In a continuing effort to get to know our wonderful mechanchim and hear their opinions about important issues and concerns facing our school aged children, this week’s panel was asked the following question:
To what extent should we allow our children to work through their social issues without parental involvement?
Rabbi Daniel Price, Head of School, Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey
We are told in Tehillim (24:16), “Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again.” Chazal explain that what helped this individual achieve this status of “righteous man” was the fact that he fell several times and was given the opportunity to get back up. It can be understood that the very experience of the falling is what allowed for and precipitated his growth to occur, ultimately leading to his development into a righteous individual.
In today’s uncertain world of bombings, terrorist attacks and child predators, we, as parents, have an obvious need to become more vigilant and protective of our children’s physical well being and safety. In a world where we have so little control over the known and unknown evils facing our children, we yearn for a sense of security. We have a desire and obligation to shield our children from all dangers and threats. We must differentiate however, between real physical danger, and challenges which are presented to their emotional and social development.
There are more “Helicopter parents” now, as many parents are over-parent and over-protect their children, ready to swoop in at any moment to save their children from any potential threats. We must recognize that over-shielding our children from social, emotional and educational bumps in the road can actually do more damage than good.
Instances which were once described as “building character” have now been replaced with concerns that the child’s self-esteem “will be destroyed.” Opportunities to expand a child’s horizon and challenge him or her have been replaced with concerns that he or she might fail and there’s hesitancy to even try.
If we limit our children’s independence, there is less of a chance that they will be willing to take risks and develop into more confident people. By over-parenting we are sending our children the message that they are helpless and fragile, and need to run to us for assistance.
Tamar Appel, Assistant Principal for Academic Life, Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls
I assume that the question we are asked relates to scenarios that do not involve abusive behavior.
People of all ages can benefit from advice when they seek it from trusted family and friends. I think that parents can be helpful when their children ask for assistance with difficult social situations by offering them emotional support, gentle guidance or productive questions that lead them to develop coping strategies. Becoming more thoroughly involved in these situations, though, may be less helpful. In general, the more experience children have in working through challenging social situations independently, the better skilled they will be in this area.
A parental instinct to shield children from the emotional vulnerability that characterizes these experiences is understandable. The potential pitfall of parents’ direct involvement is that this approach may communicate to children that they are defenseless and require such shields, and that they are incapable of navigating their own paths through circumstances that make them feel uncomfortable or weak. Allowing children to handle these situations on their own can project the more encouraging message that they have the resources and maturity to do s0.
This can result in a successful resolution to conflict that be different than it would have with parental involvement, but is equally satisfying. While that would be a positive outcome, I think that even exposure to social tensions that are not resolved comfortably can teach children that they have the resilience that is necessary for living with uneasiness and making adjustments to their outlooks (or friendships). In general, when we as parents (or as educators) intervene in these types of scenarios, we are being compassionate and protective, but we are not expressing the confidence in our children (or our students) that they need to know we feel.
Compiled by P’nina Seplowitz