Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ki Teitze 74 - A United Family or a United Front

Many parenting experts cite a verse from our weekly parasha-portion in order to encourage parents to keep a ' united front' against their' ben sorer u'moreh' - rebellious and challenging child. The verses Devarim 21:18-21 speak of parents who report their son to the elders of the city - that despite attempts to discipline him, he does not listen to the voice of his father or mother. The parents claim that their parenting is not the problem because they do not convey contradicting and mix messages to the kid, but it is the kid who is at fault as he does not listen to their  ' singular' voice.

Everyone agrees that parental and marital harmony is crucial for raising kids in a peaceful, loving and cooperative environment.  And children do better when there is some degree of consistency and predictability. But the overriding question is what are we being consistent about and whether we can overdo or misapply the consistency by following the widespread parenting advice of ' keeping a united front'.

A problem with the advice of having an united front against your challenging child is that it describes the 'parent-child ' dynamic a 'war'  against the kid where parents are ' doing to ' the child , imposing parental will using power  and authority. In a war, you may win the battle, but lose the war and your child. This advice blinds and deafens parents to asking important questions – what kind of relationship do I have with my child and/or is my child's lagging skills causing his challenging behaviors. A parent cannot report a rebellious or wayward son if they are' blind ', as they are also blind to the needs of their kid.  I often hear how a kid runs away from home, at best to his grandparents, after having an argument with one of his parents. Instead of maintaining the ' united front ' and backing up the father for eg , the mother who  has not been involved emotively in the argument and confrontation can step in as a third party and try to reconcile the parties by using Collaborative problem solving techniques. The concerns of the father and the child are put on the table and attempts are made to find mutually satisfying solutions or at least an attempt to try and compensate the child. When reasons are given for decisions and the concerns of kids are taken into account, kids are more likely to trust parents' decisions even when they are not so happy about them. A United front can cause even more damage. So  often with a challenging kid or  even with  a typical kid ,a spouse and it is usually the father  is more demanding, strict , critical and very confrontational with a child. The kid becomes more reactive, defiant, oppositional, explosive or implosive. The wife who disagrees with this approach is given the advice to maintain the united front and back the husband. This is the perfect 'recipe' for continued abuse and trauma. Constant confrontation, criticism and put downs is abuse and traumatic even if it is low level. Kids will either leave the home or be kicked out, drop religious practices and their emotional connection with their parents. Instead the other spouse or mother should see her role as primarily protecting her child and not sticking with her husband. The wife can show the husband that they are 'losing' and ' hurting ' their child and that the husband's concerns can be addressed by ' working with the child 'and solving problems in a collaborative way.  And if he continues, she should leave the home with the kids if he is not willing to follow her lead, instead of kicking out the kid.

The verse talks about the kid not listening to the parents' voice', not just the words. This implies that the unified message must be honest and authentic. Although parents may easily share the same values, beliefs and dreams for their children, being human with different personalities they may have different perspective of the abilities of their children and interventions appropriate to the child. When parents feel compelled to take the same position on every issue in front of kids, they are being dishonest with themselves and certainly not authentic. Kids see through this, so it is better for kids to see that adults sometimes disagree and yet resolve their disagreements in a respectful way or even in some cases learn to tolerate differences. Instead of a ' unified front' parents should aim for a' unified family', where the kids participate with parents to form a family mission statement and problems are solved in a collaborative way taking into account the concerns of all. When parents ' concerns are addressed, the solutions not only address the kids concerns but also set limits. In this way parents can still be honest to themselves  and authentic and work together for the unity of the family and not just keep a united front against their children.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Shoftim 74 - Intrinsic Motivation , Executive Functions,Procrastination and Mindfulness

