Treatment of teens off the derech

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    There is an epidemic today of teens “off the derech” and I’m the parent of one. Our teens are going through depression, drug abuse, eating disorders, leaving religion, cutting (or self-mutilation) just to name a few. Besides professional help these teens need love and inspiration to come back to religion and heal. Someone or something has turned these kids off and we all have to help bring them back. My teenage daughter is a loving sweet, bright girl and B”H she lives at home, unlike some whom their parents unfortunately don’t know where they are. Being she’s left religion she dresses like the average American non-Jewish teenager. I live on a frum block with young parents of little children. It hurts me so much how you shun my daughter because of the way she looks. If she was turned off then don’t turn her off too, help turn her on, just a kind word or even just hello could make a difference. Remember she was once a little girl just like your daughter. Your daughter could Chas Veshalom be this teen one day if we don’t do something now to help these kids and stop this epidemic.



    I sympathize with your predicament greatly and bentch you that your daughter return to the derech very soon.

    Without addressing the situation in detail, one point that I would like to make in the benefit of the neighbors that you refer to. Dressing “like the average American non-Jewish teenagers” means hardly dressing at all. As such, for the frum men it becomes impossible to interact with her, as they are halachicly forbidden from even looking at her in that state. And if they speak to her while avoiding looking at her, it may be possible that she will take offence, exacibrating the situation. As such it may be best that women be at the forefront in trying to be mekarev her.

    This is just a thought, and without knowing all the details just take it as “food for thought.”


    I too knew so many troubled teens, guys and girls that lived through a very difficult time period in their life. Some turned to drugs and alcohol and many completely left the religion. Most of these guys and girls are now in their upper twenties and one thing that I have noticed was that in general, the ones that were shown love by their families and knew that they had a home to come home to are the ones that are now normal, functioning adults. I sense from what you wrote that you love your child deeply and understand that she is going through a most difficult time period in her life. Keep doing that. Get her help but make sure she always knows that you love her no matter what and you want her to keep living at home with you. You can’t control how others treat her but at least she’ll know that you only want the best for her. Good luck to you and your daughter and may God bless you both and protect her.

    Think BIG

    Thank you for the reminder, which I’m sure we could all use. May Hashem help her return to her roots in a healthy, positive manner, soon.

    In case you are unaware, there are frum support groups for parents such as you, and also hotlines providing guidance. Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz of project YES is an amazing resource. If you care to join support group or need guidance, I may be able to give you a number of an organization that has helped people I know tremendously. Hatzlacha rabbah!


    Would your daughter be interested in going to Israel, I have heard of a program that works with off the derech girls.

    Feif Un

    As the original post said, the way to get these people back is by showing them that Judaism is a great thing, and make them want to be frum. I was once a teen at risk, also. I didn’t keep Shabbos, wasn’t careful about kosher, etc. There were many things that all caused it, which I won’t write about now (unless people want to hear it). Basically, I didn’t see the beauty of being a frum Jew, I thought it was restricting, and that the rabbis who were supposed to guide people were hypocrites, and just not good people.

    I had many friends who distanced themselves from me. Others remained close, but made certain things clear – they didn’t want to discuss movies, or which girl I was currently dating, or things like that. If we stayed away from those things, they were fine with spending time with me.

    Luckily for me, I found a few Rabbis I really respected, and came to see the true beauty of being a frum Jew. I still think that most of my family doesn’t really get it, even though they’re probably much more yeshivish than I am, and know much more about many things than I do – my brothers are either learning in Lakewood or used to and are in a different kollel now, some of my brothers learned in Brisk in Israel, etc. However, I feel I see things differently then they do. I won’t say they’re more frum than me, because who am I to judge what makes a person frum?

    Anyway, the point is, many people won’t associate with an at-risk teen because there’s nothing to relate to. Would you be friends with someone who wasn’t a frum Jew, who made you uncomfortable? Teens at risk make many people uncomfortable. I had friends who would do drugs. Would you feel comfortable hanging out with someone like that? Some people can handle it, some can’t. It’s where you can find out who your real friends are – real friends will stick by you no matter what. I had friends who didn’t judge me when I wasn’t frum, they slowly encouraged me to become frum again. I know that they will stick by me when I need them, and they always have.

