Thursday, November 29, 2012

Kids Will Be Kids

I began to shriek like someone possessed when I saw this article on the front page of the Sunday Styles. 

Right there, for all the world to see, is a description of how our children don't behave in shul. 

Practically every time I am in a shul, ranging from chassidish, to heimish, to yeshivish, to Young Israel, to modern, a child, at some point, managed to disturb my davening.

While the author details it from a bar/bas mitzvah age issue, it certainly goes further back than that. If a child is led to believe that a shul is nothing more than a glorified playground, why should that magically change when that kid reaches 10, 11, 12?
A woman I know has no problem going off to the city for a shopping trip sans her toddler. But on Shabbos she'll arrive with a whiny two year old and start davening Shmoneh Esrei, while he loudly clamors for the attention she conveniently can't give. (By the way, if your child is making noise and disturbing others, one can step out of Shmoneh Esrei for that). 

Everyone likes to invoke the "old country" when it is convenient. OK, you wanna know how it worked in the alteh heim?

On yomim noraim, the shul in Ma's hometown hired a gentile woman to keep everyone under the age of 17 out. That's right, 17. And whoever was allowed in never sat near their mothers; they all went to the back. Think of the reverence and respect that 17 year old felt, finally permitted to enter shul on Rosh HaShana.

When my uncle was three, Babi insisted that Zeidy should take him to shul. "He won't know anything!" But Zeidy was adamant. "If he fidgets once . . . he'll disturb mine and everyone else's davening. No." My uncle takes both his davening and his learning very seriously; he emerged childhood "unscathed." 

The article describes how a school throws a faux-bar mitzvah in order to instruct the children on basic good manners. 

Considering how many girl-dating stories (plenty on the blogosphere) are of supreme cads, I wonder if it can be boiled down to the simple fact that we assume our kids will have grasped manners by a certain age, instead of actively teaching them. 

Children, in general, learn by observation. Is it possible that their role models are lacking? How do we each feel about the sanctity of the shul? Is it a burden to attend, or a joy? We cannot help but to socialize, but do we know when silence is absolutely paramount? 
Rabbi Adam Englander, a principal at the Hillel Day School of Boca Raton in Florida, lectures students three or four times a year about their behavior at bar and bat mitzvahs. He believes the new interest in decorum represents a larger shift in society.
“In my opinion, I don’t see it as a function of kids being poorly mannered,” he said. “I see it more as a function of schools being involved in much more than education. Schools are increasingly being asked to take on roles that years ago would have been considered the realm of parents.”
Stressed-out parents have less time to raise their children, he said. And with synagogues and day schools competing for customers, the misconduct of students often reflects poorly on the institutions they attend. “If one or two of my kids misbehave, even though it’s a weekend, I’m going to hear about it on Monday,” Rabbi Englander said. “That wouldn’t have happened 20 or 30 years ago. The inclination would have been to call the parents.” 
Schools have been distinctly loaded with more and more expectations. Once, if a student was failing academically, the parents blamed their kid for not applying himself. Now, it's the teacher's fault.  

What of these AWOL parents?
Mr. Jasgur said. “Today’s kids are just overprogrammed. Their focus isn’t there. Many of their parents are also part of this younger generation, so it’s not their fault. It’s the way they were raised.” 
I dunno . . . 

A member of my shul, in his mid 30s, arrives every week on time. He brings his two boys with him, very young. But they sit straight in their chairs. They are quiet. They never fidget. Exactly like their father, who never talks, slouches, or yawns. His focus is strictly on prayer, his back ramrod straight. If davening gets too long for his kids, they simply put their heads down quietly on the table.

When I was their age, I was running around outside trying not to get grass stains on my new white mary-janes. Note I emphasize "outside."

Kids will be kids. I don't deny that; after all, I was one once. But that means that there are certain areas in life they don't get to be a part of, yet. Like driving. Like voting. Like algebra. 

The Berenstain Bears and the Slumber Party is a good teaching aid.  The basic premise is that with privilege, there is responsibility.
One day they will be ready for the responsibility as well as the privilege. Like taking your car for a spin. But there's a whole lot of training that goes into that first.      


