Who is Responsible for Children’s Behavior?

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If you’ve ever been to a Bar Mitzvah party you know that the event has two separate components. There are adults congratulating the parents on their son’s wonderful performance and on the spectacular food. These people are generally well behaved.

Then there are the kids.

Oy vey, the kids.

At my bar mitzvah, the kids threw soda bottles agains the wall outside the hall in the hope that they would explode. Mind you, my father was the dean of the school, so this would be the most well behaved of the bar mitzvahs parties. When we were well behaved, in brief bouts, we were still mischievously pouring salt and pickle juice into our classmates’ cups filled with soda in the hope that they would gag or spit out their drinks. Ahhh, memories.

Anyway, it seems that the adults were on to us the entire time. Now they are getting serious and want to put a stop to the shenanigans. The NY Times is reporting that across the spectrum of Modern Orthodox to Reform Judaism schools and parents are teaching manners and etiquette so that the kids will act like¬†mentschen. This is a great idea.The more right wing kids need to work on this as well. The only problem is that it assumes that the kids don’t behave at the bar mitzvahs because of a lack of information. The real reason kids misbehave at bar mitzvahs is because of a lack of caring.

But the programs have spurned a new debate. Who is responsible to make sure kids behave and learn good manners? Is the parents? The schools? Both?

This is a huge topic and I think it applies to the right wing orthodox Jewish institutions as well. How much of a child’s education falls on the parents and how much falls on the schools? When children are not successful, is it fair for parents to blame schools? Is it fair for schools to blame the parents?

Obviously, the answer is highly case specific and on a continuum. However, the question is a valid one.

In my opinion schools should focus most of their attention to education. A child who is learning well and succeeding in school is far less likely to act out. Students who are floundering are the usual suspects when it comes to misbehavior. In my experience these two things are related. If schools are doing a good job providing an education to their students there will be far fewer students with behavior issues.

Of course there are exceptions. But as a general rule, I think behavior follows academic satisfaction.

Similarly, in my limited experience, parents who are involved in their child’s education and take an active role in parenting, have fewer behavior problems with their children. So if parents want well behaved children, the key is not to “teach behavior”. The key is to be a good parent.

Then again, bar mitzvah kids are 13. Let’s not get carried away with our expectations of their behavior either…

Anyway, that’s what I think.

Link: NY Times

  • Holy Hyrax

    >Who is responsible to make sure kids behave and learn good manners?

    Well, I think those are extensions of character development which is very much part of Judaism (i.e. pirkei avot). Now, granted, I don’t think they are going to care, by just belching out pirkei avot, but if the same kind of attention and time was put into moral/character development as they do with a page of Talmud, it may just be a good thing.

  • MarkSoFla

    Who is responsible?

    Well, first and foremost the child. Not so much at the beginning, but more and more as they grow up. Second, the parents, they are there to guide the children and to teach them right from wrong, and proper behavior. Third, their teachers, there are certain lessons that a teacher can impart better, or differently, than a parent, and it adds another perspective to the growing child. Fourth, their friends, nobody’s parents are perfect and they can always fill some gaps from friends. Later on, their classmates, colleagues, managers, etc.

    And you don’t suddenly stop learning how to behave when you become an adult at about age 18, most of us continue learning as we grow older. For example, at some point, we learn how to behave at an event such as a fundraising dinner or at an auction, or at any new kind of event that we’ve never participated in before. I’ve seen people only learn how to behave properly as a spectator on a golf course at a relatively advanced age.

    And there are some that never learn proper behavior.

  • Arie Schwartz

    You say that a child who does better in school is less likely to misbehave, but I think that might be confusing the cause and effect. I think it makes more sense to say that better behaved children are more able to sit still and learn and take tests. While it may be a school’s job to focus on education, that probably won’t change anything behavior-wise.

    • That’s the point of this post. Academic success prevents most behavioral problems. NOT the other way around. You have presented the conventional thinking. I think it is wrong.