    In closing, just remember – punishing your at-risk child will not help, it will only make them more determined to stay away. You have to make them want to be frum because being frum is a beautiful thing, not because they’re scared of punishment.


    First off, I would like to say my heart goes out to you and your daughter and may Hashem give both of you the strength to persevere while facing this challenge. We don’t have a crystal ball to see what the end will have in store for us. It is my hope that your daughter will be able to find peace of mind with in herself and then to be able to find her place within Yiddishkeit (where ever and whatever that level might be).

    This year as a personal project, I have been looking into kids-at-risk and trying to understand what it is that makes observant Jews (or those coming from such homes) turn away from yiddishkeit. It’s not a new project since I too have been in the midst of being involved with a close realtive who is struggling with his connection to Hashem and finding his place with in religion. Yet this year as I see more and more people fighting within themself or dealinig with relatives, I’m hoping to make an impact (if even just in my home) to help reach out to others.

    B’H, along our journy down this unexpected route, I think that all of us have gained from the impact that we have had on each other. However, there is an excellent book called “Off the derech, how to respond to the challenge” written by Faranak Margolese (who is an observant Jew) who was motiviated by her own struggles, did the research and put together this book that opens your eyes from the perspective of someone on the other side of the fence. (here are other good books as well as how to kindle a soul, and chinuch in turbulent times) I would recomend this reading for all parents, prospective parents and those dealioing with kids off the derech. While it would be impossible to write down everything in a simple short post, there are a few things that I would like to share.

    First off, we need to stop the shunning and rejecting. Yes, it may make us uncomfortable to see others dress and acting differently but how hard is it to wish a good shabbos or good morning to them (even a simple hi). Plus if we can manage a smile we say it how good it might actually make them feel. Ignoring them won’t change them or make them go away and outright criticiisim or rejection will just reinforce what led them down this path in the first place.

    Next, while we need to set up consistant homes and lifestyles and concrete rules, we also need to give unconditional love. Stop judging people (as well as our children) by their actions but by who they are and who they can be. They are not malachim and it is ok to make mistakes.

    Find a positive approach to reach your goal. Instead of yelling at your child for not wearing a Kippah, tell them why it’s nice to wear one (and praise them one day when they are wearing it properly). Also keep in mind, the more you try to “force” them in keeping the mitzvoh them more likely they will rebel.

    Find ways to make Yiddishkeit beautiful through your actions. Think of ways of connecting religion and belief in a way that you can share it with your children. Whatinspired you as a kid, what inspires your kids?

    Treat others fairly, look for the positive and avoid negative talk.

    Listen to your children with an open mind. They might be telling you a lot more than you realize and don’t be afraid to talk about topics that ask questions about religion.

    Last treat your family (your kids as well as all kids) with respect. Think about their feelings and what makes them feel important. Make them feel like they are part of something good.


    Thanks for all your kind words. I do actually attend meetings through a wonderful organization, M.A.S.K. and I have consulted with wonderful caring rabbis such as Rabbi Horowitz, Rabbi T. Besser and Rabbi Wallerstein.


    to lkaufman..we have people here givin b’h good eitozs so we cant add, but if there is some way you can post her name, i mean like ‘rochel bas chaneh’ when we say tehilem can have in mind..yes we read that tehillem helps for this too,can be stranger doesnt have to be parents.


    to lkaufman..there is someone else in flatbush that is b’h very matzliach with the teens at risk. His name is Rabbi Yitzchok Mitnick. I know personally of many many lives he has b’h saved.He is a person who is able to speak and communicate with these teens. These teens know that he is their friend,and that they are able to speak to him about whatever is bothering them. He is a person who is not afraid of anyone or anything. If there is a problem to be dealt with he is there in the forefront to take care of it.


    lkaufman –

    Your letter is heartbreaking.

    Most people probably don’t know how to deal with or talk to an “at-risk” teen, so they just avoid them.

    We (I) should keep in mind that these are neshomos that need warmth and guidance, not troublemakers to be shunned and avoided.

    B”H your daughter has caring parents who are involved and doing what they can to help her.

    Feif Un –

    The perspective of someone who has gone thru what this girl is now experiencing can be extremely helpful.

    Most ffb’s (like me) can try to understand, but it will be from an “outsider’s” point of view.

    Tizku limitzvos for “making lemonade from lemons” by using your personal tribulations to help others.


    Shindy, thanks we know about the school in Israel. My daughter has friends who go there but she didn’t want to. She B”H is starting college in a few weeks but does plan to go to March of the Living/Birthrite during intersession, (Poland and Israel). I’m hoping it will make an impact oh her.

    I know as one of you wrote that a the right Rabbi can show the beauty of being frum to someone who needs to see that. Is there anyone that would be good to show the way to a girl?


    bina rickel bas baila leba. thanks


    Bashieloo: please tell me how to get in touch with Rabbi Mitnick. thanks


    Dear lkaufman,

    I wish you much hatzlacha. And yes, the Israel trip is bound to bring great peiros, even if you don’t see it right away.

    That she is sweet and focused – she’s in school and starting college – should give you great hope. So many of the kids who stray these days seem to not have anything substantial to focus on. That your relationship and view of her is so positive is wonderful.

    Maybe as an adult she will meet people who will reach her in ways that were not accessible as a child. There are great Jewish college programs and wonderful people on campuses. JAAM, and the Maimonides programs come to mind.


    having a son like that is also disheartening, but bh he still is at home. these kids are looking for someone to show them apreciation of who they are and what they are not just another run of the mill guy. they (him and his friends) are lazy and need to find work that will give them self esteem. i’ve heard from other parents about what goes on and its really not so bad, but its coming from an attitude of “i dont need or want anybody to tell me what to do.” we know whats good for us. i hear from the people that my son goes to on shabbos that hes a really good kid, but hes in with the wrong crowd. no drugs,or drink but a smoke yes. the aibishter should watch over him that he doesnt mess himself up.


    That is wonderful that your daughter is going to college and plans on going on Birthrite. There are many parents of off the Derech teens that wish for that, as they watch their teens destroy themselves with drugs, alchohol, sex, and cutting. Show your daughter that you are proud of her and what she is doing positive in her life. Try to maintain a close relationship with her. As far as finding a Rov that will show her the beauty of being frum, is your daughter interested in speaking with a Rov? Is she able to even listen to his answers? A Rov can speak all day with these kids, but if their ears are not open and receptive, it is very difficult. It is very sad. But Boruch Hashem she is alive, and healthy, and young. keep being optimistic and above all very patient. I suffer with you, I’ve got one also….


    Look up Rabbi Mitnick in the Brooklyn white pages (


    jjlkwd- why don’t you try contacting rabbi mitnick. i understand he has had tremendous hatzlochoh with these teens. He is their friend and the kids know they can trust him. Maybe coming from a different perspective he would be able to make headway with your son. Hatzlochoh rabah!!


    Shindy, you sound amazing giving me words of Chizuk and now you say that you too have one like that. Do you go to support groups like M.A.S.K. coz they have helped me alot.


    Most of these replies seem to focus entirely on the “at risk” teen, but ignore the rest of the family and the community at large. What is a parent to do if there are many children in the family and one (or more) is acting in a way that has negative influence on the other children? If your daughter is dressing in ways that make it impossible for you (as a father) and your sons to make brachos when she is in the room, what are you supposed to do?

    If your daughter is having phone conversations with explicit references to certain subjects in the presence of the other family members, what are you supposed to do?

    Is it possible that by trying to save one child you might sacrifice another child? How does one choose? It seems to me that an “at risk” child can cause us to focus on that child so much that the others come to feel that they have to “act out” if they want any real attention from their parents.

    Also, don’t be so quick to condemn people for their reactions. As ONLY ONE other poster pointed out, at risk girls who dress like “normal teen-agers” make it assur to look in their direction. Instead of criticizing people, make a suggestion. What is a frum man supposed to do when he sees a girl coming in his direction who is barely dressed? What if that girl is his daughter and she’s coming to the Shabbos table dressed in a short sleeved tee shirt and a skirt that rides up over he knees?


    lkaufman, I was thinking along Shindy’s lines but not being in the parsha didn’t say it so bluntly. I was in a similar position but with a medical condition. As difficult as it is for the child to be dealing with this condition he is doing remarkably well but has to pop a lot of pills. A relative whose son also has this condition said, do you know how many parents would trade places with you in a nano second?

