How to keep your kids on the derech

Yasher Koach to Off The D for finding this one and giving me the idea to formulate some responses to the following article by Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz (who I had the pleasure to meet and complimented me for my work at trying to convince the frum community that it takes itself too seriously). Of course I don’t see eye to eye with the guy all of the time, but for a frum Rabbi he’s actually kind of open minded and writes some interesting stuff.On the Derech:

My comments are in Italics

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.

There are so many things wrong with this mindset, and the assumptions in this paragraph. For example, the frum community thinks that anyone who leaves the path of orthodoxy, must be a teenager when in fact most of the folks I know who choose to leave are much older than that.

I shouldn’t even comment on that line about leading a successful life, this is just plain old stupid and kind of ironic when you think about it. So people who choose not to keep shabbos and eat pork are self destructive and anti-social? I guess having access to 99-cent meals could lead to obesity and not keeping shabbos ups your odds of being killed in a car accident. Come to think of it, if one would play video games and blog on shabbos, they wouldn’t be getting drunk at kiddush clubs and socializing. It makes no sense, if you could go out on Friday night, eat out with co-workers and not be seen as an outsider – it seems that it would actually make you more social.

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.

What’s interesting to note is that many of my friends who have struggled with faith are not underachieving, rather they are of the intellectual ilk, most of the folks I know who struggle with staying on the derech are of the well read (they hid their Nietzsche and Kant in the mattress in their Lakewood dorm) Do frum people really have the right to call those who leave the path dysfunctional? Most frummies are dysfunctional by nature, it seems that everyone is dysfunctional, frummies just keep an iron fist hold on the thoughts and beliefs of their own.

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.

But success doesn’t necessarily mean that they will choose the religious practices they grew up with.

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.

I was beat up by the old man and I didn’t turn out too bad.

3. Spend quality time and nurture your relationships with your children and seek help should you find yourself exuding negative energy with them.

Quality time doesn’t mean hanging out in the pizza shop or forcing your son to learn with you.

4. Be flexible – treat them as individuals and allow them to chart their own course in life.

But what if they choose for themselves to leave the path that you have chosen for yourselves? Do you send them to Niveh with the hope that 3 years of partying and drug use in Israel with former drug addicts turned Rabbis will make them see the light?

5. Protect them from abuse and molestation.

Shouldn’t this be kind of obvious?

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.

So, basically you have to move out of New York…

7. Provide them with a good and broad-based education – in Judaic and general studies.

Take them out of yeshiva now!

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.

What happens if they go off the derech? Do we still foster the relationship or abandon them to the forces of secularism?

9. See to it that your values and those of their schools are consistent and maintain congruence between your words and deeds.

Is this possible? I heard that The Heshel School is kind of like this, but they don’t wear black velvet, how can we send our son there?

10. See that they exercise (very) often and have varied hobbies and interests.

Wow, I think I just found my new Rav, last time I checked, hobbies were only permitted during bein hazmanim.

And … always and above all, daven to Hashem for siyata dishmaya.