Cookie Schwaeber-Issan
Cookie Schwaeber-Issan

Israel Has a Parenting Problem

Eilat is the coveted vacation spot of Israel – an incredible oasis bordering on Egypt and Jordan.  A real gem studded with 5-star hotels, major attractions including glass bottom boat cruises, coral reef snorkeling and top-notch restaurants, it’s the ideal dream destination, but just make sure you don’t visit during school holidays.  Why?  Because that’s the time when families head south, and the city becomes inundated with Israeli children, something which can be a real eye-opening experience even to locals, let alone tourists.

Just a couple of weeks ago, some of our own family made the 4-hour trek, only to return, in shock, from what they saw while there.  Being Tel Aviv residents, and having three kids of their own, they are pretty much used to the run-of-the mill when it comes to Israeli children, but what they experienced, while on vacation there, gave them a startling glimpse into a cross-sampling of today’s Israeli kids.  Many of them used extremely vulgar language, not with their friends or siblings but towards their parents.  The level of disrespect and deference was terribly disturbing to them, but it is certainly not something which developed overnight.

As a former school teacher and principal of a Jerusalem elementary and middle-school, this is not at all a new phenomenon to me.  I can recall many frustrated parents lamenting that they’d lost all authority and were no longer able to influence their children, get them to comply or take their advice.  While it was a gradual relinquishing of control, it didn’t take long before the kids figured out that they could, in fact, call the shots on their lives and completely disregard their parents’ wishes and preferences.  How did it happen?

There are some opinions and speculation which is connected to the children of Holocaust survivors who were particularly indulged by their parents due to the dysfunctional type of childhood suffered by them.  In an attempt to overcompensate for their own losses and deprivation, they allowed their children to have a great deal of freedom, material advantages and all the other benefits of which they felt robbed.  Those children are the grandparents of today’s generation of kids, and one can only assume that the pendulum of freedom which they experienced, continued to swing  a bit too far, with each successive family, resulting in the troubled youth that we are seeing these days.

Most family counselors and child psychologists know that children need and want boundaries, but in order to make sure they work, they have to be set from the start.  If instituted too late, it will require a battle of wills which, if relinquished by the parent, will send a clear message to the child, that he or she is stronger and more persistent.  Those characteristics will only grow in strength, over time, in order to ensure their control as master of their fate.

Children are skillful at calculating how much time and effort will constitute the wearing down of their parents.  Who amongst us has not witnessed this in a supermarket or out in public where a loud enough meltdown has resulted in an embarrassed parent relenting to the demands of their child?

Contributing to the dynamics of bad parenting, here in Israel, is also the phenomenon of absentee parenting.  Kids are clearly suffering from a serious lack of supervision, guidance, overexposure to bad influences and a general lack of involvement by the very caregivers who don’t seem overly concerned with how their children act in public.

In our own hi-rise building, parents allow their kids to hang out unsupervised in the lobby, much to the upset of the doorman on duty.  The parents make no attempt to see if their children have littered the lobby or check the state of the elevators their children have occupied upon returning to their apartment.  Apparently, there is an assumption, by them, that their offspring behaved properly, but, in reality, this lack of parental attention often causes other tenants to endure noise disturbances, wrappers and crumbs strewn everywhere and a disrespectful attitude towards any adults who might dare say something about their inappropriate behavior.

Couple the lack of supervision with the flood of social media refuse which kids take in, not always known to their parents, and you have a recipe for nasty, unruly, disrespectful and angry kids who will not hesitate to strike their parents or curse them out in public.

One of the chapters in well-known clinical psychologist, Jordan Peterson’s best-selling book, “12 Rules for Life – An Antidote to Chaos, “ is entitled, “ Do Not Let Children Do Anything That Makes You Dislike Them.”  His premise is that if you don’t like your children, it’s likely that others won’t either.

The public display of your child’s actions and speech will say a lot about what you have done or have failed to do as a parent.  Sadly, from what we are seeing in Israel, a lot of parental neglect and apathy is very visible within the society as a whole.

Of course, this is not true across the board.  There are still Israeli parents who monitor their children’s smart phone usage, along with social media and Internet access.  There are also those who have taught their kids to say hello, be polite and respectful.  I recall one such girl, perhaps, about 10 years-old, who, when stepping into the elevator of our building, actually greeted me with a warm hello.  I remember thinking to myself, “I need to meet her parents and find out more about them!”

But, much to my regret, this girl seems to be a rare exception to the many others who will be our future leaders and representatives of our country.  One cannot assume that they will grow out of their bad habits and become model adults.

If you are a parent who has been struggling with your children, to the point where you don’t much like them yourself, it’s time to reclaim the reins.  The first thing to acknowledge is that children neither have the maturity nor good sense to make sound and sensible choices which will positively impact their lives.  It is the job of a responsible parent to determine what time they go to bed, what they watch on television or on their phone/computers, what they eat and when, who they befriend, how they speak to others, especially their parents, and, most importantly, who calls the shots in the home.  While there are many other important guidelines  to place upon kids, to abandon any of these basic ones listed above is to cause suffering for you as the parent, for your child, who hasn’t got the tools or the guidance they so desperately need to make wise decisions, and for our society as a whole.  No one wins!

It’s important to remember that your child is a reflection of your own values, morals, ethics and the life lessons you have sown into them.  It demands hard and constant work in order to turn your child into a pleasant individual who others would like to be around – especially you.

It will require great strength and determination not to resort to what appears to be the easier road of no resistance, because that path, sadly, leads to allowing your children to make bad decisions which will hurt them in the end.  To love a child means to say no when you must.  It means holding tight to your authority, because you have earned that place of respect just by having lived longer and experiencing life in ways that your kids haven’t.

No country should have a reputation for poorly raised children, and Israel, of all places, which has the charge of being a light to the nations, should be a country where vacationing tourists can return home, not only impressed by our food, technology and breathtaking sites, but especially by the exceptional children it has produced.  We are the best at so much.  Isn’t it time for Israeli parents to excel in the arena of child-rearing as well?

Find my e-book, Mistake-Proof Parenting, on Amazon.

About the Author
A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.
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