Why Teens Go Off the Derech: A Perspective From Someone Who Was There

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off-the-derechBy Me 

There has been a lot of attention given to this question. Some have blamed everything from the internet to TV and movies to cell phones, while other have advocated issuing bans on pretty much everything to try and stop it. However, many claim that we don’t know the real reasons.

Why should they? Did they ever go off the derech? Did they go through what these teens go through, experience the emotions and the results that come from it?

Of course not. So how should they know?

They see a kid with the internet looking at inappropriate material, a kid who isn’t too observant, and say, “Look, the internet caused him to go off.”

Maybe he’s looking at it because he’s already on his way off! Does that ever occur to them? Of course not, because that would mean the fault lies somewhere else, possibly with them, and they can’t comprehend that.

As someone who went off for a while, and with friends who did as well, I can shed some light on some of the things that did it.

We will never admit these are issues. We’ll say it was an isolated case, but sadly, it’s not. This happens all the time.

When I was younger, in yeshiva, I was encouraged to learn full time. I once mentioned that I would go to college and I was called a sheigitz in front of the whole class. I was humiliated publicly other times. I had things stolen from me because people felt I shouldn’t have them. Did they even come to me and ask me for the items, or tell me to take it home? No. They went into my dorm room when I wasn’t there and took the things.

Abuse is another issue. Thankfully, I was never subject to it. I do know that I have a relative who was kicked in 3rd grade because he was talking during class. Physical abuse is bad, and it has been addressed, but it can’t compare to personal, private abuse. People who go through that are subjected to the worst torture. Physical abuse leaves marks, and will usually be spotted by a parent pretty quickly. It also won’t usually occur past a certain age in school, because older kids will defend themselves. The private type of abuse can continue for months or years.

When it was discovered in our schools, as is well known, it was swept under the carpet. What message does this send to students? We don’t care about you; we will protect ourselves at your expense. We will throw you under the bus if we have to in order to protect one of our own.

No wonder kids go off.

Cell phones and the internet won’t cause kids to go off. If a child has a true love of Judaism and a desire to be a good Jew, they won’t do the wrong thing with their phones and computers. It’s only once they start down the path that it becomes an issue. There are those who wish to focus on it, because then they can then sweep the rest of it under the rug.

That’s my feeling, anyway.

{Author’s Name Withheld by Request/Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. I am not disagreeing with the author.However I would take him more seriously if he would be willing to take at least some blame for himself.And I usually don’t judge kids who are at risk.But when they start to blame everyone else and telling us that it is our fault, then we have to consider if perhaps it isn’t.

  2. Good start to the article; faded fast. In my humble opinion, one of the big reasons that kids go off -and it ties in with what you’ve written- is because people’s natural tendency to do the right thing, to be generous, caring, intellectual, etc. is subverted in the name of exacting dress codes, learning sedarim, and counter-intuitive “growth”.

  3. Im A teacher for many years, The point is really good we must listen to our children and students so we can help right away,May hashem help you and all children who need help

  4. His remarks about abuse (there is better word for it that starts with M) are true. A father of a boy who went off suddenly at about 14 years old about 5 years ago, recently told me that he just found out that the catalyst was a older boy in a Yeshiva near the house. I then spoke with a social worker in Monsey who estimated that 70-80% of kids off the derech were victims of “abuse” binyanai tzniyus, by teachers, relatives or others. This creates a deep shame and sense of worthlessness and going off the derech is quite natural after that. This should not be news to us, but it is. As long as we ignore the root cause, the problem is not going to go away. Hashem Yrachem.

  5. Kol Hakavod to the author and to Matzav.com for allowing the sensitive topic of abuse to be discussed.

    Another contributing factor is the way the people who care to help those abused are themselves treated. When the victim sees how his advocate is treated with such contempt while his abuser has kavod lavished on him, that sends kids running away from frumkeit real fast.

    Therefore, the organizations which are “the very lifeblood of our community” are the ones shedding more Jewish blood than any Anti-Semite in America. That is a tragedy of epic proportions.

  6. the reason kids gp off is because no one gives them the time of day to teach them how to learn and get the gesmak from learning if some one gave them the time they would never go off must ppl who go off cant read a gemara so y should they stay on they have nothing to stay on for

  7. I have spoken to some that went off & came back somewhat. The first things they all did was to disregard kashrus. From there it all went downhill. Now when they are coming back they must hold to the higher kashrus standards as the Rambam says.

  8. There are many different things that can cause kids to go off, unfortunately. I think the root cause is the school system. I’m not sure if it has more evils than positives, but I think its pretty close. Many people who should not be teachers, are teachers but because they’re looking for a job and have no other choice etc. Basically people dont care. If it keeps something quiet and ruins someone in the process, so be it. This system wont change until someone who cares enough bothers to sit down and come up with something that solves the REAL issues. Having teachers and Rebbeim that are in CHINUCH. Not in teaching. (theres a big difference). IMO, banning internet and texting isnt hitting the root of the problem

  9. I wrote this articleand I just have to note that the article was edited before it was published. Some of the points did not come across well.

