This article made me take a good hard look at the situation that was so prevalent in my teen years, and even more so now.Equal time: Giving our daughters a chanceThe following is an article By Rabbi Shmuel Gluck. Rabbi Gluck is Director of Areivim, an organization that offers our youth advice and assistance, with a wide array of support systems. This article is syndicated with the express permission of Rabbi Gluck. Teens: Rabbi Gluck welcomes your emails.
In the last few years there has been recognition that more is needed for the non-performing teenagers. This has resulted in an explosion of new Yeshivas, diverse programs, and various organizations. I believe that these efforts are bearing fruit. Teenagers today are being listened to and offered alternatives that only a few years ago were considered unacceptable.
Consider the following: 25 years ago there were about four yeshivas that dealt with the non mainstream Yeshiva bochur. These Yeshivas were still set up with the same framework as that of a typical Yeshiva. The only concession made was in recognizing that their talmidim might not be able to pay attention for long periods of time.
Today, there are dozens of programs for boys. If we consider those Yeshivas in Eretz Yisroel, there must be close to 100 schools or programs designed for the atypical student. I have heard that recently a boys culinary school opened in Eretz Yisroel.
Our mechanchim are not the only ones to recognize the need for alternative schooling. Todays parents have come to accept that some children will not conform to any yeshiva program. Parents today are doing their best to accommodate their children with chavrusos and other innovative ideas based within the home itself.
With all the attention given to teenage boys it becomes somewhat of a wonder that 15 years ago, to my knowledge, there were still no alternative programs for the non typical Bais Yakov student. Today there are still less than 10 alternative programs for girls in existence. If we include the small out of town schools which, although mainstream, are often excellently suited for the non-city type girl, the number increases to a little more than a dozen possible options.
The sad truth is that todays teenage girls have a more difficult time than most boys. They carry guilt, anger, and confusion more intensely than boys do. Boys have fun and forget about it. For girls, it is more often a search for meaning. Each struggle, whether victorious or not, becomes deeply ingrained within their souls.
Girls different motivations are clear to those who work with our teenagers. Teenage girls, particularly those that are searching for answers that they find so elusive, take to poetry, art, and other forms of self-_expression. In speaking to teenage girls I have found their emotional needs and their emotional scars dramatically more severe. Even years later, after they appear happily married with their own families; there remains an internal need to purge themselves from their younger acts. To them no past deed is trivial and every thought is in need of a therapeutic response.
I do not assume that all, or even most, suffering children are inherently always in the right. My intention is to convey to the reader how deeply the teenage girl is trapped in her confusion, unhappiness and with her many internal conflicts.
Girls are confused. It is true that much of their confusion is the result of their wanting to cross boundaries, yet we must still accept the responsibility of providing them with a direction in life. We must also bring to life our views explaining as much to them as we can. If we find ourselves deficient, then we must look to others to fill this void.
After many long talks with parents and their daughters, I believe that I have gained a better understanding into their minds and insecurities and as a result have developed an approach that I would like to share in this article.
Todays generation is way too busy. B■H the average family is significantly larger than it was 20 years go. These larger families naturally result in less time for each child. Many in our community may at times become overly concerned with possessions and our social status. This too distracts us from our most important treasure; our children.
The effect of all this is that many of us find ourselves too distracted, limiting our ability to mechanech our children. We have become numbed by the endless deadlines and numerous responsibilities that confront us daily. We find ourselves constantly reacting to emergencies. We are in a mental coma, and many of us can no longer properly anticipate our children needs until it is too late.
Many have found that we are not asking enough important questions, such as ⌠What is going through my daughters mind lately? Is she happy? Does she have questions or insecurities that I should be paying attention to? Instead, the immense pressures in our lives cause us to let things slide as long as we possibly can.
Unfortunately, allowing things to slide also allows things to build up until they reach epidemic proportions. Tzinius, substance abuse, and chilul Shabbos are a few of them. It is the boys rebellion, though, that most often jars us into action. They rebel in a loud attention grabbing manner. Girls, however, rebel in a way that is more often directed internally and is not felt by others.
A parent cannot ignore the son who has just been arrested. A parent can ignore the daughter who has not been herself for the last few months.
About two years ago Areivim opened a hotline for teenagers. I personally respond to the large majority of calls. I have noticed a dramatic difference between the calls that come from boys than from girls. The boys are in trouble and want to know how to get out of it. Sometimes they are feeling guilty and would like me to somehow remove the guilt. Most calls, in general, are the result of a dramatic incident.
This is clearly in contrast to the calls that I have received from the majority of teenage girls. I would listen to their explanation of why they were upset with a teacher, a parent, a friend, or a roommate. I initially felt that I was wasting my time. It all seemed so trivial. Then I reconsidered. Here were teenage girls calling a total stranger. Why? This call must be important to them. There must be a compelling reason for them to overcome the natural tendency to not share personal feelings with strangers.
These experiences made me rethink my preconceived ideas about our teen age daughters, and therefore my approach to kiruv with our teenage daughters. Maybe girls dont need 100 different schools. Maybe they dont need a school that teaches crafts instead of math two. Maybe todays teenage girls just need someone to talk to, either anonymously or in person. Teenage girls, more than boys, need an e-mail or phone partner. All they need is someone to talk to late at night when they are unsure about tomorrow.
There is no doubt that many of our mentor discussions concern the big issues. I speak to 15 year old girls about not speaking to boys. I help 17 year olds try to put their lives together again. I help 18 year olds decide on the right seminary. 19 year old girls are looking for approval for their prospective choson. In these last few years I find myself also discussing parenting with the same boys and girls who, just a few years before, couldnt understand why their parents should have the right to have any say in their own lives.
Other times though, it is difficult to pinpoint the purpose of our discussions. What is clear is that someone should take the time to listen, show empathy, although not necessarily agreement, and when needed, offer practical and effective suggestions.
Sadly, few people today take the time to listen, advise, and encourage them into real growth. This is unfortunate because teenage girls need much less of our magic than boys do, making their needs something that should be easily available.
Although a real need does exist for alternative schools this is not our most urgent battle front. Instead schools are training their teachers to recognize the first hints of confusion and disenchantment. Almost a year ago an experienced teacher commented to me that, Most teachers dont look to see what is behind our students eyes. Even if we notice the sadness within them we do not know what to do. Today the school has begun to adapt to this challenge.
It might be the time to ask our teachers, particularly those who have recently come back from Eretz Yisroel, to humanize themselves a little more to their students. Structure is essential yet so is the expressing of our human side. Difficult, yet not impossible, this two pronged approach must become the standard of success within our Bais Yakov teachers.
There are already many such committed mechanecheses. Many teachers recognize the individuality of each student and have taken upon themselves one student as a special project. Other teachers feel that they are not able to undertake a student, and search for a former teacher, or an affiliated big sister. Often a mentor with true Torah hashkofo as well one who has an appreciation of the schools philosophy is assigned to this girl.
Equally important is the need to help our teachers learn to articulate the widely accepted and only recently challenged halochos of our Bnos Yisroel. It is ironic that because certain Halachas and minhagim has been so widely accepted within our schools and homes that many of us, even our teachers, have forgotten how to explain its source, its halachic guidelines, its chumros, and more importantly, the beauty of these mitzvos.
I would like to conclude by confirming that: mi kamcho Yisroel. Klal Yisroel continuously adapts to each nisoin presented to us during our long golus. Most recently we have learned to understand our teenage sons and are making headway in that area. Certainly we are just as capable of offering our daughters the same energy and vision to help them through their challenges.
When I was in H.S., you needed to basically fit in. Like, if you weren’t the prototype “good girl”, you were pretty much on your own, socially, emotionally, and most other ways, if you survived in that atmosphere at all. I saw a number of girls lost by the wayside, which is really sad. There obviously, never will be a 100% solution, but in in my humble opinion, an objective counselor , whose sole agenda wasn’t merely to ensure that you fit the mold, would make all the difference in the world. Very often, I so desperately just needed someone to talk to. My mother was occasionally helpful in that regard, whereas my father was always far worse then my teachers in school or the community.
Seminary, was pretty much more of the same. The main difference was that now, I was already an adult with a new found freedom in a strange far off country. The result was that the year in Israel primarily consisted of Tiyulim (trips) , and meeting boys whenever I could, along with lots of indoctrination
in the Sem, itself. Once, again there was a tremendous need for in-house counseling, or just someone, “who’s been there”, to hold your hand and show you where to go.
As an aside, it would be nice to have an advisor for those girls, who don’t have the innate ability or simply are not interested in going into Chinuch (teaching). There are other fields to go into, because Hashem, did after all create a myriad of talents and abilities, as well as, a job out there, somewhere to take utilize each and every one of these skills. But that’s a subject for a different blog, IY”H.
Even now, my greatest source of support and Chizzuk, comes from email and cyber friends. Ironically, instead of Lakewood (or other communities of a similar ) “rising to the occasion” , and creating viable alternatives, they are resorting to merely banning the internet. Fortunately, its directed primarily at school-age children, which I tend to agree with. Because, lets face it, the Internet is a very dangerous thing, for children, who lack the judgment that’so crucially needed. On the other hand, there really is very little that you can do about adults, who need to work or go to College, in order to support future husbands in learning, and already have laptops with wireless connections, to use for their education (ie: sending papers and exams to professors)., and other related matters.
In synopsis, I would strongly encourage any women, single or married, reading this, to consider being a big-sister/mentor to a teenaged girl in your neighborhood or community. It could really change her life in ways, that you can’t even begin to imagine.