Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Risky business

Orthomom has an interesting post on SephardiLady's interesting post about Teens at Risk. Check it out. In a nutshell, Orthomom feels that though our treatment of TAR has changed for the good over the years due to recognition of the problem, that change may actually help some other TAR leave the straight and narrow. They may now feel a subconscious excuse for their actions (at least that's the way I understand her point). I had some thoughts about this.

Emotional baggage or not, the rigidity and strictness which these issues were dealt with in the past IMO is absolutely wrong. Judaism is not about forcing it on anyone, nor should it be. If someone doesn't understand, let them go on their own journey. If we are confident enough in our own belief and practices, we should be just as confident that the journey will end up back where it started - Orthodox Judaism. We certainly can encourage them and nudge them in our direction.

Of course in many cases this isn't about a search for truth or a spiritual journey, it's more about teenage rebellion. In that case rigidity may be the worst possible response. I have a few classmates who no longer live a Jewish or frum lifestyle thanks to rigidity. Dealing kindly someone who is openly rebellious can change a persons perspective for the rest of their lives.

So while all this openness and understanding may give a few kids the feeling that they can now rebel more easily, at the end of the day, and with a bit of maturity, openness and understanding will ultimately win out.

But there is another side to the coin too. People feel that they have to fawn over those who went "off the derech", constantly ask them how things are, how they're doing etc. I remember as a teenager how that really bothered me. Because some kid did what he wasn't supposed to be doing he gets this whole outpouring of love and caring? I'm a little more grown up and mature now, but I remember feeling that way, rightly or wrongly, as a teenager. We have to show that we care, but we should not go crazy.

It's natural to want to go overboard trying to welcome them back into the fold. That's fine, as long as you do the same for the regular, good kids. There is no reason for kids like I was to feel that all the caring is reserved for those who did not play by the rules. So say hello to your neighbors little kid waiting for the bus in the morning. Ask him how he's doing. It won't kill you, and it might actually make an impact. You never know. It's even possible that he'll never need the welcoming back committee because of it.