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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Monsters or Victims

Youth violence and promiscuity are neither new nor news.  But for some reason, Israel is particularly late in coming to terms with these two negative, and likely connected, trends.

The reason this topic is on my mind is that last week a couple of 13-year-old boys drugged and raped a 12-year-old girl here in Israel.  The rape itself, though shocking, would probably have been relegated to a bit of 'tsk-tsk'ing and 'boys will be boys' type of public response had the girl not slipped into a coma and been hospitalized for almost a week (She's awake now).

Many in the press and government immediately started pointing fingers and trying to score points over this tragedy.  Some blamed the school strike that has left so many kids without adult supervision and at loose ends.  Others blamed the increasing sexuilzation of teen society and the pervasive sexual/sensual content on TV and in the movies.

But what few seem willing to do is blame the parents.

Israeli parents have a well-deserved reputation for spoiling their kids and being permissive to a fault.  If confronted they will often tell you some variation of the following:

"...but what can I do, they grow up so fast here in this stress-filled country and then have to go into the army to face G-d-knows-what kind of horrible dangers.  I want them to have as few responsibilities as possible and remain kids for as long as possible... because who knows what the future might bring!"

While certainly a mindset that begs understanding, if not sympathy, I always feel my blood pressure climb when I hear it.  Don't they see that by abdicating parental responsibility they are not extending their kid's childhood, they are shortening it.  They are prematurely setting their kids adrift in the trackless ocean of adulthood without even a semblance of the decision-making tools they'll need to navigate such dangerous waters.

I once confronted an Israeli mother when I noticed her 12 or 13 year old daughter smoking right next to her outside a mall.  I fully expected her to tell me to simply mind my own business (or worse).  But instead she surprised me by shrugging helplessly and saying:

"All her friends are smoking... and she's going to do it anyway... so I have to make a choice:  I can lock her in the house and become her enemy... or I can let her have her way and remain her friend.  Between being my daughter's friend or being her enemy, I chose to be her friend." 

With that she took out a cigarette and lit up as well.

I was floored to hear a parent feel they had so few options in child-rearing.  Not only that, it revealed an underlying fear that many Israeli parents seem to have of losing their children's affection if they attempt to impose discipline and order on their kids 'tipesh-esreh (loose translation: stupid-ager) pre-army years.

I can understand a certain feeling of helplessness if society at large lacks the legal and social prohibitions/taboos to bolster a parent's resolve.  But c'mon people, we're talking about our children's lives here!  How can we just shrug and look away when the kids are, quite literally, killing themselves (and each-other) with rampant underage drinking, drug abuse, promiscuity and violent confrontation?

Look, I'm also an imperfect parent (of imperfect teens) who struggles daily to find that elusive balance between being too permissive and overly strict.  But I (and hopefully they) understand that hard choices need to be made... and that for every choice there is a consequence. 

It isn't about whether they will be my enemy or my friend.  I can't really be either and make a reasonable claim to having done my job properly.  I would dearly love to be my children's best friend as they are some of the most wonderful people I know.  But they have plenty of friends, and one more or less isn't going to make a real difference.  Whether they know it or not, what they really need are parents, not another friend! 

Look at it another way: Most people would love to be a starting pitcher or a star Short Stop (Europeans think star Striker or Goalie)... but without umpires (referees) there would be bedlam on the playing field, and the game would be neither fun nor safe.  So with little modest compensation (beyond the personal satisfaction that comes with the job) and little fanfare, some people choose to become umpires.

In a Talk-back  thread on YNET where people were discussing the the rape case I mentioned at the beginning of the post, one commenter shared the following to point out how differently the futures seemed for the rapists as opposed to the girl they'd attacked:

"The two offenders will be sent to clean bathrooms for a month or two; she's on her way to vomiting up her soul in the bathroom for a year or two.  They will be sent for counseling for a week or two to make sure they know that what they did was wrong; she'll be in treatment her whole life to try to cure just one little sliver of her soul.  They'll walk around with no fear, calm and happy; she will look behind her back in fear her whole life, jumping at even the slightest touch.  They'll take aspirin if their head hurts; she'll live on tranquilizers and anti-depressants.  They'll sleep well at night; she'll sleep with tears her whole life.  They will live; she's already dead.  Everyone should be ashamed." *

While I agree with what the commenter wrote, I think he/she ignored the larger framework within which this tragedy took place.  He/she seems to imagine that the crime was committed in a vacuum... and it was not.

When I realized this I also realized why the mother who I chastised for smoking with her daughter was so incredibly wrong about her perceived choices.  But as usual, only now is it clear to me what I should have said to her (treppenwitz):

"Lady, the choice isn't between being your daughter's enemy or her friend while she's a child.  It is whether you want to have even the slightest influence over her choices, happiness and safety... now, as well as throughout her adult life. 

You're correct in saying that so many of her life experiences here in Israel are dictated by the actions and choices of those around her.  But you aren't giving her more choices by trying to be her friend... you are limiting her choices and maybe even endangering her. 

By allowing society to raise your child you are leaving her important choices to other people... or to chance.  And given the limited choices now faced by the parents of those 13-year-old boys and the 12-year-old girl, it seems that a parent should want more control of their children's fate than whether they become monsters or a victims."

[Note:  Although some may see the above as somehow blaming the victim, please know that that is the furthest thing from what I meant.  I was simply trying to make the point that crimes such as this are becoming more and more commonplace and one can't look at them as isolated incidents anymore.  They are symptomatic of something dreadfully wrong with the way society views parenting roles and responsibilities.]

* Source

Posted by David Bogner on October 31, 2007 | Permalink

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Whether they know it or not, what they really need are parents, not another friend!

Very good point! As Meni Pe'er put it in a stand-up routine: "You want to be your kid's friend? You're 45 and you have a 12 year-old friend?! What are you, a pervert?!!?"

Posted by: Simon | Oct 31, 2007 10:08:05 AM

We hail from Marin County, the indubitably most liberal county on the west coast where the Husband was a cop and I was a prosecutor....and I had the unhappy assignments of both juvenile (at one point) and child sexual assault (at another point) as well as a number of crimes involving juvenile females who were victimized by older men via drugs and/or alcohol....

The BIGGEST mistake a parent can make IMHO is to try to be their childrens' "friends"--you need not be their "enemy" either, but you MUST be a parent and provide them with bounderies that they are not mature enough or strong enough to provide themselves. One girl's home was invaded by 4 adult gang members in the middle of the night and her parents did NOTHING because they "didn't want to alienate [their] daughter," who was already permitted to smoke, use drugs, violate curfew and have sex with various gang members because "we're not the police and she's 15 and she'll do it anyway..."

It was by far the worst cop-out for parenthood I've ever heard. Sorry, but if you don't have the moral courage to actually engage in "parenting" your children instead of "befriending" them, then don't have kids. You need to be liked? Get a dog.

Posted by: aaliyah06liyah06 | Oct 31, 2007 11:09:18 AM

Of all the things to import from America, this is one of the worst. Parents acting as their kids' friends rather than parents seems to be the rule in many circles, not the exception.

Posted by: Benji | Oct 31, 2007 11:34:00 AM

Benji - While this is true in America, this isn't an American import. I really think it's a reflection both of the things trep point out (IDF service, war/terrorism/violence) and also an originally egalitarian ethos that kept parents from being parents (a minority, of course, but children raised in children's houses in kibbutzim instead of by their parents) as well as a general megia li culture in Israel that refuses to take responsibility for their own actions, which is reflected in all aspects of Israeli society.

Posted by: amechad | Oct 31, 2007 12:07:36 PM

I'm not a social psychologist but it is interesting to see how these phenomena are traveling around the Western world (I worked with parents of Anglo teens on a study abroad program in Israel last year and they were this way across cultures.) There must be something in culture/media/technology which is facilitating it. It's too coincidental that lack of responsibility is happening all over the place. If you haven't heard this term yet, look up "helicopter parents." It's slowly becoming known in the education world in the States.