The portion-parasha of Shoftim discusses the commandment to set-up Cities of Refuge given in Numbers 35:9-34. Moses had already designated 3 such cities on the East bank of the Jordan even though they would only be functional after all 6 were established,   and that would be after the conquest of the land of Israel. Moses was setting an example of acting with zeal –' ze'ri'zut ' that if a mitzvah presents itself to you, do not permit it to go stale – do the mitzvah now. The cities of refuge would be a safe haven for people who had murdered someone accidently because of a certain degree of carelessness. These Cities of Refuge were Levite cities and places of learning. And it was here, the perpetrator of the accidental murder through carelessness would take steps to atone for his sin and fix his character -become more careful and watchful - za'hir. The Brai'tah of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair taught that the study of Torah brings a person to a place of being more careful –' ze'hi'rut ' and this gives him more 'drive' and 'motivation' – ze'ri'zut. We study Torah in order to share our learning with others and teach, so we can do the mitzvoth and avoid sin. In order to do this we need to develop a framework for character and spiritual  development - the Path of the Just – the ' Mesilat Yesharim ' with which we can  ascend Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair's ladder of spiritual development.
Ze'hi'rut – is being watchful and careful, and ze'ri'zut – is being passionate and motivated. They   actually impact on one another so one can begin a discussion on either one. Ze'ri'zut - being passionate and intrinsically motivated says the ' Mesilat Ye'sharim '- the Path of the Just is the opposite of ' Laziness'.  We all have a problem with ' laziness', because of our ' earthiness' .This make us heavy and suffer from ' inertia'. It is expressed by procrastination in getting started and not finishing things we have started.  Today, the experts say that there is no such thing as a ' lazy child'. There is usually something getting   in the kid's way , so the question we should be asking is not how can we motivate children , but what is getting in their way , how can we help , how can we create the conditions so kids will motivate themselves. In the same way, Rabbi Chaim Vital says the source of' laziness' is ' utzvut '- sadness. According to the research, intrinsic motivation, happiness and well-being is dependent on a person's needs for  ' autonomy and self-direction', mastery – competence, and ' relatedness – belonging' being met and that he has a sense of purpose. People who feel connected by the inner beings, are competent and supported by others have the 'drive and passion' in what they do.
 However, the reason that we suffer from 'procrastination ' is that we do not successfully deal with the ' negative emotions' associated with some tasks. Instead we cope by procrastinating, avoiding the task and ' give in ' to feel good, despite the fact that it is in our best interests to do the task. We can deal with the negative emotions by using the characteristic of ze'hi'rut- watchfulness to monitor and manage our emotions. Being successful in observing God's positive and negative commandments means we need to be competent and show ' mastery ' in whatever we do. We also need to use ' metacognition ' and our' executive functions '  to think about our thinking, to monitor what we are doing, self- regulate our emotions, being reflective and not impulsive in our thinking. It also includes organizing, planning and using working memory – hindsight and foresight to solve problems, maintaining focus, ignoring distractions. The way to self- regulate our negative emotions that cause us to avoid tasks and procrastinate is to use our executive functions in the form of ' mindfulness'. Mindfulness' helps us to be ' neutral and outside observers' who in a non-judgmental way are aware of our negative emotions. This awareness   will signal the need to inhibit our habits of procrastination, put our emotions aside and get on with our plan.

Kids should be learning Torah in order to share their learning with others and apply their learning to the real world of mitzvoth and social-moral behavior. They should be monitoring and self-assessing their learning and behavior. We can support them with more formative assessment as they learn. In this way kids focus on what they are doing and not only on ' how they are doing ' in the form of grades given by the teacher. We can promote the midah of ze'ri'zut =  intrinsic motivation and drive in kids by supporting their autonomy so they feel their learning and doing of mitzvoth is self-directed that the learning is relevant and meaningful to their lives , they are competent and have a sense of belonging in a community of learners. The midah of ze'hi'rut = carefulness is supported by encouraged by promoting executive functions – mindfulness, self –assessment and monitoring .Mindfulness promotes both intrinsic motivation by making us more attentive and connected to what we are doing and executive functions and self-regulation by making us more aware of our thinking and emotions.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Re'eh 74 - How to deal with Negative Influences

The parasha-portion warns us against the involvement with bad influences that will cause us and/or our children to stray from the path of God and serve idolatry. The Torah Devarim 13:2-12 discusses 2 cases –A. the prophet who is most likely a brilliant and inspiring orator and has the ability to produce signs, wonders or miracles in order to convince his audience to serve other gods.
-(ב) כִּי יָקוּם בְּקִרְבְּךָ נָבִיא ...וְנָתַן אֵלֶיךָ אוֹת אוֹ מוֹפֵת: (ג) וּבָא הָאוֹת וְהַמּוֹפֵת אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אֵלֶיךָ לֵאמֹר נֵלְכָה אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים and B. family members: siblings or your own kids who try to entice you to worship other gods.
(ז) כִּי יְסִיתְךָ אָחִיךָ בֶן אִמֶּךָ אוֹ בִנְךָ אוֹ בִתְּךָ ....בַּסֵּתֶר לֵאמֹר נֵלְכָה וְנַעַבְדָה אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים
The Torah warns us that we should not listen to the prophet who is trying to influence us
 :(ד) לֹא תִשְׁמַע אֶל דִּבְרֵי הַנָּבִיא הַהוּא,

