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Monday, February 27, 2006

Teens at Risk

My pal SephardiLady has an interesting post up about the "teens at risk" issue, and the coverage of the issue in a Jewish publication. She points out that the articles in the magazine say all of the right things, such as preventing pushing teens away from Orthodox Judaism by not being too rigid in our expectations, and not demanding the high level of conformity that has been the norm in certain segments of the Orthodox world. I put a comment in her comment thread that is on something I've been mulling for a while:

Let me preface my statement by saying that I think that the openness with which the Orthodox world has begun to discuss the "teens at risk" issue can only be seen a positive development. That said, I still have to wonder if all this frequent and open discussion about the topic has actually removed much of the stigma from "going off the derech". When I was growing up, there was much more emotional baggage involved in stepping away from the community. There was no popular term to describe it (the "at risk" designation), people didn't have regular meetings and lectures to discuss being supportive of those teens who might be heading in that direction, the Jewish publications didn't address it in every issue. A friend of mine who has a teenaged daughter said that she sees a tremendous amount of defiance in her daughter and her daughters friends when they push the envelope of the guidelines their parents set for them. My friend says it's almost as if their attitude is "I'm at risk, the Rabbis say not to alienate me, whaddaya gonna do about it?". And the conventional wisdom these days is NOT to ratchet up the level of strictness, as opposed to how it would have been twenty years ago. I don't doubt that that attitude is well-advised, as I'm sure ratcheting up the restrictions would push these teens further away. But again, I wonder if all this acceptance and discussion has only made it a more, rather than less attractive way to attempt a teenage rebellion.

Now as I said in my comment, I still think that open discussion is essential to dealing with issues that affect the community such as this one. But I wonder if all of this open discussion and seeming acceptance of the actions of teens who are straying from the limits set by their parents, while the only way to deal with the problem, is just making this kind of rebellion less and less risky an option for Orthodox teens. If there is no fear of parental or educator disapproval, then that is one less deterrant.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think high demand is good, just on substance issues and not on superficial crap. You can't blame a kid for rebelling when he is kicked out of school for wearing pants that are only 80% wool and not 100 - which is much more important than turning the cheek if he gets a 50 on a histroy exam.

"At Risk" was euphamism invented by the educators and parents to clean up the messes they made all by themselves.

10:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post! This is the affirmative action of our community. Nothing like lowering the bar to raise the grades. Lower the expactations, and of course there is no longer a problem, right?, Wrong, all it does is start a downward spiral.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Charlie Hall said...

WADR, we aren't there yet. Most of the frum world is still in denial about the existence of a problem.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Ger Tzadik said...

Kids will always seek ways to rebel, there's no "encouraging" it...they just rebel in whatever way they can identify with and that they think will annoy their parents most. Some will do so by becoming MORE relgious than their parents, for example, in a way that might irk them. It's never a matter of preventing rebellion, it's about letting them rebel on YOUR terms if you can manage it. (Easier said than done, like most things in life.)

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>>>as opposed to how it would have been twenty years ago

What might have worked in the 80's would not work today as society is much different. That said, it seems that there are so many contributing factors to teenage rebellion (home, school, friends, etc) that I don't think raising awareness and all the discussion has done that much. As a high school teacher, I do feel, however, that a kid who has the attitude of "I'm at risk...whaddaya gonna do about it" is just trying to manipulate the adults in his/her world!!

12:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was in yeshiva ,these kids were given the lovely appelation "BUM".

12:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. interesting take on the whole phenomenon. I would have to agree that everywhere you look these days, you read ort hear about "teens at risk".

1:06 PM  
Blogger Orthonomics said...

Hey Orthomom--I might as well paste the comment I left in regards to your comment at Orthonomics.
Fascinating comment Orthomom. I have to wonder if the trend of acceptance mirrors that of the general society. I know that growing up, if I or my friends had pushed the limits of acceptable behavior (returning late at night, e.g.) there would have been a lot less acceptance and a lot more punishment.

I think there should be room in the frum community to find one's own (Shomer Shabbat) path. I think we need to let parents and teachers know that it is acceptable for a child to have aspirations that differ from their parents' and Rebbeim's aspirations. But, in my eyes, anti-social behavior is just unacceptable and I'm much more likely to yell and scream at a kid that walks in at the break of day, rather than offer him or her a cup of tea.

1:22 PM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

I certainly think this take is counterintuitive yet interesting. I have no doubt that the "at risk" meme is used as a fall back by some but at this point we are better off erring on the acceptance/discussion etc. side of things. As charliehall said, we aren't there yet. The stakes are too high.

2:04 PM  
Blogger kasamba said...

Orthomom; first let me say that it's an absolute pleasure to read your blog, you are undeniably the most eloquent blogger I've ever read!
I agree with GerTzadik about letting kids rebel on your terms. Plus, i think that Krum hit the nail on the head by saying that the stakes are too high.
I think the way to balance things is to go ballastic on the BIG stuff and not on stupididty like the configuration of a pair of pants.

3:41 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Wow, kasamba, thanks for your too-kind words!

I agree with everyone that we've definitely made a breakthrough when it comes to the open discussion about this, and I tried to make that clear in my comments. Still, the anecdotal evidence I hear and see around me makes me wonder if all of the hype has made "going off the derech" sound too aceptable and enticing to our teens. Just a thought.

5:51 PM  
Blogger Orthonomics said...

I really like the idea of rebelling on your terms. That was certainly the situation that my parents set up. My idea of rebelling was secretly listening to FM radio.

I hope that we will be able to be flexible enough to not stifle development and strict enough to help our children understand the difference between right and wrong, as well as wrong and really wrong.

9:44 PM  
Blogger Ger Tzadik said...

SephardiLady: That's what my folks did as well. They let me get away with stuff my friends could never do, because they recognized that I wouldn't do things they REALLY disapproved of unless I was told not to. It was a delicate balacing act, but they were always in control...I just never quite realized it.

12:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that the term "kids at risk" is a cute catch phrase. It absolves parents of some responsibility because they have a "teen at risk."

I think there is a lot of confusion between anti-social behavior and frumkeit issues. It's rebellious to wear a colored shirt, it's anti-social and out of bounds to go to bars or come back at dawn. Rebelliousness is the job of any good teenager, anti-social behavior needs strict boundaries and no funding from mommy's purse.

I think part of the problem is there is no distinction in the use of the term if the kid has a different haircut or are on drugs. There is rigidity when there should be flexibility and flexibility when there should be boundaries after trust and respect are gone.

6:03 PM  
Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

There are some yeshivot in Israel which are very successful at letting kids rebel on the yeshiva's terms.

At the Otniel hesder yeshiva, for example, you can find 18 year olds with long hair, ponytails, no hair, and the most painfully appearing facial piercings.

Yet, they love it there, and the open atmosphere apparently works wonders.

Interestingly enough, I heard last night from my cousin that the majority of teens who go off the derech as teenagers, find themselves back on the derech soon enough.

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