Posted by: Benji | Oct 31, 2007 12:22:50 PM

I don't believe it's because of the stress of our society in Israel, because this is rampant in America, and I would imagine in many other modern societies, that don't deal with the threat of daily terrorism or being drafted. In recent history the world has known what I think is unprecedented wealth. Even those of us who don't consider ourselves "wealthy" have the necesseties (food, shelter etc.) in abundance and plenty of luxuries. So because we can, we give our kids just about anything they want. They don't understand "no" because noone ever uses that word with them. And yes, this permissiveness is very damaging to our children.

Parents need to take control of their children. Period. "No" is not a dirty word, and should be used as often as appropriate and necessary.

Just because its really hard to raise kids doesn't mean we should abdicate our responsibility.

Posted by: Baila | Oct 31, 2007 12:44:41 PM

It is an over-involvement in a child's life by the parents. You see it start happening in grade school were a parent like me, doesn't do the child's school project and you can hear other parents muttering amongst themselves about it. It becomes worse as the child ages.

Instead of parents disciplining kids over drinking, etc., parents now host parties where their kid's friends can come over and drink.

If the kid does get in trouble, the parent, in more cases than not, is looking for others to blame.

It's an abdication of personal responsibility. The parent is not being responsible. Kids are left thinking it is everyone else to blame.

Baila is right about the not saying "no" bit. A lot of kids have so much stuff, there is no way they can play or use everything.

It is not going to change until parents stop trying to be their kids friends.

Posted by: shira | Oct 31, 2007 1:06:09 PM

Parents need to stop assuming that their son would never rape a woman. If you see it as within the realm of possibility that he could become so broken, then you teach him about respect, etc. Having said that, the kids who did this should be removed from society for a very long time. They have already shown that their circuits are fried. Bye-bye.

The comment about the these kids' futures is a bull's-eye.

That aside, your kids might hate you a little for setting boundaries when they are young but they will love you forever when they get over the sting. Abdicate responsibility and they may feel quite negatively about you forever. I'll take the short term cold shoulder over the long term.

Posted by: Alice | Oct 31, 2007 3:06:50 PM

A parents' job is to too teach their children how to be a productive member of society.

That means providing structure and guidance. It is unacceptable to use fear of the future as a reason not to.

In fact fear of the future is why you must teach them. If you don't give them the tools to cope with life now how will they do it later.

Posted by: Jack | Oct 31, 2007 3:29:08 PM

On a much smaller scale, a few years ago, we insituted a no TV on school nights policy. A few weeks later, a friend asked how I was able to get my kids to sit still and do homework after school. Her child was walking in the door, flipping on the tv and refusing to do his work. I informed her about our no TV rule, and her reply was "how did you do that?" My reply was that I am the parent, I make the rules, inform my children of them, and there are consequences for not following them. She seemed to be mystified by this entire concept. At the time, the child was 6!

Posted by: anon. | Oct 31, 2007 4:20:03 PM

It's also key not to wait until they're teenagers to start trying to discipline and establish structure. If you wait until they're tween or teens then it won't work.

Posted by: Annie D | Oct 31, 2007 5:00:34 PM

Are you so sure that this was a result of parental permissiveness? I agree with you on all counts as far as your comments on how to raise children, but I don't know that this episode can be blamed on the parents. By the way - I hadn't heard about it till I read your blog, and I was revolted. Call me naive, but I didn't think such a thing was possible in Israel.

Posted by: mata hari | Oct 31, 2007 9:41:43 PM

David, so much of what you wrote resonates with me, because this is the world I've chosen to live in. I'm not a parent, though I someday hope to be one. So I cannot respond with anecdotes about my own parenting experiences. But in chosing child mental health as my profession, I've also chosen to work side by side with parents.

So many of the concerning behaviors and issues that bring children into a mental health clinic are direct reactions to or behaviors learned from parents and caregivers. Obviously, not all of them- there are many, many children whose brains and bodies are somehow wired differently than their parents. While
I cannot place the entire burden on parents, I cannot overemphasize the importance of good parenting. If parents wish to see their children act/react/respond differently, then parents must also be willing to change the way they act/react/respond to their children.

The 'future' that you envisioned for that poor little girl does not have to be that way...but her own parents will play a huge role in determining which path she starts down. Will they teach her to minimize the "incident"? Will they encourage her not to speak about it and "put it behind her"? Will they walk on eggshells around her? Will they work with her, as a family, to find help her find a new balance?