    Matzav.com responds:
    Because of the levels of moderation and hashkafic standards we employ, our editorial board felt that certain adjustments and changes had to be made to the above article. The changes were made in an effort to maintain the standards of this site. Our hope is that it did not compromise the important message of the article. Those who find themselves in these types of difficult situations are encouraged to speak out and find the people who can help them.

  10. My experience in dealing with teens with issues is over 95% of them do not have anyone to blame other then themselves. Everyone is lured to glitz and glamour and outside interests. Unfortunately, these teens could not hold themselves back. Yes there are times when you can say not loved, abused, learning disabled, made fun of and every other excuse in the book. Usually not. Parents, daven for your children, that’s the most powerful tool we have.

  11. Listen—the first thing he said was that he was humiliated in front of the class by the teacher. Isn’t publicly embarrassing a person a serious aveira? Perhaps some kids just let this roll off their shoulders and remain on the derech outwardly, though cynical inside. Others, who won’t play that game, just altogether leave the frumkeit that seems so contradictory.

  12. ‘Maybe’ could it be that the other yeshivos closed the door in his face. BTW why should any yeshiva throw things out or steal items, even if they appropriate from someone???

  13. Apparently a number of fine boys and girls have seriously suffered from poor chinuch, or bad learning experiences in yeshiva/beis y. I think that a terrific resource great for teens, educators (i.e. those in Chinuch), and parents alike is the new book Search Judaism, by Rabbi Fingerer. This book will give you the confidence, chizuk and knowledge to go on with life as a “proud/frum Jew”. We have an achrayus to empower and equip ourselves with the tools that provide real solutions and answers. This is particularly crucial for mechanchim that struggle (sometimes daily) with how to present difficult issues and unfortunately those individuals who suffered from poor chinuch…The book is an indispensable tool that could potentially benefit many.

  14. You have stated many valid points, but dont forget what chazal have said,”ain apitropos larayos” even if you are the biggest szadik you still have to keep away from a nisoyon.Callphones and internet are a nisoyon and everyone has to keep that in mind.

  15. While the points that are made in this article are true and need to be examined carefully, I don’t understand what they have to do with trying to stop, or at least limit, the exposure of youngsters to the internet or any other negative influence. Even if a child will not “go off the derech” from unlimited access to the internet, he/she may still be maimed by exposure to the pernicious and destructive influences of the modern media.

    Consistent viewing of this material causes addictions, erroneous expectations, feelings of guilt, “a stuffed head” (which creates difficulty in learning) etc. These are the reasons for prohibiting or filtering the modern media, not to stop youngsters from leaving the path altogether.

    I am a Rebbi of 18 youngsters in an “out of town” Yeshiva of which 13 or 14 have unlimited access to the internet or other problematic “sewers.” All of these boys have serious problems due to this overexposure. I believe that the only way to combat this is by limiting the contact with the modern (and not so modern) media

  16. The real reason is ’cause it is much easier to be free and participate in Havlei Olam Hazeh than to be a Erlicher Yid . All other explanations might just be excuses .

  17. I agree with number #15 that rebbeim are often not equipped on how to handle Hashkafah and “Life issues”. I think that this is what the writer of this article was stressing. I also read Search Judaism and it is the first sefer that doesn’t beat around the bush and actually gives real answers to urgent questions. R’ Fingerer should be commended for this great contribution and it should be mandatory reading in high school.

  18. Abuse is a real issue. I am a victim. I am living a so called successful life in the eyes of all, but I am a broken man. Married with kids, BH. Hashem has been so kind to me with parnasah and other stuff, but the pain is real. It has been over 20 years and the pain is rearing its ugly head. I have cried many times and I don’t think I will stop crying soon. All those that could have stopped the abuse or can stop any kind of abuse now and do not, will be judged in shomaiym as if they had a hand in the abuse itself. Lets all do our utmost to stop this silent destructive monster. It is time we stand up

  19. I left out one point in my article:
    When I was in yeshiva, I was made to feel like a failure. I was told that if I didn’t sit and learn, I was throwing my life away. I enjoyed doing things that were things that “bums” did – like watch movies, read novels, listen to non-Jewish music. Never mind that my rebbe once told my parents that he enjoyed the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel as a bochur. I was told no, you’re not a bum, but still, my actions were things that I was told bums did. So, I labeled myself a bum. I said to myself, if I’m a failure anyway, I might as well enjoy myself. What use is Judaism if there’s no way I can do it right? I lost interest in following it.

  20. It could be these kids say that they are to blame and nothing else (and sometimes they blame it on parents) only because they are trying to run away from the real reason and they are scared to face it (maybe from embaressment).

