely out of control – especially during the first 3 months of their stay – while their parents are in blissful ignorance in the States (this seemed to be a recurring theme, the chill-out-until-Chanukah-then-settle-down ‘thing’).
- Parents should not wait until the year in Israel to straighten out their kids.
- Above all, everyone agreed (sorry, parents) that most parents are ‘clueless’ as to what is going on while their kids are away.
Some Random Comments:
- “Please don’t tell our parents not to send kids to Eretz Yisroel! So many kids do well there!”
- “The rebbeim (in some of the schools, primarily the ones who deal with at-risk kids) are in a tough spot, as the kids are ‘turned off.’ I’m not sure if that is a good idea for them to be so friendly with the kids, and ignore the ‘stuff’ they’re doing … but what else should they do; throw them out? Everyone did that that already and it didn’t work.”
- “There is no [legal] drinking age there; they don’t ‘card’ you (check your ID Y.H.) there at all.”
- “Kids want their parents to be involved in their lives.”
- “The kedushah of Eretz Yisroel and the positive emotions it engenders often complicates the decision-making process regarding to-go-or-not-to-go. (Would you consider sending your child to Southern California, for example, if you knew that he or she had a 3-week unstructured intersession, or an unsupervised Motzoei Shabbos each week? Y.H.)”
- “Parents often think the year in Eretz Yisroel will ‘straighten out’ their child, and point to the countless kids who in fact underwent profound change and growth during their stay in Israel. However, that is simply not always the case.”
- “I wouldn’t tell parents not to send kids since so many kids grow up and gain from the experience.”
- “Parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask tough questions (regarding the school placements).”
- “Boys are far more immature than the girls – for the most part”.
- “The opportunity to do things wrong is there – much more so than at home.”
- “You can get whatever drugs you want there.”
- “No kids under 17 should go under any circumstances.”
- “(Some) Kids are going to Israel knowing that they can get away with things there that they can never do at home.”
- “These things (substance abuse) happen to good families and good kids also.”
- “In the beginning, it is hard to tell (if someone is ‘using’), since the kids can keep it together at first.”
- “The nature of Israel experience is that there is lots of freedom. Kids need to be ready for that level of freedom. Parents need to prepare their children to behave responsibly without 24/7 supervision (Emphasis mine. YH).”
- “Schools in the States (in 11th and 12th grades) need to prepare the kids for the experience; to tell the kids about the growth possibilities – and the challenges.”
- “Schools must be involved in what goes on after hours.”
- “The prevailing attitude (in some of the schools is), ‘do whatever you want until Chanukah’, and then we will work with you.”
- “The onus [of responsibility] has to shift to the [Israeli] yeshivos; parents are 7 hours and 6,000 miles away, how could they know what is going on?”
- “Kids who come from homes where the parents didn’t let them to anything at all and were overprotective are the worst behaved once they get to Israel”.
© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
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