but when it comes to dealing with a family member or our kids who are trying to entice us and influence us, the Torah repeats the warning and caution 5 times- you shall not accede to him, listen to him, take pity on him, be compassionate towards him or conceal him.
(ט) לֹא תֹאבֶה לוֹ וְלֹא תִשְׁמַע אֵלָיו וְלֹא תָחוֹס עֵינְךָ עָלָיו וְלֹא תַחְמֹל וְלֹא תְכַסֶּה עָלָיו

The questions we need to answer – A. how can we protect our kids from outside influences.? B – Why does the Torah offer us more words of warning and caution (5) in dealing with our family members and kids –, and only a simple ' do not listen ' to the prophet who is a brilliant orator and can do miracles. ? C When kids are no longer as observant as we would wish them to be, how we protect ourselves from their influence ?.

Parents can hold onto the kids and not be afraid of losing them to their peers if they focus on relationship, accepting kids for who they are and not what they do and solving problems in a collaborative way. A Tough Love approach where parents enforce limits and boundaries and show warmth and love is problematic. Without feeling accepted, respected and valued, love is perceived as being only conditionally offered. And this is what peers, both  negative and positive ones offer kids – unconditional acceptance.

A good relationship and healthy attachment to parents is not enough to counter negative peer culture. Kids today are very peer orientated and seek less the guidance and acceptance of their parents. Friends are so important and influence the type of kid your child will be. The reason is - kids mirror themselves on their friends, they measure themselves against their friends, who they are, is  seen in terms of friends. And that is why the Mishnah in Avot1:6  says – buy- invest in friendship. Peers are the real role models. Even better is to let kids mix with people of different generations and have mentors. Put teens together in youth movements, you have the problem of teen culture - they act worse than preteens. With people of different generations, they then show incredible ability and responsibility. We have to invest in positive friends for our kids.

But we also have to invest in their education, in kids developing their socio-moral identities, with a sense of right and wrong and a sense of caring for others.

Barbara Coloroso was once asked to help parents with their young teenager. When he was a pre-teen he was such a good kid, he always listened to us. Now he no longer listens to us, just to his teenage friends. She answered the parents that nothing has changed – he used to listen to you, now he is listening to them. Kids have to be able to listen to their ' inner voice and conscience ' and act in a self-determined way , acting on their beliefs and values and not follow the crowd.

The reason why the Torah repeats the warning and cautions us against listening to a family member or a child , is that we have an affinity, closeness and a natural fondness for them so we tend to overlook or excuse wrong doing, cover up for misdeeds and avoid dealing with difficult problems that might cause tension and friction. Solving problems in a collaborative way, addressing the concerns of both parties helps to deal with issues in a caring and respectful way. If parents normally do this, kids are more likely to accept a boundary or limit even  when they are not so happy about it.

When kids are no longer as observant as we would wish them to be, how do we protect ourselves from their influence?

Parents are influenced by their kids. We see too often that parents of not so observant kids lower their own standards of keeping the mitzvoth and involvement in learning and prayer. The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth – Ham being the father of Canaan.- Bereishit 9:18 The Seforno notes that Ham was similar in character to his evil son, implying that the father was influenced by his son.In these situations parents have to set themselves higher standards of observance of Mitzvoth and be more involved in learning , prayer and community charity projects.
We can help our kids and ourselves by having a positive and mentoring relationship with our kids, provide them a positive and supportive environment –good friends and mentors and an education where we and our kids influence and impact on society. In this way we protect ourselves and the family from negative influences.

Discrimination against Chareidim in the workplace

Here is a short summary of   an   article from The Marker '   dealing with Discrimination against Chareidim in the workplace' and then my response.