    If I would run into your daughter, I would smile and heartily endorse her for being so focused. I have in the past with kids I know and will continue to do so.


    i looked up Rabbi Yitzchok Mitnick in the phone book and there are 2, one in Boro Park and one in Flatbush. Does anyone know which is the one? thanks


    Yossel, you bring up many good points and a different perspective on the matter. However, when we think of a teen-at-risk, you have to understand that their behaviors and actions are usually of a result of incredible turmoil that is building up within. Yes there is a choice that they are making on some level (whether to rebel, attention seeking, or other) but it is only because they are looking for a way out of their misery and pain.

    Imagine, Chas V’shalom, a child who is hit by a car and has been permanently affected about it. Do we say to the child, sorry for your pain but there are other family members so you just have to wait your turn? No, as in any family when there is a crisis you stop and do whatever you can to help your child. This child at risk may not have been hit by anything physical, but something happened to send this child off the path. Something so harsh, that they can’t face the reality that they are living in. They are looking for an escape. They are looking for something that doesn’t reject them for whom they are. They are looking to find a place in a world that doesn’t seem to have a place for them.

    Plus you never ignore the others. It’s not an easy task by any means (no crises ever is) but as you are dealing with the crises, like any other, you reach out and look for support for yourself and others in the family who may need it at that time.

    ( More often than not, this is life or death situation. Many of these kids face depression as well. When they are drinking and doing drugs, they are trying to escape the pain. Then there is a very small line between Chas V’shalom overdose, suicide and many other health risks. )

    Suggestions of what to do when you encounter such an individual, well what do you do when you meet any person not dressed appropriately? Most of us are already living in a place where we have no control how our neighbors dress. When it’s your own daughter coming down to the shabbos table…..then you get therapy/ family counseling and talk. If it happened already, ask yourself how you reacted when it happened and what affect did it have. Are you able to communicate better after or did the opposite happen? What type of relation ship did you have before? What changed? That while it is possible that 2 wonderful and wholesome people will get a child who rebels, statistics show otherwise. When it reaches this point something had to have happened (whether in the home or outside) and her coming to the shabbos table dressed like that is the least of your worries. However, don’t forget you are the parent and this is your table and there are rules that have to be established/followed. You have to think it through how you wish to implement it, but you have to find away to stand your ground without getting into a confrontation. This is where family counseling comes in. They can set up as a neutral party to speak on your behalf when they are at a stage where they are not able to listen. When you pick your battles and your daughter sees that your rules are consistent and fair she will respect you for it, although she may not follow it.

    I think the key is to do what you can before this happens. Look at the family situation, are our kids sending out signals that things are not so good? Look at the environment, are our kids being treated fairly at school, shul, with their friends? Look at yourself, am I the type of parent that is consistent, fair, and open minded enough to accept differences for the things that are not so important.

    Over all I hope you and those reading this don’t perceive this as an attack. I honestly hear your concerns but feel that there is a bigger picture at stake, and we have to deal with that first.


    On a separate note: There was a mention about these kids being lazy. I think it’s also important to note that sometimes what we perceive as lazy is in reality a symptom of depression. They are “task avoidence” due to the fact that they don’t feel connected to the world. They want to “shut down”/ “shut off” or what ever they can do to avoid the pain life gives them at this point.


    tzippi, thanks if everyone were like you, who knows maybe there would be no such thing as “teens off the derech”. Refuah Sheleima to that child.


    lkaufman, I’m 99% sure it is Flatbush.


    lkaufman – she’s going to college..this is a disaster.

    Colleges today are a den of immorality, znus, apikorsus, and kol minei nevola.

    Please, this is priority number one right now, if you ask me – if she goes to college, le an ve’es daasi hakoton, she may never come back to the derech – college is basically the kiss of death when it comes to an at-risk-teen’s frumkeit. she’ll meet g-d knows what kind of boys, do g-d knows what with them(college parties are basically sdom x 1000), and learn things that no human being should be exposed to; the damage will be devastating.

