Dear Rabbi Horowitz:
Please don’t take this wrong, but my husband and I often wonder if parenting really matters. With all the talk nowadays about at-risk teens, we would like to know your thoughts on the roles parents play in avoiding these problems with their children.
We are both in our mid-twenties and have two lovely children. Many of our friends are very involved in parenting our children, as we are. We go to parenting classes, read books on the subject and we consider ourselves hands-on parents. Our greatest wish in life is to raise spiritual, well-adjusted children and we feel that we need to study parenting to give our children the best chance to succeed.
Some of our friends, however, ridicule our efforts and say that they seemed to have turned out just fine without their parents’ active involvement. They point out how many of our mutual friends who grew up in challenging homes became great adults, despite their background – and that many excellent parents seem to have trouble with their kids despite their efforts. They seem to imply that we are neurotic and that we ‘need a life.’
My husband and I feel that our children are our life.
Adults have a difficult time understanding and conceptualizing Hashem. As much as we strive to understand Him and emulate His ways – comprehending His Shechina (Divine Presence) is an elusive task. If understanding Him is a difficult challenge for adults, imagine how impossible it is for children.
I hate to ‘spook’ you, Goldie, but you and your husband are the closest things that your children have to understanding Hashem. Permit me to repeat that thought in other words:
Children usually understand Hashem in terms of their impression of – and their relationship to – their parents.
A child who grows up with nurturing, loving parents in an environment of shalom bayis and mutual respect will, in all likelihood, perceive Hashem as a benevolent Father, one who is approachable through tefilah and who sees the good in His children.
My great rebbi, Rabbi Avrohom Pam, z’l, who modeled derocheha darchei noam (The path [of Torah] is one of pleasantness; see Mishlei 3:18 for context) every moment of his life, often said, “Hatzlocha mit kinder (success with one’s children) is 50% shalom bayis, and 50% tefilla.”
Children who are raised in an atmosphere of strife and discord, on the other hand, are far more likely to develop an intense distrust of authority figures. They harbor a simmering rage at an adult world that cannot seem to get its act together and provide them with a peaceful environment.
Your friends may be correct that some children from challenging homes turn into outstanding adults (and visa versa). But these individuals are the exception rather than the rule. And, as well adjusted as they may seem on the surface, many of these adults carry the scars of the poor parenting they received throughout their lives. In fact, it is not uncommon that the poor home environment, almost like a recessive gene, gets passed on to the next generation, as these seemingly stable individuals act out on their insecurities and parent their own children poorly.
Good parenting skills do not always result in wonderful children. And some children just seem to be ‘born difficult’. Effective parenting, however, can significantly improve the likelihood that a challenging child will grow into a well-adjusted, productive adult.
If dealing with the at-risk teen population for over two decades has taught me anything, it is that “Parenting Matters.” Serious, reflective parenting, where fathers and mothers give thought to what they say and do with regard to their children. Educated parenting; by engaged fathers and mothers who have the devotion and resolve to learn about parenting and to grow in their most sacred responsibility. And perhaps, most importantly, involved parenting; where children are given the message that they are the most important core value in the lives of their parents.
I would strongly suggest that you (and your skeptical friends) take the time to carefully review some of the excellent research done by the prestigious CASA; The Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse (click here to review all their studies) over the past fourteen years on the correlation between involved parenting and the dramatically reduced risk of teen smoking, drinking, promiscuous activity and drug use. The Center was initially founded to combat drug use. However, over the years, as the association between solid parenting and drug avoidance became more evident, they turned a major focus of their activities into promoting responsible parenting. In fact, the ubiquitous “Parenting – The Anti-Drug” ad campaign came as a direct result of their findings.
Here are some samples from their excellent studies. (Click on the links for free access to the full text of the voluminous and eye-opening studies.) The September 2003 study found that “the number of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 [taking drugs] who have regular family dinners drops by 50 percent [even] as their substance abuse risk increases sevenfold [as they grow through their teen years]. The survey demonstrates the importance of regular family dinners, finding that, compared to teens who have family dinners twice a week or less, teens who have dinner with their families five or more nights in a week are 32 percent likelier never to have tried cigarettes, 45 percent likelier never to have tried alcohol, and 24 percent likelier never to have smoked pot. A recent September 2006 survey found similar results, where, “Teens who have infrequent family dinners (two or fewer per week) are twice as likely to smoke daily and get drunk monthly, compared to teens that have frequent family dinners (at least five per week).
The July 1999 study found that, “Too many dads are uninvolved in the battle to keep kids drug free and this increases their teens risk of substance abuse. Children who have a fair or poor relationship with their father are at 68% higher risk of smoking, drinking and using drugs.
As you peruse the studies, keep in mind that although drug use in our community is far lower than in the general population, one can certainly extrapolate the matter of substance abuse to other negative and/or destructive tendencies in our teens. And, if you really think that our children are completely immune from the ravages of teen smoking, drinking, promiscuous activity and drug use, I have a bridge to sell you. With a hechsher, of course.
I would also suggest that you read the excellent and bold columns Begining the Healing Process and The Role of Parents by Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin s’hlita on the direct correlation between [poor] parenting and at-risk teen behavior. He passionately and eloquently debunks the notion that there is no link between troubled teens and poor parenting. His columns, available on his website, www.drsorotzkin.com, should be required reading for all parents in our community.
Dr. Sorotzkin is an accomplished talmid chacham, as a review of his brilliant columns on Bechira Chofshis and The Pursuit of Perfection will reveal. He is also, in my opinion, one of the top frum, clinical psychologists in the world. Dr. Sorotzkin has helped many hundreds of frum children regain their footing and resume the path to successful lives. His eloquent words ought to be taken very seriously.
To sum up, Goldie, I commend you and your husband for your devotion to your sacred role as the parents of your children.
There are no guarantees in this business of parenting and raising children. But I can almost assure you that your involvement and investment in the lives of your kids will reap huge benefits for them – and for you. After all, your children will draw upon the lessons you have taught them about the primacy of family and the importance of involved parenting as they raise your grandchildren one day, with the help of Hashem.
© 2006 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
P.S. You may wish to review some articles that I published on these [related] topics: Shalom Bayis, Purim and Drinking I , Purim and Drinking II , The Jewish CASA. I hope that you find them of interest – and helpful. YH.