Our 12-year-old son is in 7th grade in a local yeshiva (there are quite a few yeshivos in our neighborhood) and not doing well at all.
We are considering changing his yeshiva mid-year as things are rapidly deteriorating. We are not asking for specific advice, as you do not know him (or us, for that matter). But can you help us by sharing with us which questions we ought to be asking and answering when making this difficult decision?
Rabbi Horowitz Responds
The past two columns discussed (here and here) discussed the following four questions parents ought to explore before making the decision to switch their child’s school setting:
- Which mechanech (educator) knows my child best?
- Which Rov knows our family best?
- Have we explored all possible reasons for our son’s lack of success in the current setting?
- Is the difficulty he is currently experiencing a one-year phenomenon or does it follow a pattern of poor performance over a number of years
This week, we will explore two more questions to consider.
- How well does our child adjust to change?
An extraordinarily important component of the school change matter is the social aspect. After all, attending school is far more than the X’s and O’s of what children learn in their Hebrew and General Studies classrooms. It is also about socialization – developing friendships and navigating the (what often seems like) minefields of personal relationships. When a child switches schools, it is a very, very big deal for him or her. I have found that parents often think in adult terms and mistakenly compare a child’s school change to an adult who is faced with the prospect of switching shuls or jobs. Not so. It is far more traumatic for a child to change school settings because at that age, peer pressure is so much stronger.
So, before you get into fourth gear and speed forward with the school change concept, I very strongly suggest that you think about your child’s adaptation to change in terms of a risk factor. Thus, if your child has a difficult time making friends, you should keep in mind that he or she is at a significant risk of not ‘making it’ in the new setting, which can be very painful and potentially undermine any educational gains realized by the move.
Often, parents will observe that their child is unhappy in the current setting and assume that the other children are to blame. That might be the case. Or it might be shortcomings in their own child’s social skills that are causing the friction. If the second scenario is the correct one; changing a socially awkward child to a new setting could prove to be an unmitigated disaster.
- Are we open – really open – to exploring the way we parent our children?
A friend of mine, who is a prominent mental health professional, often remarks that the vast majority of the people who come to his office do so because they don’t want to change, while only a small percentage of the people come because they really want to transform themselves. It took me a while to digest the sentiments he was expressing, but once I did, I found that comment to be a profound and powerful one.
When we experience difficulty in life; with co-workers, spouses or children, we tend to assume that the ‘significant others’ are always to blame for the discord. Rarely do we have the courage to turn inward and engage in the type of cheshbon hanefesh that will allow us to proactively improve things. That destructive pattern often kicks into overdrive when parents are confronted with significant problems regarding a pre-teen or teenage child. The result? Parents bring children to mechanchim or therapists with the mindset of people who bring broken appliances to customer service for repair.
My friend was expressing his frustration that most people come to him hoping that he can give them ‘pain relief’ from their difficult teenager – the type that will not require them to change. My friends, that doesn’t exist!
Having been on the receiving end of phone calls of this nature for more than 25 years, trust me when I inform you that the best thing that you can do as parents facing a school change for your child – or other variations of parenting challenges – is to take a few steps back and ask yourself, “What can we, as the adults in this equation, do differently to improve the schooling experience and quality of life for our child(ren)?”
In this particular case of school change; it means exploring some hard questions:
- Are we giving our children enough of our time?
- Should we severely curtail our social obligations for a few years while our kids need us during homework time?
- How are we responding to our child when he/she brings home a poor grade?
- Do we have unrealistic expectations?
- Should we consider going for professional counseling to help us raise this challenging child?
- (Warning: this is a tough one) Would we have the courage to do what may be right for our child even if it is not the ‘politically correct’ thing to do?
You see where I am going. Please, please be open to doing things differently than you have in the past. That does not mean that you are doing things ‘wrong’ now. But it does mean that you ought to be open to positive change, as that is the best shot you have to improve things.
You know what they say, “If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you are likely to keep getting what you’ve been getting.”
(Continued next week)
© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
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