  21. Taking a look at the author of this article’s blog (as shown in comment #11), it would be nice if the author wrote the article after coming back to Derech HaTorah.

  22. 24: Actually, I did. Of course, many people attack the Modern Orthodox/YU style as not a derech HaTorah, but they’re wrong.

  23. Everybody is a Maven,too much blame,too much talk, many in denial, NOT ENOUGH ACTION. Wake up NOW,our children (Many from the BEST of homes with plenty of Yichus) are drowning while we are

    on the shoreline debating who to blame. All of them are HOLY

  24. I don’t understand why everybody discusses THE reason why kids go off the derech. There is no single reason. If there is only ‘one’ reason its that people fail to recognize that all kids are different and need to be raised and taught differently – each according to that child’s unique needs. One can not deny the dangers that technology brings. I don’t care what people say – I’ve seen how cell phones and the internet paved the path off the ‘derech’ for children… Experts in the field of education and counseling say that abuse is surprisingly often the source of children going off… But to say ‘forget the internet…etc- I have the reason why they’re going off..’ is, in my opinion, naive.

  25. There are many different things that can cause kids to go off, unfortunately. I think the root cause is the yezter hara. We have to figure our how to stop that yezter hara. Enuf is enuf! Give us a break! please Hashem!

  26. The problem is partly offering a one size fits all model of what they should grow up to be. Not every boy will give the most to the klal by becoming a kollel yungerman or for that matter a gvir. We need others. Why cant bochurim want to be musicians who take on the mitzvah of being mesameach chosson v’kallah, or those who become accountants or writers, or craftspeople and so on. I think if we encouraged more variety different children with different talents would bloom.

    As one chosid said to me about shidduchim. Depending on his kid there is a lot he would settle for though of course he would prefer a son-in-law who was a chosid of his kind and a talmid chochum. But his only absolute rules are honest, keeps mitzvos and is able to be a kind husband and compatible husband for his daughter. If he got that he would be happy to see her go under the chuppah. He even allowed for a litvak or yekke:-)

    Why are schools so afraid to allow for the idea that a frum yeshivah is successful as long the kid grows up to that short list of requirements and allows children to learn to be their own best selves even if it means they may go chasidish or litvish or modern orthodox, and they may go to college or not and so on. Chumras are supposed to strengthen observance. They are not working; they are just setting up resentments and struggles. With internet devices smaller than a phone and getting cheaper does anyone really think the bans are going to work. We now have kids who have gone into internal golus; they learn to look like everyone else but their heart is not there. I think it would be much better if their hearts were there even if it meant allowing them to express some of thier differences.

  27. A child going off the derech is a result of a composite of reasons;his personality,his inner strength,his emotional quotlent,his problom solving ability,his strengths and weakness,his midot,his sibilings, his parents, his extended family,his family rov,his teachers,the type of chinuch he received,his freinds, his neighbors, the block he lives on, the city he lives in,his financial position,his chinuch,mass media or entertainment,the experiences,the nisyonot hashem gave him,tefillot said for him, zechut avos… I’m sure the list go on.
    If any off the above points or a combination are extremely positive they will keep a kid from going off and the reverse, if any are or a combination extemely negative they can be the factor (or excuse) for a child to go off the derech. There is no cut and dry reason why someone goes off the derech. Just as every fingerprint is different, so are the reasons a person goes off the derech.

  28. http://torahanytime.com/Rabbi/Zecharia_Wallerstein/index.html
    this link is for a Rav who adresses this issue in many of his shiurim. He has been in chinuch for over 30 years.
    Alsohould crack down on Teachers who don’t know how to show love and compassion to their talmidim/ot, and also on Teachers that don’t know how to teach. kids go to eretz Yisrael for a year and all of a sudden they love to learn. Why? because they never learned how to learn before hand. I have seen this myself in my friends. Thank you for reading this. have a wounderful day filled with Torah, mitzvot and Masim Tovim!!


  30. thanks for sharing this, you hit the nail on the head. i have gone off the derech, with my husband and children because both my boys were molested as well as so many of our neighbor boys and no one will stand up and say, go to the police and throw this pervert in jail, instead, it’s blame the mother, silence the victims and their families, scoff at the hysterical mother and make sure the victims don’t speak loshen hara!

  31. I could have gone off the derech. I had all the excuses he described and many more. No relationship with my parents, for one. But I didn’t. Because I have a relationship with hashem, and its real. I see with my friends that if they don’t have that I am wasting my time trying to save them. If there’s nothing holding you back then ofcourse you will follow the lure of the street.

  32. What is the right approach to take if you see your child going off the derech? My 16yo son is not on the internet, but has a strong connection to a bunch of street kids, who he describes as his good friends. Now, he says he’s leaving Yeshiva, what should I do?


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