Children need parents. Some children, sadly, may be more predisposed to the behaviors that you described as monsterous. This is true in any country, any neighborhood, any socio-economic level. If children are not taught and shown by their caregivers how to be human, can we really be so shocked that some of them turn out to be "monsters" instead?

(Note: I have serious issues about labeling these kids "monsters". I'm simply echoing your terminology, not endorsing it)

Posted by: Cara | Oct 31, 2007 10:13:33 PM

"To me, cigarettes are food"
---Frank Zappa, responding to an assertion that his nicotine habit conflicted with
his anti-drug stance.

Posted by: Back of the Hill | Oct 31, 2007 11:01:38 PM

And regaring those two thirteen year old boys, I cannot say anything that would not be disturbing and psychopathic at this point. And I prefer not to even try thinking about their crime.

Posted by: Back of the Hill | Oct 31, 2007 11:06:01 PM

While I agree with the general point about the need to set boundaries for children, I think rape is something that stems from something far beyond lack of discipline. Violent sex crimes belong in entirely different category of behavior than experimenting with smoking, alcohol, drugs or even shoplifting. I'm afraid there's more to this situation than a simple lack of parental responsibility (though it's probably a big part of it).

Posted by: Irina | Oct 31, 2007 11:20:24 PM

Irina, I don't think anyone is saying that these boys committed rape because their parents didn't discipline them. The point is that general lack of discipline and parenting is so pervasive that extreme incidents like this one occur more frequently, making less extreme and less shocking. And yes the constant sexualization of youngsters in the media contributes to this, but as parents shouldn't we be turning the tv off???

Posted by: Baila | Nov 1, 2007 6:51:51 AM

This post expresses everything I have witnessed in the nine years that I have been in Israel - and the attitude is prevalent wherever you go.

In Modiin, the newspapers shout out the headlines: "14-YEAR-OLD COMMITS SUICIDE BECAUSE OF BOREDOM." A teenager jumps off a building in Modiin, and the parents blame it on the fact that the child was "bored," because there are no clubs or bars in Modiin, where their teenager can drown his sorrows, or get totally high. They will do anything to deflect responsiblity - even if it means being as far-fetched as to blame a city for not having enough means of adult entertainment for their teenager. The same article reports that parents give their kids money for beer and cigarettes because they feel so bad about the situation in Modiin. (Bear in mind that Modiin has more on offer to teenagers than anything my husband and I ever had growing up, in England and America respectively, and, in the risk of sounding like an old fogey at the age of 29, but going to our friends' house to hang out was more than enough entertainment.)

The kids get drunk and hang out in the park till the wee hours of the morning, until they cause a disturbance, and the police arrives and herd the kids back to their parents, who, when answering the door, will most likely look accusingly at the policeman, as if he is also in on the act to deprive the youth of their good time and kicks.

It really is a sickening situation, and I personally put this attitude amongst Israeli parents down to laziness and inertia. Do what you want. Buy the rucksack that is $100 but totally impractical for school. Go and hang out with your friends and get drunk, even though you are only 11 years old, and have school tomorrow. ANYTHING. Just get out of my hair.

Just lovely.

Posted by: Double Take | Nov 1, 2007 8:16:59 AM

I'll echo the previous comment, that Israeli parents have trouble with boundaries from the get go. Tween and teen years are pretty much too late to start laying down the law. Luckily, I'm a big meanie already with my two and four year olds, so I hope I won't have too much trouble by then.

I can't count how many times I've watched parents at the park just sitting on the side while their little angels hogged a swing at the park for 30 minutes, or refused to even try to get their kid to give other kids a chance because "that will make him cry".

I've seen Israelis in the US with the same parenting attitude.

The truth is, the reason why those supernanny shows are so popular in the States and here, is that many parents in general have trouble with boundaries. It's hard work and it does seem much easier to let the kid run the show, then having to really deal with tantrums and rules.

Posted by: Abbi | Nov 1, 2007 9:31:56 AM

Simon... Sad but true. :-)

aaliyah06liyah06... The dog line is perfect. May I use it?