    Try to get her to go to a ‘open-minded’ or non’judgemental’ seminary, where she may be able to come back.


    I never went to MASK, but I did get help from project YES. My husband and I got free advise and counseling, and my other children got big brothers and sisters to take them out and talk to them. I actually own a tape in which Rov Shmuel Kamenetzky answers the question of whether or not to keep a child at risk home. I will try to listen to it again and quote his answer acurately, as it’s been a while since I listened to it.

    lkaufman, from the way you write I can tell you are a very good person, and you will IY”H have nachas from your child, just hang on and be very patient, it takes time and these kids need love and patience to work things through. LOTS OF LOVE, I cannot stress this enough. and acceptance. Benzy 18 also wrote many things that made sense to me.


    Bentzy18 – you’re 100% correct. Most of these kids have gone through depression, etc. and have inner turmoil and pain. The first thing to take care of is not how they’re dressed and if they daven, etc. but rather if they are emotionally healthy. They must have emotional good health or they are definately at risk for a downward spiral of destructive behavior and even suicide.

    Joseph – thanks I actually heard there is a Rabbi Yitzchok Mitnick connected to “Our Place”, so I’m assuming that’s him and I will contact them.


    matisyohu28 -i’m sorry to sound disrespectful but what you wrote i find ridiculus. college is also full of frum kids who are good kids. My daughter, although not religious anymore is a good girl and a nice loving girl. I’m proud of her that she’s getting her act together and wants to go to college and make something of herself. My husband and I are not rich and unless my daughter is lucky to find a rich guy she should go to college and get a career. A kid off the derech who doesn’t want to know from religion would never go to a seminary now. We give her alot of love and I have bitachon she will come back one day because of it on her own time. You say college is a den of immorality, znus, etc. Do you know I personally know of at least 2 Yeshivot, one here and one in Israel where the Rabbi was molesting the boys. I can say so much more, but enough!


    Matisyahu, lkaufman wrote that seminary was suggested to the girl. She does not want to go. Teen girls at risk view seminary as a nunnery, and it is hard to change their opinion. You can’t exactly tie them up and throw them in there! On the other hand, they can be going to college and make something of themselves. There are hillel programs at most colleges, hopefully she will get involved with that. And these kids need structure that going to school can give them, less time for hanging out and going to bad places…

    I used to feel the same as matisyahu but now that I have a child like this it has made me change the way I feel. And if a parent looks down at their kid because she is being productive and going to college he or she is missing out on an important part of their relationship with their child. You can and should be proud of the good and productive things the kid is doing, not just being critical of the bad. Or else the kid feels that nothing I do is right in these frummies eyes unless I am frum, well I’ll show them!!! Having a kid at risk is a very humbling experience! Sorry I am posting so much, hope this helped lkaufman.



    You write that “there’s a bigger picture” however your bigger picture consists of one person, the “at risk” teen. I see a bigger picture which takes in the whole family.

    Also, you paint with a pretty broad brush. I don’t agree that every “at risk” teen is a life/death situation. You may find this hard to accept, but some kids simply don’t want a spiritual perspective, be it religion or anything else. Some kids simply want to live a secular life-style and it doesn’t necessarily have to do with life-threatening crises.

    As a parent with several children, I think it’s unfair to focus on one child to the exclusion of the genuine needs of the others. If a child had, Chas V’shalom, a terrible accident, the parents would certainly tend to that child but would not ignore the needs of the rest of the family.

    Your advocacy for the “at risk” kid is commendable, but I think YOU are the one who is not seeing a bigger picture. Perhaps it’s time we realize that as kids grow, they have to assume responsibility for their choices. Just because a kid doesn’t feel like putting on tefilin or dressing properly, that doesn’t mean we parents have to be blackmailed by holding life/death situations over our heads. Perhaps these kids ought to “get over themselves” and just GROW UP, as the rest of us have had to.



    1) Are you a college graduate?

    2) Odds are she’s going to a local NYC college. That’s probably the best thing for an OTD kid to do. At least she’ll have something to focus on.


    Shindy – you are an inspiration to me, thank you.

