Q: Dear Shira,
We have a 14-year-old son who is entering mesivta, and he talks about joining the IDF as his ideal. He loves reading books on World War II and idealizes a time in history that was horrific!
Our household is quite unconventional, and maybe people consider us too open-minded. A good friend of mine has suggested that our son needs more structure. She says that if we are not giving him the structure he wants, he’ll go create it himself by joining the armed forces. My take is that he wants to be the “hero” and this is his way of doing it.
He says he might want to go to Israel after he completes his first year of mesivta, where he can then join a “pre -army division” at age 16. My husband and I don’t know how to respond to him. We do want our children to think for themselves and have their own minds — theoretically. But push comes to shove, this direction worries us.
Our son doesn’t show his emotions very easily, and is generally more cerebral. He has some good friends, and he has a good relationship with school staff. I guess that he has to idealize something…
I’m a self-employed, very busy businesswoman; my husband works in more of a simple but interesting, less pressured job. I’ve asked him over and over to spend more time with this son (this son is the oldest of seven), but he is not so socially inclined himself. He’s generally home with the children more than I am, but he is better at stopping sibling arguments and getting them to go to sleep that he is at having meaningful conversations with them.
I think that if my son had more of a male role-model to look up to it would help him. But my husband is too much in the world of theory, and not much in the world of emotion. Any ideas?
A: Sometimes teenagers will fantasize about who they might become one day from the positive things that they read about. In this way it can be a stepping stone, or motivating factor, in eventual positive life decisions.
The question here is to what extent your son is living in the books he is reading, and to what extent this issue is problematic. If he feels that he is aspiring to possible future greatness, and he has friends and doesn’t view himself as being depressed, then this is probably not problematic. You yourself point out ways that certain family environmental factors have possibly helped broaden your son’s perspective, which seems quite constructive.
The first step to take is to a consult with a baal eitzah who has experience working with teenagers, be it a Rav or Mashgiach. This is of utmost importance, as the family dynamic can be paramount in this situation. Do you yourself feel that your family life lacks structure? Does your family have a definitive direction — a “mission statement,” as they say? Some introspection in this area may be of help.
An idea to envision is: “The Schwartz family excels in the middah of …. Our goal is to ….” This should be verbalized with family members. Each family member’s “world-view” will be expressed verbally, allowing discussions to naturally surface, and ideas and feelings to be elicited. The idea of greatness and excellence need not be exclusively visualized in the military.
With regard to your husband, instead of stressing your fears about this issue (even though they may be well-grounded), it is more helpful to focus on what your husband can give to the father-son relationship. Creating time (when you are home) for your husband to focus on your son alone can be a beginning. Finding an area in which they are both interested can be an opening to an improved interpersonal relationship.
Next year’s Rebbeim need to be spoken to, to make sure that your son does not “get lost in the cracks.” Students who are non-problematic can be overlooked, as their issues lie dormant. (Creating relationships with teenagers is something that mesivta Rebbeim generally excel in.)
An important note is not to minimize your son’s “living” in the world of books. It is your job as a parent to sensitize yourself to your son’s involvement in fantasy life and to be sure of its psychological ramifications. If you are unsure, going for a psychological consultation might be extremely helpful.