Benji... I doubt this has anything to do with imitating Americans. This is an Israeli issue.

amechad... Excellent point. One need look no further than our leaders to to see how widespread the lack of taking responsibility is.

Baila... It may not be the reason... but it is the most widely heard excuse.

shira... Are there really parents who host drinking parties still? Who would risk the responsibility for someone else's kid getting killed???

Alice... I think it is natural to have a blind spot for our kid's potential for bad behavior. The bigger problem is how parents react when confronted with the clues.

Jack... Agreed 100%

anon.... We've cut way back on our kid's TV watching. But there are times I wish we could get rid of it altogether. Except during world series time, that is. :-)

Annie D... Also, as a friend of mine put it: They're going to hate you when they become teens anyway... you may as well have them hate you for being a good parent.

mata hari... Absolutely not. I never said this was a result of parental permissiveness. What I said was that nobody is even looking in that direction. There is a reflexive tendency to look everywhere else except at parenting when bad stuff like this happens. But if I had to guess, I would say that none of the parents of these kids were aware of where there kids were, that they had access to drugs/alcohol or that they would be in a an unsupervised place where such a thing could happen.

Cara... I appreciate your comment... especially given your background. Oh, and some kids are monsters. Those that rape and kill are broken and are beyond redemption. Preying on other human beings is not a behavior one can unlearn. They are like man-eating lions. We can't kill them (as we would a lion that has acquired a taste for humans) but we can make sure they never hunt again.

Back of the Hill... I hope you aren't using Zappa as a model parent. I mean, who names their kids Moon Unit and Dweezel? as to discussing the boys... better not to. If it were my daughter... let's just say they would never find the bodies of those two monsters.

Irina ... Rape is not about sex or love, but about power. In a way, so is parenting. Obviously one can't compare the two, but I can't help thinking that when parents don't exert enough power over their children's world, the result is one of two extremes: ether they overcompensate and become potential abusers... or they under-compansate and become potential victims.

Double Take... Sounds like you guys have a big problem. A few years back we had a very big problem in Efrat due to a real lack of programming for kids. However I think your point is well taken that we grew up without a lot of programming and made our own fun. Something is wrong when kids can't find safe, wholesome ways to entertain themselves. Even if they want to get into trouble, there is good clean trouble... and there are crimes.

Abbi... The flip side of that is the following: If we raise our kids to be polite, passive Americans, are we setting them up to be Frayerim here in Israel?

Posted by: treppenwitz | Nov 1, 2007 4:33:18 PM

I think there is something to be said for the importance of nurturing one's children from a young age as well. Having loving physical contact(hugs), listening, and warmth as they grow up is just as important. The cultural norm is to throw kids in day care. The permissiveness and lack of responsiblity is combined with a lack of parenting in general. Discipline, which they need so badly, also only works when it comes from a place of love, and the kids know it. There is no silver bullet for selfish parents to save their kids from also getting into trouble. Maybe if someone had invested in some of these kids who are going out at drinking at 12 in a real and sincere way throughout their lives they would have enough self-respect not to behave like starving animals.

Posted by: Yosef | Nov 2, 2007 3:12:27 PM

David: Are you going to update this post?

The hospital and police report have totally ruled out rape. They also ruled out that the girl was drugged.

Neither of those happened.

Raising teenagers is very difficult; while I agree that smoking and drinking should be considered with zero-tolerance towards teens, parents can not be around their kids 100% of the time.

At the end of the day, it was a group of teens drinking, and one passed out. They told a parent who called an ambulance.

While I certainly hope my kids never get into this situation, I don't think this story as nearly as horrible as many others. (ie, convicted teenager murderes Moshe Ben-Ivgi and Arbel Aloni [grandson of another famous Aloni] who killed Raanana taxi driver Derek Roth z'l. Ben-Ivgi was let ouf of prison on a vacation (!!!), and he fled to Agentina, where he freely lives today. Now that's a story about parents helping their convicted murderer son escape justice.

(even though it's from Haaretz... http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/842218.html)

Posted by: Jameel at the Muqata | Nov 6, 2007 12:07:53 PM

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