Setting Parameters on Purim

Q: Purim is definitely the most joyous day in our house, yet there are issues we encounter regarding our 14-year-old son at this time of year. Our son is usually very serious, and really could use Purim time to “let loose.” This is the only time he feels that it’s “kosher” to be silly. On the one hand, he wants to play with the younger kids on our block, setting off fireworks Purim night, but he has also been pleading with us to let him go with a group of his classmates on a truck to collect tzedakah for his yeshivah. It’s as if he’s being stretched in two directions — to grow up/to remain immature.

I’m frightened about my children dealing with fireworks, but my husband has warm memories of his childhood on Purim setting them off. He thinks that I am being overprotective. What are your thoughts about fireworks, and about our son being mature enough to go on a truck with bachurim from his yeshivah?

A: Your son’s ambivalence about growing up is a universal experience that most people go through sooner or later in their lives. “Should this be the last time I go on the swing?” “Am I too old to play with Lego?”

The unfortunate reality is that on Purim, many older teenagers set off firecrackers, equating this activity with power rather than immaturity. Disagreement about fireworks is an old one between fathers and mothers, with fathers usually being more lenient in this area. As in all areas of parenting, the matter needs to be discussed and the pros and cons carefully weighed.

Clearly, this is not an activity in the “l’chat’chilah” category as regards choice of activities on Purim. However, for example, if you live in an area devoid of observant peers and this is your son’s primary way of experiencing simchas Purim, it might be acceptable for him to use firecrackers — under your husband’s supervision. Or, if many of your neighbors are involved in this activity, to stop your child from joining them is not necessarily the right decision.

Again, whenever fireworks are involved, adult supervision is needed. It is not always wise to rely on neighbors to provide this; they could take a short break, and safety issues can rise in seconds.

A main factor in your decision should be your son’s general sense of responsibility and accountability. If he is someone you feel comfortable asking to babysit for younger siblings, he is probably a more mature 14-year-old. Adult supervision is always needed, but dealing with a mature and responsible teenager should help allay your concerns. Baruch Hashem, some children can be compliant with the words “I don’t feel comfortable with you using firecrackers,” and that is enough for them to refrain from such activities.

As regards going with bachurim to collect tzedakah, maturity and accountability are key factors in this decision, too. Certain bachurim have been known to abuse the privilege of this activity by fulfilling “ad d’lo yada” too early in the day (or too early in their lives). Again, as in all areas of safety, precautions should be taken. This involves speaking to those in positions of achrayus in the yeshivah to clarify the parameters of what will be occurring and what supervision will be in place. One wise mother once had her son of a similar age call a revered baal eitzah (Harav Wolfson, Mara d’Asra of Emunas Yisrael) to discuss this issue with her son. Rav Wolfson asked the boy a number of questions and then spoke to his mother, and the issue was resolved. In this way, a power struggle was avoided and daas Torah prevailed.