Penina said...

When I was a kid, starting from maybe age five or six, I went to shul with my father every single shabbat, at the beginning of shul. I would sit with him and daven quietly or read shul-approved books like The Little Midrash Says, Chanoch Teller storybooks,or when I was a little older, The Midrash Says.

When I was younger I was allowed to go out for Haftara and the rabbi's speech. When I got older, my free time was reduced to just the rabbi's speech.

When I turned eleven, in preparation for my bat mitzvah, I "graduated" from sitting next to my father in the men's section to sitting alone in the women's section (my mother was usually still home with my younger siblings.)

My friends, who previously had attended junior congregation or groups, convinced their parents to let them try and sit with me. End result: a whole group of twelve-year-old girls sitting quietly together and davening every shabbat.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Yeah, well when I was a kid we had a rule that kids either were in the nursery, Junior Congregation or sitting with their parents. Kids caught running in the hall were corralled by the caretaker (an angry guy with a drinking problem so you didn't mess with him), gripped firmly by the arm and marched into the sanctuary where the adult designated "greeter of the week" took over and walked the kid over to the parents.
And eventually people complained. They said they'd stop coming to shul if their children weren't allowed to run and yell in the halls (well, that's not the wording but you understand) so the shul executive, mindful of the need for dues, caved and ended the rule.
Bottom line: In the frum world no one cares about the kids until they're teenagers and then years of neglect are magically eliminated by a year of brainwashing in Israel.

Gavi said...

As the father of two young boys (4 and 2.5), I prefer that they do not come in to shul for more than a short while. There is no pedagogical advantage to having them run around the sanctuary during the middle of tefilla.

It's like I always tell my wife: in the merit of you keeping them out of shul, they will daven properly when they are of an age that they can stay in shul.

Our rav told me that in his professional opinion, children learn to daven mostly in school and are usually ready to come for short services by the age of 7-8. Of course, some kids are ready earlier and some later...

As for myself, I wasn't ready to daven properly until I was 10 years old. Then one shabbos, the coordinator of the youth minyan told us that we would have to stay in for the entire service to join the kiddush - and lo and behold, we were all able to. Maybe because we saw our fathers actually davening as we grew up...

Princess Lea said...

Penina: It's so nice to hear. It's also depressing because every parent should know their child's abilities, neither expecting too much or too little. Your parents knew your self-discipline; other parents should keep their kids at home if they can't sit still.

MGI: It's true, but it depresses me: shipping kids off to Israel to straighten them out for you. It's such a parental cop-out.

Yelling in the halls would actually be an improvement to what my shul permits/encourages. I used to love going to shul, and know I don't, since I know I will have to glare at some misbegotten five year old.

Gavi: Back to the ol' role model! Bless you for keeping the kiddies at home (or at least outside). I've got plenty of nieces and nephews, and whenever they visit, I let my siblings go to shul and I stay with them.

Lost and Found said...

I didn't shriek, but let out an exasperated sigh and wished Mr. Feiler would find something more interesting to write about than shul attendance. You have to wonder what he's hoping to gain with the piece.

It's articles like these that make me wish we lived back in the shtetl.

Princess Lea said...

Sweetie, the shtetl had very little benefits. This wonderfully cushy American existence beats Cossacks, hands down.

While the article was not necessary, it certainly raises a valid issue that we, as a community, are loath to address: Our kids have no respect. Parents have to step up to the plate.

Lost and Found said...

Context. I didn't say life was safer, better or anything else of the sort. I was bemoaning the openness of our society to onlookers.

It's valid, no doubt, but it won't change anything and accomplishes one thing, namely, making a chillul Hashem. There are a lot of ways to catalyze change in a community- an article in the NYT isn't one of them.

Princess Lea said...

Yes, but when we were in the shtetl we were accused of killing Christian children and using their blood for matzos. Sometimes too much seclusion merely aggravates imaginations.

Don't get me wrong: I am not giddy about having such an article on the cover of the Style section. But it happened. So we might as well make the most of it.