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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is a very familiar name in Orthodox schools and households across the country. As founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and founder and director of Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services), he is recognized as an authority on raising children in these challenging times. The Adath Israel community had a first-hand opportunity to benefit from his bold and insightful words during four separate addresses over Shabbat Parshat Teruma last week.

The Shabbat night oneg, titled “‘Whatever’: Understanding and Explaining the Adolescent Years,” was well-attended by a crowd poised to hear the sage advice of Rabbi Horowitz about the new realities of raising children in a fast-paced, demanding and information-saturated society. He addressed the shocking level and frequency of substance abuse in schools and yeshivas, and implored upon educators and parents to raise their antennas to the subtle undertones that can be indicators of a child’s involvement with drugs and alcohol. He clarified that one of the biggest obstacles to open communication between children and parents or educators/administrators is the students’ belief that adults do not understand the pressure they are under in life or the peer pressure they feel to participate in substance use. Horowitz explained that students hesitate to be honest with parents and teachers for fear of being exposed, demeaned and punished. This obstacle to communication is pervasive among students and extends beyond substance abuse. It is a major source of the fracture in communication and trust that can grow between children and adults, and exacerbates the issues when it is not addressed.

As the day progressed, Horowitz spoke again, this time extending to “parents who ‘get it.’” He described numerous scenarios in which parents think they are listening to their children, but they are not actually “hearing” what’s being expressed. Children who feel their parents don’t get it will categorically eliminate them as an option for dialogue. The old adage that “children should be seen and not heard” has fostered many parent-child relationship troubles, and has even driven children away from observant Judaism.

When children do not feel threatened by unwarranted or trumped-up punitive measures, or a judgmental approach to the issue, they will feel increased trust and confidence in their parents, albeit sometimes expressed in less-than-polite terms. He emphasized that most children would actually prefer to talk to their own parents, and want their support. However, when experience has taught them that the cost exceeds the benefit, they will inevitably shut out the parents and turn elsewhere: to peers, other trusted adults or even drugs.

He described to the audience how to “hear” what kids are saying, especially when they are “testing out the waters.” This test is designed to ferret out the safety of revealing substance abuse or other sensitive issues to the parent.

Horowitz left the AI community with a sense of hope and updated focal skills by providing perspective on what needs the careful attention of parents. He offered evidence-based, realistic and often tough approaches to the awareness that good and loving parents must bring to the task of raising healthy children safely, and to the communication needs between kids and parents in today’s complicated world.

Rabbi Horowitz is the author of two books, “Growing With the Parsha” and “Living and Parenting,” along with a host of audio-visual materials on parenting. He can be reached at Yeshiva Darchei Noam at 845-352-7100.

By Ellie Wolf