Bad Influences

Q: I know that I am touching on a controversial topic, but it is affecting so many — I’d just like to get a take on your feelings about this. I’m speaking about the issue of children going off the derech. I have spoken to baalei eitzah in this field, and those who specialize in these situations, and I don’t have a clear answer or clear direction to go with my 15-year-old son.

My son is okay in Yiddishkeit for the time being, but I am fearful about influences he may receive from others. I have a 25-year-old brother who is no longer frum, and I see mistakes that my parents made, and I don’t want to make the same mistakes.

My son is too much of a “fun-loving” boy, and has never been so serious by nature. He’s not a great learner, and has a hard time davening for more than 15 minutes at a time. My older brother wants to take him out to baseball games (if he was still observant, maybe I would allow it), and my son doesn’t see why it’s such a bad thing for him to do. My wife and I avoid speaking negatively about my brother, but our children clearly realize that we disapprove of his behavior.

My son looks forward to sleepaway camp all year, and is involved with sports whenever possible, so he tries to find outlets for his “fun-loving” energy. Any ideas of how to limit my brother’s influence, or ways to help our teenage son be better inspired in his life?

A: As I know limited details of the resources you have available — what type of support system, which type of friends your son socializes with — it is difficult to assess his vulnerability to negative influences. Daas Torah can help navigate the shaky road where numerous teenagers find themselves in our contemporary society.

One eternal gift we can bestow is that of showing our children unconditional regard and love in whatever maamad umatzav they find themselves. This point cannot be underestimated! Instead of focusing on your brother’s possible influence on your son, it is more constructive to focus on your possible influence on your son. Focusing on (and then verbalizing) what you truly appreciate about your son, will help strengthen the bond between the two of you.

A Torah lifestyle is all-encompassing, and if the individual finds his or her “place” in its many possible arenas, the possibility of losing this connection is greatly decreased.

If your son is enamored of sports, perhaps he can start a frum baseball team in your neighborhood on Fridays during the spring.

If your brother is deemed toxic, and you are frightened by his presence, it doesn’t necessarily keep your son away from his influence. Again, if your brother is now antagonistic towards Yiddishkeit, then his lack of respect toward you and your lifestyle becomes quite inevitable.

In such a circumstance, it would readily be understandable why you wouldn’t want his company in your home. If your brother is more indifferent but remains respectful, his influence is less of a concern.

When you ask about ways for your son to be more inspired, where are you as a role model? Do you show enthusiasm about davening? Can you spend two minutes focusing on gadlus Haborei, from the smallest amoeba, to the perfectly orchestrated running of the human body? Do you share your positive feelings about learning, davening or being involved with gemilus chassadim?

Fifteen is a hard age to navigate the world. You’ve already begun high school — the newness of beginnings has worn off. You’re not yet 16, when many begin to drive and feel more independent, or yet 17, when most of your formal schooling comes to an end. Finding a positive self-image in this time period is most challenging.

Hatzlachah in helping your son create a frum identity, in which he will experience simchah and a sense of fulfillment.