  • Biblioteca

    You absolutely can teach character and moral and ethical behavior. Many organizations pride themselves on it and parents seek them out for their children for this very reason. Consider the Boy Scouts. It’s a shame that yeshivas make very little if any effort to impart character or teach proper behavior. If anything, they often undermine it by instead teaching Jews are better than non-Jews or white-washing unethical behavior we see from “frum” Jews in the media or even from personalities in the bible (for example, King David and Batsheva). The last point also relates to the incredibly over-emphasis on Gemara instead of teaching character/behavior. Talmudic reasoning is brought to bear on ethical situations and the moral is ultimately lost; instead of “don’t steal” the lesson becomes “in certain scenarios taking someone else’s property isn’t considered stealing.”

    It’s a real failure of our communities when kids run around like vilda chayas and engage in wanton property destruction and no one blinks an eye or says “oh well, kids will be kids.”

    • MarkSoFla

      “Consider the boy scouts” …. um, right now that’s probably not a very good idea. Sort of akin to saying “Consider the Catholic Church”, or “Consider the Charedi schools”, etc.

      • Biblioteca

        The fact that some people in the organization did wrong or the fact that the organization has a policy that you may think is wrong-headed doesn’t take away from the fact that the Boy Scouts have for decades taught character, moral and ethical behavior, and good citizenship. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. By that criteria, you might as well throw out Orthodox Judaism entirely.

        • MarkSoFla

          That’s not what I said. What I said was that right now is not a good time to use them as an example [related to rearing children] because the first thing that will come to mind is something other than the good things they teach.

    • You can TEACH it. But that doesn’t mean anyone will LEARN it.

      • Biblioteca

        Anyone? Maybe you meant everyone.

        Since when do we give up when we don’t get 100% results?

        • No. I meant anyone. My point is / was that teaching behavior is far less effective than just plain good teaching.

          • Holy Hyrax

            >You can TEACH it. But that doesn’t mean anyone will LEARN it.

            Same thing can be said about academics.

            • Holy Hyrax

              But I guess what you are saying is that IF you CAN teach the academics properly, they will automatically acquire proper behavior.

            • Not quite. It’s much easier to impart knowledge than to teach behavior.

          • Biblioteca

            Why do you think that? Why is it less effective? I think that needs to be addressed. More importantly, isn’t ethical/moral behavior at the core of Judaism? Shouldn’t it be taught as a prerequisite or at least accompanying ritual behavior?

            • My thesis is as follows:

              Kids want to succeed and please adults. Most of their lives are at school. When they are successful in school, they are happy. Happy kids might act out a bit, but they will not have major behavioral problems.

    • Neil Harris

      Timely, since this past Shabbos Kodesh was our son’s bar mitzvah and we had a casual melave malka for our out of town guess and a three families we are close with (a total of 20 adults) and my son’s classmates (total of 39 boys).

      While our school prides themselves on being a place where “Middos and Torah learning are linked together”, I think that it’s really the parents responsibility to teach their kids how to behave. School can run “middos of the month” programs and have contests and awareness campaigns, but if middos are not generated in the home, then we have lost the battle.

      Our son’s event was pretty low-key. We brought in two guys from an improv comedy company and they put on an interactive show and played a few improv games with the boys. We served pizza and soda, too. Aside from a few kids that always seem to be more active than others (especially when certain time released medications have run their course by the evening), there were no problems. This is mostly due to the parents of our son’s classmates and the expectation from the day school that middos are something of value.

      • kweansmom

        I think it also has to do with your planning. You kept it casual, kept the kids entertained, and fed them something they would like to eat. Some people plan formal Bar Mitzvah events primarily for the adults. The children are expected to sit through long-winded speeches from everyone the parents feel should be respected. Keeping the limitations of thirteen-year-olds in mind is crucial.

  • I heard a choshuv Rav talking about kids say “we need good adults, not good teenagers”.