by Yehudis Litvak.
On Motzei Shabbos parshas Noach, we enjoyed a Shabbos full of community events in honor of the Shabbos Project. Later, many mothers and fathers filled the Adas Torah sanctuary to hear the words of Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, a noted parenting expert who was visiting from Monsey, NY.
Rabbi Horowitz began teaching at age eighteen at a summer camp that offered a learning program. He volunteered to teach the weakest group of pre-teen boys. While the experience was challenging, Rabbi Horowitz loved every minute of it and soon realized that he had discovered his calling. He went on to become an eighth grade rebbi, choosing the weakest class year after year and reaching out to boys who were struggling not only with schoolwork, but with their observance and commitment to Yiddishkeit. He became an expert at teens-at-risk before the issue became widely recognized and addressed in the frum community. His articles in various Jewish newspapers and magazines brought to light the difficulties of working with underachieving yeshiva students, and he suggested changes and improvements in educational methods.
More and more parents began turning to Rabbi Horowitz for help, and he saw the need for a new school where he could apply his educational approach and prevent the problems he was encountering in his work. In 1997 he founded Yeshiva Darchei Noam, in Suffern, NY.
Rabbi Horowitz believes that at-risk behavior does not begin in adolescence. Appreciating each child’s individuality and treating them with respect in younger grades go a long way to prevent problematic behaviors in the teen years.
In 1997 Rabbi Horowitz also founded Project Y.E.S. It began as an employment agency for teens, with the goal of helping troubled adolescents lead productive and meaningful lives. Soon, it was transformed into a mentoring program for at-risk teens and their parents. It has been immensely successful, and many of its former clients credit their current Torah observance and stable family life to Project Y.E.S.
Through his work with troubled teens Rabbi Horowitz became aware of the heartbreaking fact that a significant percentage of at-risk adolescents were abused as children, often by adults they had known and trusted. Rabbi Horowitz became an advocate for victims of abuse, supporting victims and educating the Jewish community about the effects of childhood molestation. “Sometimes it takes ten minutes to ruin a child’s life,” says Rabbi Horowitz emotionally, “and it sometimes takes ten or twenty years to [rebuild] it.” Rabbi Horowitz is passionate about preventing abuse. He continues to disseminate information about abuse prevention through his website.
In collaboration with Artscroll, Project Y.E.S. published a book entitled Let’s Stay Safe, which teaches young children about personal safety. Rabbi Horowitz speaks on the subject of abuse prevention to communities throughout the world, and he touched on this subject here in Los Angeles.
The main topic of Rabbi Horowitz’ talk in Los Angeles, however, was “Raising Spiritual and Respectful Children”. He asked the audience to consider the barriers that stop our children from seeking our guidance. As the listeners suggested the possibilities – they are afraid of rejection or of disappointing the parents, they know what the parents will say, they think the parents won’t get it – Rabbi Horowitz encouraged us to remove each of the barriers so that our children would feel comfortable confiding in us, even if we might not like what they have to say. He said that parenting is about supervising children through their mistakes, and while sometimes it is necessary to assert our authority, it is important to develop the “third category”. This is when we say neither yes, nor no. There are things that parents are not happy to hear but are willing to allow because the child is talking to them about what they are interested in, or how they are spending their time, rather than doing something behind their back. Rabbi Horowitz encouraged parents to involve their children in the process of rulemaking. The parents can list their concerns while the child can come up with rules that address those concerns and which they can agree to.
Rabbi Horowitz spoke about the direct correlation of the quality of children’s home lives with their spirituality. He said that as parents we are marketing Torah values to our children. A relaxed and enjoyable Shabbos table creates a positive attitude towards Yiddishkeit. Parents need to have realistic and age appropriate expectations, and allow children to leave the Shabbos table or read a book on the couch if they find it difficult to participate for a longer stretch of time.
Rabbi Horowitz also addressed the barriers to tefillah and suggested focusing on thanking Hashem rather than on listing our needs and requests, teaching children the meaning of prayers, encouraging them to compose their own tefillos, and shortening the tefillah for children who find the process is cumbersome. He also encouraged involving children in hands-on chessed activities.
Rabbi Horowitz’s main advice to parents of struggling teens is to “stay in the game.” Parents of these teenagers need to remain flexible no matter what, and not to allow their relationship with the child to suffer or disintegrate.
For more information on Rabbi Horowitz’ work please visit http://www.kosherjewishparenting.com