On the Derech
One by one, people were filing in to a parenting class I was about to deliver a number of years ago. I was standing near the doorway, greeting them as they entered. On a whim, I randomly stopped a few attendees, introduced myself, and asked them what they were hoping to gain from the workshop.
A charming twenty-something Chassidic fellow pushing a baby carriage containing a newborn child floored me with his response. “Rabbi,” he said, “My son is two months old. Just tell me what I should do so [that] he doesn’t go off the derech.” And he wasn’t kidding.
That comment reflects the deepest fear that parents have nowadays – that their adorable child might c’has v’shalom (G-d forbid) morph into an unruly teenager who veers off the path (derech is Hebrew for path) to a successful life, abandons Yiddishkeit, and falls into a sub-culture of antisocial and self-destructive behavior.
Truth be told, the question that young man posed is one I am often asked, albeit in less stark terms, due to my work with underachieving teens over the past thirty years. And while there certainly is no single correct answer to the question of why kids go “Off the Derech,” patterns of specific circumstances and parental behaviors are identifiable as significant risk factors for children to eventually join the ranks of the disenfranchised and dysfunctional.
With that in mind, I decided to put pen to paper (or rather fingers to keyboard) and run a series of essays identifying things parents can do to give their children the very best chance to succeed in school and life. I will do my best to keep things positive and concentrate on practical advice rather than dwelling on the destructive behaviors that lead kids astray. Nevertheless, despite the gentle tone of these lines, keep in mind that the inverse of the items listed below are enormous risk factors for your kids. In other words, these essays are not wistful thinking of what the perfect home should look like, but rather a polite way of informing you of the terrible, often permanent damage that can occur when we ignore them.
Please find below my list of “Ten Things Parents Can Do to Keep Their Children on the Derech,” listed in order of importance.
In the weeks and months ahead, I intend to write at least one essay for each item below amplifying the theme and offering practical tips and suggestions. There is no doubt in my mind that I will amend and re-order this “Top Ten” list before the conclusion of this series of essays, and I hope it can serve as a springboard for reflection and discussion.
I welcome your thoughts on these critical matters and it is my hope that these essays will help you raise your children so they grow to be proud, committed Jews who realize their fullest potential.
“Top Ten Things Parents Can do to Keep Their Children on the Derech,”
1. Belong to a kehila with a Rov who can guide you, and live spiritual, meaningful and inspired lives where you are true role models for your children.
2. Create a happy and nurturing home environment; avoid corporal punishment and refrain from sending them to settings where it is condoned.
3. Spend quality time and nurture your relationships with your children and seek help should you find yourself exuding negative energy with them.
4. Be flexible – treat them as individuals and allow them to chart their own course in life.
5. Protect them from abuse and molestation.
6. Live in a forbearing community where the members have good Torah values and guide your children to develop friendships with peers who have good middos and share those values.
7. Provide them with a good and broad-based education – in Judaic and general studies.
8. “Stay in the Game” – never give up on them no matter how bumpy the road educationally or socially, and professionally identify and address any learning disabilities.
9. See to it that your values and those of their schools are consistent and maintain congruence between your words and deeds.
10. See that they exercise (very) often and have varied hobbies and interests.
And … always and above all, daven to Hashem for siyata dishmaya.