Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ki Teitze 75 Raising Happy Children

One of the primary goals of parents and teachers is to raise ' happy kids', but this obsession with their children's happiness is said to lead to unhappy adults. Psychologist and writer Lori Gottlieb in her article '  How to land your kid in therapy  ' saw that it was not only young adults from dysfunctional families that  were unhappy, felt lack of purpose, unfulfilled and needed help but also  young adults whose parents may have been too attuned to their kids , being overinvolved, over anxious and protective -  in short doing too much.  From our Parasha and the literature on happiness and well- being,   Lori Gotlieb imho  has got in wrong in her analysis and what advice should be given to parents .

The verse Devarim 24:5 talks about the one year exemption for married men  from the army for their first year of marriage. He should be free to devote himself to his home and in particularly according to the Aramaic translation- Targum  ' makes his wife happy'.  The Targum Yonatan ben Uziel translates the verse  differently  -  ' he should be happy with his wife'.  We can reconcile both translations by saying that the Torah is teaching that a person only experiences true joy and happiness when he makes other people happy as well.  Kids experience true happiness when they are also concerned with the happiness of others. Raising happy kids is important, but more important is raising kids who also care for the happiness of other people.

According to the Self Determination theory S.D.T when a kids needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are being met, they are more self- determined, intrinsically motivated and happier. So having a sense of belonging, being part of a community, having supportive relationships, being of service, making a contribution to others, caring about their happiness etc,  promotes the well-being and happiness of kids. Parents and teachers get it wrong when they help kids focus on extrinsic goals such as achievement - achieving a reputation or even fame on the sports field or in the classroom or being above average, by becoming more competitive achievers. Intrinsic goals such as deep, enduring and meaningful relationships and making a contribution , make kids happier, extrinsic goals such as status, approval of others ,wealth, achievement , being competitive on the other hand cause tension, anxiety and are associated with fear and shame.

Parents and teachers can support the autonomy of kids by not being controlling and judgmental.  When kid's autonomy is supported and have a sense of purpose and relevance,   and a meaningful and spiritual life, they are more connected to their inner core values. They will then feel self-directed and intrinsically motivated. Being unconditionally loved and accepted by parents and teachers enables them to accept themselves   as good people. Having the traits of Self-Compassion and acceptance allows kids to see mistakes as 'our friends ', an opportunity for growth.  In an illuminating passage from her book Learning to Trust (2003), Marilyn Watson explained that a teacher (parent) can make it clear to students (kids) that certain actions are unacceptable while still providing “a very deep kind of reassurance – the reassurance that she still cares about them and is not going to punish or desert them, even if they do something very bad.”  This posture allows “their best motives to surface,” thus giving “space and support for them to reflect and to autonomously engage in the moral act of restitution” – that is, to figure out how to make things right after doing something wrong – in other words to repent and do Teshuvah. “If we want our students to trust that we care for them,” she concludes, “then we need to display our affection without demanding that they behave or perform in certain ways in return.  It’s not that we don’t want and expect certain behaviors; we do.  But our concern or affection does not depend on it'.  So autonomy support, unconditional acceptance and self-acceptance and compassion promotes Teshuvah= repentance and intrinsic motivation and hence the happiness and well-being of kids.

People and kids have a need for competence and mastery. The problem is parents and teachers help kids focus on instrumental  and materialistic  ' performance  goals '  such as grades, achievement, reputation, fame ,moving to a new level, achieving milestones. Parents and teachers should help kids focus on what is being studied ,  the  process of learning, using one's skills and knowledge to teach and help others rather than to compete with others  and develop  a competence that is associated with developing of love for learning that will make them into long life learners. Instead of focusing on personal growth , competence development and self-actualization and a love for learning that leads to happier and fulfilled people the focus is on how well a kid is doing and not engagement and curiosity. Jerome Bruner said that kids should experience success and failure as information, not as reward and punishment. We should be helping kids focus on what they are doing and not on how well they are doing.   Instead of focusing on compliance and discipline, parents and teachers can use CPS and collaboratively solve problems with kids. In this way we promote relationships, competence= social and emotional skills and autonomy where kids are not simply given choices but actually generate choices.

Hillel says, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? …….." Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14   Kids who lead meaningful and relevant lives, are competent and have a love for learning, are able to make sure that their personal needs are being met and see themselves as being of service to others will be happy and successful children and young adults.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Shoftim 75 - What happened to the Policeman?

