Dear Matzav.com Editor,
Let me state off the bat that I am not a strong writer, so I hope that the editors at Matzav.com will take my random thoughts here and perhaps organize them and enhance them just enough to bring across my feelings effectively to the readers of this site.
I am not an at-risk expert nor do I claim to be one, but my experiences as a teenager years ago taught me numerous things that suddenly have come to my mind as I now get ready to grapple with some similar issues with my own children who seem to be growing faster than my wife and I are prepared for.
I recall an article about kids-at-risk here on Matzav.com some months ago and I found it interesting as it analyzed which children are more prone to go off the derech.
My situation was unique in that I was not a typical off-the-derech type of teen. I came from a what I guess was a regular family, with a stable household. My parents and siblings were regular, normal, nothing out of the ordinary. I don’t think there were circumstance that would, based on the “rules,” push me off the Torah path. I went to normal yeshivos (I did switch several times, but not for academic reasons) and generally did well. At no point during my trials and travails did I suffer academically, which an educator who helped me told me was a reflection of my desire not to be viewed as a failure and my true desire to succeed.
My weakness was simply a desire to have a part of the instant gratification world that we live in. A psychologist told me that most kids who go “off” are looking for peace of mind, or suffer from other things – broken family, low self esteem, weak scores in school, social frustration, abuse, and more. It took 2 years until a rebbi, whose class I wasn’t even in, zeroed in on my weakness. The way he put it after I confided in him was that the world out there looked so glamorous to me. I wanted a part of it. As exciting as learning was portrayed as, and as stable and wonderful a home as I was raised in, there was always the tempting world out there. Somehow, the unknown is always more tempting.
Without getting into specifics, I fell spiritually. Some people knew, some didn’t. Out of pride, I kept it from most of those close to me. There is no need to detail my misdeeds here at this point, but when I was finally receiving the help I needed, the rebbi who assisted me was able to identify what held me back from giving up altogether.
I was shocked to learn that I was from the more mild cases of at-risk. It was also rare that I was not flamboyant at all. I just felt that my life was dry. Even with some fulfillment I felt, it just wasn’t exciting. Whatever I wasn’t doing and whatever I couldn’t do seemed more exciting.
At one point, I felt like I was going to explode. No one seemed to understand me in my school. I tried to hide what I was feeling; I just felt too much shame to say it outright. The hero rebbi who helped me finally figured it out. And he said to me what I couldn’t find the courage to say to him. And he also said that he believe that it was my personal pride, and my family pride, that held me back from completely destroying myself and leaving everything behind for a life out in the world. I could not see myself bringing shame to my family, and myself, my rebbi said. The more I thought about it, the more I saw that he was right.
The main struggle was dealing with what I was presented with as a teen and the exciting world out there. To this day, I don’t know how I managed to fight through to get where I am today. Had I succumbed to the temporary and instant enjoyment and made that my life, I don’t know where I’d be. I realized how I had sunk, and having tasted from the forbidden waters, I turned around. (Obviously it wasn’t as simple as it sounds. It was painful, and some of the scars remain to this day. Hashem should help me.)
My question to this day is how to hold back a teenager growing up in this world from falling for the glitz and the glamour of the world in 2009. As someone who went through it, I don’t even know the answer.
I’ve read several times in the name of someone about how hard it is for teens nowadays and the challenges they face from the outside on a ruchniyus level. How can we compete with all the exciting temptations of the outside world? I know what I went through years ago. I can’t imagine how much harder it is for a teen now in our day. What happens when a teen is smart and stable and everything, but just can’t resist? What if his yeitzer harah is just too strong?
What I did learn, at least in my case, is that more than trying to make learning fulfilling, and more than trying to explain the importance of our Torah lifestyle, what can keep a kid on the straight and narrow, as it did for me eventually, is family and caring. A healthy and loving family will keep more kids on the path than anything else, in my experience. And the caring of a mentor, rebbi or friend will guide a kid as well and provide encouragement and positive feelings that can’t be gotten elsewhere. The kid will then often be too shamed to get involved in what he shouldn’t.
These are just some feelings I am throwing out there now that I am now in a different role, the role of a father, who is somewhat scared as my children approach adolescence and their teenage years, when they will be faced with challenges that will be very difficult. Maybe I am being overly-scared because of what I went through and my ups and downs, but this is what I feel.
I know that in addition to family, love, caring, etc., I have left out maybe the most important ingredient and that is davening. What is interesting is that even with all the guidance I got, I don’t remember as a teenager being told to daven as the key to help me settle down and deal with my problems. Now, as an adult, and parent, I hear it all the time: daven, daven, daven – that’s the best segulah for good children.
Praying to our Father in Heaven is surely the greatest way to make sure that children will lead productive lives and be able to handle the tough spiritual challenges that come their way as they try to make their way to adulthood. The nisyonos out there are as strong as ever, though. So what can we do to keep a kid from the tempting world?
Someone Who Feels Like It Was Just Yesterday