Q: My 14-year-old is going to an out-of-town mesivta this year, which is about an hour and a half away from our home. He will come home for Shabbosos once a month. As I think about this more, I’m starting to have second thoughts about our decision to send him there. What are your general feelings about children this age going to out-of-town schools?
A: Some parents have no choice. They must send their child away, as there simply is no viable alternative. They have to bite the bullet, hope for the best and keep in close touch with their child on a daily basis. But then there are those for whom sending a child out of town is only one of many options. It is these parents whom I am addressing now. There are periods in a parent’s life when the option of sending a child to an out-of-town yeshivah becomes a possibility to consider. The issues involved vary, depending upon the age of the child and other factors. One needs great siyatta diShmaya in making such a decision, as its consequences are far-reaching.
Before deciding to send a high-school-age child out of town, one needs to consider his yeshivah ketanah. In some circumstances, an out-of-town mesivta is a natural outgrowth of a child’s yeshivah ketanah, and is part of the expected progression of the students in the school. Even in such cases, a child’s individual needs have to be taken into consideration. Some children need more time in their home environment in order to develop a more solidified sense of their ethical selves before being confronted with the many personalities and possible ethical challenges that can be found in a dormitory environment. Though dorm counselors work with sincerity, total supervision in a dorm is generally impossible. Thus, one needs to be keenly aware of a child’s strengths and weaknesses before allowing him to embark upon dorm life. It may be better for a morally weak (or as yet undeveloped) child to live with a potentially inferior learning environment and remain at home, rather than risk a situation where his integrity and Yiddishkeit may be compromised.
Though a school may seem to have excellent students registered in June, a September classroom may look quite different. Many students may also appear different externally than they really are. Parents need to “have a finger on the pulse” of their child’s school environment, as a child cannot always aptly describe what is occurring and the people involved.
There are times, however, when clearly it is for the child’s benefit to opt for an out-of-town yeshivah. A family may be experiencing a period of severe stress, or continual distractions may make a learning environment very difficult for certain bachurim. Due to particular circumstances, a more structured and intensive learning environment can be a great asset to some, and mature teenagers can grow in learning and middos by being more independent. Because these youngsters are not in their home environment at a vulnerable age, a good school support system is imperative for their growth. Emotional issues, if they arise, must be addressed by adults in the school environment.
In regard to post-high school, other issues arise. Fear of sending children to Eretz Yisrael is an issue in itself (in terms of having adequate supervision, spiritually and otherwise), and questions in this area should be addressed to one’s Rav. Questions about a child’s dormitory environment are also important at this age, but usually less decisive in molding a child’s personality and direction in Yiddishkeit. As a child is older and independently choosing to study, the issues are less severe. Children often improve in their observance when learning out of town, or strengthen their original connection to Torah, and their increased learning and independence becomes an asset as a foundation in their future adult lives. Again, not every child desires to go away from home, and issues of individual wishes and peer pressure need to be weighed now and in all stages of life.
Some children could greatly benefit from living away from home at a post-high-school age — in regard to becoming more responsible and self-reliant — yet they fear this change. A parent’s knowledge of the child helps the parent to see which of the child’s experiences were successful, and which were not. In this case, sincere self-appraisal needs to take place, with honest input from parents and child.
In truth, as each child leaves home, a parent’s sense of stability and sameness can be greatly shaken. Parents must suppress their urge to create a non-realistic world where no child ever leaves, and create one where change is growth-producing and encouraged, as a reflection of trust in the beloved children. Going out of town to study is not an appropriate option for all children, but parents’ issues should not stop the progress of those children who would benefit from this step.