 My initial reaction to the title of the article describing the difficulty a graduate of the sought after elite Hi- Tec 8200 unit of the Intelligence Corps  to find work because of his Hasidic dress and appearance, was that a man with a chasidishe style dress, uncut beard, pe'yos etc would be at a big disadvantage as people normally don't like to be with people different to the themselves. But the people who complained about discriminationin the article  - just because they are chareidim -  were modern chareidi, no beard or suit, and who had went to the army – and this surprised me. Chareidi women have another obstacle in their path. They are asked when they intend to fall pregnant again. Although the % employment rate for women in Israel is 66.3% and for Chareidi women a close 61.2% we must keep in mind that often they are the sole breadwinners. Other obstacles in the path of Chareidim is the lack of training and qualifications, English and Maths, the degrees or non-academic diplomas  from the Chareidi colleges are not so competitive, and in the case of men they expect higher salaries because they enter the market at an older age and with a big family to support. The Ministry of Economic Affairs has a program to help absorb more Chareidim in the work force by opening employment centers, providing professional development and training, and offering incentives to employers to take on Chareidi workers. The spokeswoman said that employees were afraid of employing Chareidim because of their perceptions of demands for separation between the sexes and kosher food. She was hopeful in the long run as Chareidim become more open to working in a secular environment and employees reap the benefits of serious and dedicated Chareidi workers.

  I think the problem is bigger in the smaller private sector, but in bigger concerns like the banks, chareidi employees who have proved themselves open up doors to other chareidim. I have a friend who works for a bank in the computer section and the bank employs many chareidi women as they have an excellent work ethic and are good. There are employment opportunities for women in an only women environment, but employers exploit women by paying them very low wages. In many professions, the work place is flooded and the only way you can get a job is if you know somebody, do peer networking and since there are only a few chareidim in the workplace, there is little opportunity for peer networking.

The problem imho is the message conveyed by the politicians – both chareidi and secular. The chareidim would prefer not to work but remain in learning and live on hand outs and not integrate into Israeli life by going to the army etc. . . . So a private employer would ask himself – why support a community that discourages its men to go out to work or make a contribution to the country by going to the army. I think it was before the last elections that a friend of mine - studying in a Kollel and doing hours of she'rut le'umi with the intention of studying dentistry asked a  ' Gimmel ' - Agudah politician the following question. Why they did not join others defending the existing rights that 'she'rut leumi' offered to those who wish to study and enter the workforce.  The politician gave various excuses but when pushed, he said that Agudah cannot be seen to be encouraging young men to leave Kollel and go out into the workplace. The same negative attitude is to employment and parnassa is also expressed in the context of education. A kollel for young men who wanted to work and learn seriously in a Kollel framework was forced to close down.  A school offering kids to graduate in one year and do other courses afterward together with a learning program was severely criticized in the name of ' pure haskafos'.  It seems that issues of poverty have no place in ' hashkofos'.It seems that nothing has changed in the 60 years since Rav Dessler passed away? Rav Dessler had the view and belief ...... that  Yeshivah students should be encouraged to pursue full time learning and be denied the chance to get an academic qualification. Only in this way, could Yeshivas produce a large student body,  needed to  produce  Talmidei Chachamim and Ge'dolei  Yisrael. The negative impact on the lives of those not suitable for full time learning was a worthwhile sacrifice for this goal.The issue now is whether the system would not be better served by altering the single focus to one that allows a multiple tier educational system.

 IMHO a solution to the discrimination problem  would also  lie in positive affirmative action at least in the public sector and maybe some legislation against discrimination. A . chareidi bill advocating positive affirmative action  was defeated citing the chareidi attitude to work and integration into the community.

 The fight against poverty – providing housing, education, health care and stable employment opportunities will need the goodwill of the rest of country. It will also need a commitment by the chareidi parties to go beyond just supporting the chinuch path – yeshiva kollel, Beis Ya'akov and SEM to include supporting a chareidi working community.

