Parshas Yisro

Rabbi Gidon Goldberg's picture

Dear Parents,

As school administrators and rabbonim we are constantly dispensing advise that is based on years of experience. Human nature is such that at times the recipients of this advice can’t at times understand or accept the advice being given. I saw an article this week written by Rabbi Shmuel Gluck of Areivim in Monsey, NY an expert in the field of parenting and education that addresses this topic. Please enjoy his article and the my personal explanation.

Making effective decisions and/or creating guidelines requires people who are smart, experienced, and knowledgeable in the subject matter. People with these qualifications may make decisions for others. However, those affected by the decisions at times believe that the decisions are not only "off", but completely misguided. This will cause them to lose faith in those people whom they had considered worthy enough to ask for advice. This includes parents, teachers, Rabbonim, and Gedolim.

The recipients of advice often become frustrated at the advice they receive, because they are unaware of how the adviser came to the decision. In addition to being smart, experienced, and knowledgeable, the adviser considers factors that are not directly (and often only remotely) related to the subject. The recipient of the advice is unaware that the adviser considered these remotely related factors.

For example, when six-year-old children want to continue playing with their Lego sets past their bedtime, they only consider two points: their desire to play, and that the Legos are in front of them. Their parents consider those points, but also consider the children's sleeping patterns, and their schedules the next morning. The last two points are "foreign" to children. Not only are they not interested in scheduling, they are unaware that scheduling takes place.

Their level of reasoning cannot fathom anything beyond the immediate issue, that of playing. Since they can't see past the immediate issue, six-year-old children become frustrated, angry, and are unable to imagine that their parents' decision was based on anything other than they don't care about them, or that they simply don't understand how important it is to play with Legos.

When children become teenagers they begin to see beyond the immediate issue. The older that people become, the "wider" their sight becomes. Nevertheless, teenagers can't see as "far" as people who are still older, and/or have more life experiences than they have. As teenagers, they can't imagine that there's more to an issue than what they grasp and, therefore, they become frustrated at those who draw different conclusions.

For example, young teenagers may find it difficult to appreciate how their performances in the 8th grade will affect their high school applications. Older teenagers can't imagine that their attendance, and behavior, in Shul, will affect their chances of getting a summer job.

The inability to see beyond what one sees is not limited to youth. Many people believe that they did not see far enough in their previous life stages (childhood, teenagers, newly married, etc.) but, at "this" stage in their lives, they can see as far as they need. My personal experiences prove differently.

I'm not suggesting that any decision that doesn't make sense is a sign of its "brilliance". Nevertheless, if a person has earned a reputation as an expert in a certain field, or as a person to whom others can ask for advice, they should be respected for their decision even if people can't understand it. The quality of advice should be "graded" based on the expertise of the one offering it, and not on how sensible it sounds to a layman.

When educational leaders and Rabbonim are asked about individual circumstances, they think of any and all communal situations that may be affected. Often therefore a decision that may seem obvious to a parent may be seen differently through the eyes of the person dispensing advice. Parents must advocate for their children and therefore at times are looking for additional flexibility or understanding when a child may feel to meet a school’s academic or behavioral expectation. They often are looking at here and now and their child’s happiness is affected. A school or Rabbi however is forced to look at other variables such as how a given behavior or situation affects other students in the classroom, the criteria needed after graduation to be accepted into a high school or seminary.

Parents should ask for clarification when they don’t understand advice that is being given to them if they don’t understand it or disagree. When needed parents should also feel free to reach out for a second opinion when needed. In making a final decision please consider bringing together the entire team such as the administrator, Rav and any other professionals for a joint meeting where the entire issue can be put on the table and discussed from the various outlooks and then to arrive at a joint decision.

Parenting in today’s generation is a challenge but understanding that we are limited by our own perceptions. We feel the need and responsibility to advocate for our desired outcome, but when we partner together with multiple stakeholders we can achieve tremendous results.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman