Last week I read two articles, both left me speechless for completely opposite reasons.
The first was published on most news sites, describing a young girl, barely an adult, who was suing her parents for the remainder of her education bills, her housing and living expenses. Why was she doing this? Because her parents had enforced some household rules, including curfew and chores. The judge ruled against her out of a well-grounded fear, that if this would be allowed, every twelve year old would be suing for an x-box.
The second article was found on the New Zealand Herald website, describing a young girl, seven years old, who saw her pregnant mother fall into a diabetic coma, and after trying unsuccessfully to open a packed of liquid glucose, she called the emergency service and directed the ambulance to the house, and to her mother. Ultimately this girl saved her mother and the unborn sibling’s life.
How could it be that there are such extremes in the development of our children? While we cannot expect every child to be able to save the life of a victim of ill health or tragedy, we can and should expect every child who is raised in a healthy environment to respect and honor their parents.
Sure, there will be some exceptions to the rules – I was once told that the commandment of honoring ones parents is removed if ones parents abuse their privileges, denying their children the rights that they deserve – health, happiness, protection and sustenance.
There is a story that a retired Minister and a retired Rabbi were on a plane together with their families, both were sitting in first class with their wives while the children and grandchildren were in coach. Every few minutes one of the Rabbi’s children or grandchildren would come up to him or his wife and ask if they needed anything; a drink, some food, a hot towel. After an hour, the minister leaned over to the Rabbi and said, “I don’t understand, my children and grandchildren haven’t come up to me once, no one has asked me if I need anything, why do your children treat you like this”, the Rabbi answered “Since Moses, every generation has gone down a level, always looking back at the earlier generation to learn from them and care for them”. Interesting thought the minister, “For me it seems completely the opposite, every generation that follows the last thinks they are superior to what came before, and now that technology has advanced it is even more so.”
Unfortunately, while the story shares a view highlighting the difference between Jews and the rest of the world, we are not immune. For many of us, while we will give respect to the Rabbis and sages that came before, we do not have nor do we instil in our children a respect for those older than us. We exclaim in horror about a girl suing her parents because she doesn’t like the house rules, but in many ways we have aided society’s transformation to this point.
What can we do to transform society from raising children who can end up like the first article, to a society that uses the model of the child in the second article?
I would like to provide three ideas that could help with this issue; privilege vs rights, volunteerism, and responsibility.
Rights are a buzz word at the moment, everything falls back to it, but the problem is there is a different between fundamental rights and what we categorize as rights. The former are discussed earlier, and can be found on various UN charters. The latter is a bigger issue; it is not your child’s right to have a cell phone by age 12, nor an x-box or myriad of other technological devices. It is not a right of a child to demand a different meal than his or her siblings or to demand a parent to do his chores. It is not a child’s right to demand support through University or for the tuition itself. It is a privilege. It is a privilege that many have, but even more do not have, and it is important that we raise our children so they can understand the difference between the two, and how lucky they are to be privileged. Jewish day schools, summer camps, kosher cruises, restaurants, year programs in Israel, and Jewish programs and extracurricular activities are a privilege – an important one – but a privilege none the less.
All of our children should be taught the importance of volunteering. Some schools have a culture that chessed, or volunteering is lauded, but many do not have enough of it, or will allow loop holes to be used for kids to get out of it. Some of the best group leader’s I have in my job as the Youth Rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of White Plains are the ones that have to accumulate two hundred plus volunteer hours. They make it up by group leading, but also through other areas such as first aid, life guarding etc. As a Boy Scout in Australia and New Zealand, countless hours were given to various organizations. We should be engaging our children with a spirit to volunteer, empowering them with courses such as first aid and emergency management, so that they realize the worth of other people, and the value of the lives that they live.
Finally we should impart on our children the importance of responsibility. Responsibility comes in many forms, including responsibility to the self, to others, to the team, to the stranger. Our children should be raised feeling responsible for themselves and their bodies, their image, and their health. They should be taught to be responsible to the commitments they make to their peers, their team mates and the organizations to which they belong. They should be raised with a responsibility to the other, to the stranger, to the poor and to the underprivileged.
It is only when we truly model our children around the famous line from the Ethics of Our Fathers, Pirkei Avot, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when” by Rabbi Hillel, that we will be able to claim success in our parenting.