As parents we must give children an accurate picture of the economic reality and their limited ability to help financially, that honoring parents means you don't have to le'mashkein o'tam, to pledge and mortgage them, and as a Rosh Yeshivah asked his  talmid – who signed the Ketuvah – you or your wife, that the Ketuvah is not a joke.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Eikev 74 - Punishment or Teshuvah- Repentance

Against 'punishing kids , doesn't  the Torah - Devarim 8:5  say -You should  know in your heart that just as a father will chastise his son, so Hashem-Your God, chastises you
וידעת עם לבבך כי כאשר ייסר איש את בנו יהוה אלהיך מיסרך
Rabbi Shimson R. Hirsch notes that the word- chastise - מוסר - mussar =moral teaching has nothing to do with punishment or chastisement which focuses on making a kid suffer for past mistakes. It is about kids internalizing the education and guidance they receive from their fathers. Does God actually punish us or is it more about how we make  meaning of what happens to us? Man has the freedom of choice to interpret and explain his misfortune. It could be simply the way of the world, bad luck or misfortune,  (reward or) punishment for past behavior or God communicating to him to change his ways and do Te'shuvah. The Talmud-Kidushin 20, tells of a man who sins by doing  business with fruit from the Sabbatical year -fruit that is deemed ownerless and free to be taken by all. There is a consequence for this sin -  he has to sell his movable property , if he does not change – he has to sell his fields, then his home , his daughter , and  if he has not yet changed, he will have to sell himself to an idolater. Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz asks – why did he not learn the first time or the second time?  People find it so difficult to say they did wrong and change, especially  when people are struggling and taking knocks, since  they tend to feel sorry for themselves.
One might ask that when parents or teachers punish kids, the lesson and  message is clear and it is in the interests of the child to change to avoid the punishment.  We may think we are teaching him a lesson, but he is still  free to make meaning of what is happening to him.Usually , he learns  something completely different - you are unfair.
Already more than 700 hundred years ago the Ritbah warned that if a child would react defiantly to the discipline of a parent, the parent would be transgressing ' 'lifnei iveir lo ti'tein michshol ' – do not put a stumbling block before the blind. To put in it modern terminology, It's not what we teach it is what they learn. This means what we do doesn’t matter nearly as much as how kids experience what we do. And when unpleasant things are done to kids it makes them mad and they want to lash out. It models to them using power to get what you want and solve problems. Punishment is also problematic as it erodes our relationship with our kids and they will never feel safe enough with us to come and confide in us when they screw up. Parents and teachers are then the last ones to know when kids have screwed up. It also sends a message to kids of 'distrust '. We don't think they will do the right thing without a threat of punishment. It also distracts kids from the important issues. The agenda now is the enforcement of the punishment. Instead of reflecting on what they did, kids now focus on the punishment. Instead of feeling sorry for the kid they hurt, they now feel sorry for themselves. It just reinforces that parents or teachers are unfair and their mistake was to be caught which encourages lying. Kids will rather avoid punishment and run away from the scene than offer help to a peer whom they have hurt. Punishment makes kids self-centered and even if an explanation is given no moral learning takes place as self- interest is reinforced. It teaches kids about consequences. Not about the consequences of their actions and how they impact on others but the consequences for themselves. Punishments will never encourage a kid to ask – what type of person do I want to be, do my actions reflect my values or to do Te'shuvah.So if punishment can only at best buy us short-term compliance at great costs what should we do?
The Talmud Yerushalmi – Makot – asks – A person who sins – what is his punishment?
Wisdom and Prophecy  answer  that troubles, death  will pursue the sinner, and God answers – let him repent and do Teshuvah and in this way attain atonement.
And God is extremely patient with people. The Tomer Devorah says we should imitate God's virtues -  be patient and allow himself to be insulted, bearing the evils done by his neighbor  and yet not refuse to bestow of his goodness to the recipients, even when those evils done against him still exist ,until the wrong is righted by his friend.
Instead of punishment parents and teachers should help kids in a collaborative way to solve problems and do Teshuvah in an autonomous way. A high school kid threw a rotten tomato which hit a teacher at a lunch session. Teachers began suggesting various punishments for this serious offence. His class teacher said he would handle the situation. He was not confrontational, just said that he wants to help the kid solve the problem, reflect on what he did  and do Teshuvah .What did the kid think he could do? He said he would write a sincere letter of apology and meet with the teacher. What about the mess?   Rely on me, said the kid. The kid took a friend and they  cleaned the whole dining hall. Instead of imposing a consequence on the kid, the teacher helped the  kid reflect on what he did and engage in an autonomous way in the moral act of restitution and do  Teshuvah- repent. And most important , the process strengthened the bond between the teacher and student.