שופטים ושוטרים תתן לך בכל שעך'  '   The parasha of Shoftim  opens with the commandment to appoint  for yourselves  judges and police officers in all your cities. In our daily prayers we ask  God to 'restore our judges as in the earliest times and counselors at first ' -   השיבה שופטינו כבראשונה ויועצינו כבתחלה. The obvious question is what happened to the policemen, why don't we pray for the restoration of a police force. There is a need for police especially in the light that religious courts are said to have ' no teeth ' and lack authority, something that has been a feature of the religious legal system for centuries. (Something to wonder about).In education, likewise there are many religious educators who long for the days where punishments were  ' effective ' tools in educating kids in Torah. Nevertheless, we pray for judges and counselors who can guide and inspire us to follow and keep God's Torah and not for policemen who will enforce God's law.

A legal system in a country and the state of law, order and morality are not only dependent on judges and policemen but on the moral standing of the population. In our verse above, God also calls on all individuals, on an individual level to be their own personal judges and policemen who reflect, make personal judgments on how to act and monitor their own behavior. In fact, the breakdown of law and order in many countries has more to do with the lack of moral standing of its population than government instruments for maintaining law and order. The Mishnah Pirkei Avos 3:2 ' Rabbi Chanina the deputy [High] Priest said: Pray for the welfare of the government (lit., monarchy), for if not for its fear, a person would swallow his fellow live." seems to be not quite relevant for a time when there is no longer any fear for governments. We pray that we should be intrinsically motivated to be people who follow the Torah because it is the right thing to do and we appreciate God's Torah values and the Divine intelligence. In the same way, we want our kids not to hit or speak badly to other kids because of what will happen to them, but because they are people who love others and don't hit or hurt the feelings of others.

We pray that not only should the religious courts replace secular courts but more important we should relate to religious courts from a true religious perspective. R' Isaac Sher explains that if we go to a religious court – beit din with intention to defend our rights and property we have transformed a beit din into a secular court. We go to beit din to seek guidance, to know how God wants us to act in this situation and resolve the conflict. The status of religious courts depends on our attitude and appreciation of their religious roles in our lives.

The Ohr Hachaim on our verse ' shoftim ve'shotrim ' brings a Pesikta   in the name of R' Elazar ben Shamuah – if there are no Officers to enforce the law there is no commandment to appoint judges, but if the people voluntary listen and comply with the courts' decisions then there is a commandment to appoint judges. And this judge is called a judge and an officer.  So in our daily prayers we pray for judges who will lead by greatness and in this way people will listen and comply with their decisions. So we need great judges and also people who appreciate their greatness and willingness to follow their advice and decisions.

Collaborating and finding mutual satisfying solutions or making compromises with or without the help of the religious courts is fundamental in dealing with disputes and resolving conflict. Again 'mishpat= justice ' is something very much personal and intrinsic to the individual and less dependent on the external legal system.

To sum up: It seems that the Torah wants the locus of control to be intrinsic to people and that we educate people to be their own judges, self – assess  and monitor their behavior , have an appreciation of the religious value of the courts of law and be able to settle disputes  in a collaborative problem solving way.

When it comes to our children we do the opposite.  The locus of control is outside the child. The educational system – both academic and socio-moral is driven by parents and teachers using extrinsic motivators such as grades, moving to the next level, consequences, punishments, rewards and encouragement in the form of positive reinforcement and praise.  When it comes to behavior, kids ask what will I get, or what will be done to me if I behave in a certain way and not what type of person do I want to be, is this an expression of my Torah values,reflect on  the consequences of my behavior, not for me, but for others in  the community,  classroom and family?  One of the things I look for in 'frum' – religious education and parenting is what happens when kids screw up. Is  the talk about compliance and the tools of control that can get compliance or is it helping the child to see the consequences of his actions on others, come up with a better plan that addresses his concerns in an appropriate way and engaging in an autonomous way in the moral act of restitution , reparation and making amends ? In other words - do Teshuvah-repent.

 When it comes to learning, the questions kids ask is if this will be on the test, what grade did I get, am I in the top ten in the class, how can I get the best grade with the minimal effort etc, instead of connecting and developing a love for learning, making meaning of what is being learned, seeing the actual value and relevance of the learning and asking questions. John Dewey said education is not a preparation for life, but life itself, or closer to home Torah is our life.

In order to place the locus of control with the child and move away from extrinsic controls and motivators we should take note of the words of the educator Jerome Bruner. Kids should be helped to focus on what they are doing and not on how they are doing. So it is important that kids do not experience success or failure as rewards or punishment but as information. Our feedback is important but it should be neutral and non-evaluative so kids can reflect on what they are doing and internalize the underlying values which will help them become self-determined Torah personalities.