    Yussel – it’s obvious from your words that B”H you are not the parent of a teen off the derech and lucky for your kids that they’re not either!

    yossiea – you’re right, it is a local nyc college.


    LKaufman and Shaindy – kol hakavod to both of you for the way you are dealing with this situation.

    As has been pointed out in this talkback, we are basically talking about kids who are dealing with inner turmoil. It’s important that the love you give them is stronger than the pull from the streets.

    Mishpacha has been dealing with this topic for some months – many accused them of hanging the dirty laundry in public. I say kudos to them. We need to see, to know, to learn.

    And for the rest of us – continual davening; there are no promises that any of our kids are going to become the next Rav Shach. We live in frightening times. Some of the biggest Tzadikim in almost every kehilah have at least one kid “off the derekh” We need a LOT of siyatta d’shmaya.


    Yussel, you are right, not all kids who go off the derech are in a life or death situation (well physical death that is). There are many people who left the fold and have lived long lives. Maybe it’s important to distinguish between the two, since kids-at-risk are usually further down the spiral descent than just giving up on religion. So for this moment I will just comment about going off the derech.

    Next, I don’t know if you were able to focus on where I was going, maybe it wasn’t clear or maybe you are stuck on this kid issue, but “the big picture” really deals with the events of the family and/or community that interacted with this teen that brought him to this point. Why would all of a sudden a child who goes to a Jewish school, raised by religious parents, sheltered in an environment that guides how we eat, how we dress, what we should say, how we act (and so on) turn around when he is a teen and say, no thanks, I don’t feel like being religious anymore? I have yet to meet a teen or young adult who was born in a religious stable family that decided it was too much of a burden. It is only after investigating and looking into the “big picture” do we see that there were many outside factors that contribute to it. Most of the time it is some sort of rejection for not living up to the expectations that were set for him. These rejections might have come from his/her parents, their teachers and Rabbi’s or the social circle they were raised in.

    If it were just motivation that he was lacking then how will telling him to “get over yourself” ever accomplish bringing him back to the fold? We as part of Klal Yisroel are responsible for each other and are just as much responsible to him/her in showing the beauty that lies within Yiddishkeit.

    I think we agree that you don’t exclude any other child in a family (which I stated very clearly in my post)for the needs of just one. However, as a parent, I know that you sometimes have to prioritize your attention to the child that needs it the most. If you are unable to be there physically or mentally for everyone, then you get help. Focusing on a child that is going off the Derech doesn’t mean that you have to miss your sons chumash play, or daughters doctor appointment or even doing bed time with your kids. It can be a challenge, it can be hard and there will be times you question yourself if you can do it, but it can be done.

    Because of the wording directed towards me in your post, there is something that has touched a sore point with you. I don’t know what that may be. But, what I do know is that these kids don’t just happen to loose faith. I have yet to meet a kid or person born in a religious family who has left religion behind because it was too hard. If a parent feels like they are being blackmailed into submission in order to control the behaviors of a child then they have to look back into what events put them to where they are now. Kids (and teens) by nature look up to their parents as the most important people in the world. It is through the mitzvah of k’vod av v’ aim that we are able to comprehend that there is a Rebona Shel Olem. Something happened that broke the connection between the parent and child and it wasn’t the child who did the damage. This isn’t a belief, this is a fact based on statistics on Jewish kids who went off the derech. A child who finds the need to “hurt” their parents by acting out is merely reacting to something that was done to them. So yes it’s not “fair” to the rest of the family to deal with this, but then again “fair” wasn’t in the equation when they were young with the dealings and actions done to them.

    Last point, what is there to be done when the actions of the teen are affecting the other kids in the family. For that there is no easy answer and one must speak to a qualified Rav who is competent in such matters. However like many have mentioned there are several groups and Robbonim who deal and assist with such matters. It is not an easy call, and needs to be handled with the greatest of sensitivity. He is not a rasha and all the halachos related bein adom l’chaveroh apply.


    I understand to love them no matter what and g-d I know some days that can be challenging.

    I have 2 younger ones 11 and 14 at home and the almost 16 year old has been difficult since 2 years old!

    I can handle her dressing in jeans and a sleeveless shirt, though sometimes it is very low cut even the 14 year old girl will tell her to pull it up. But the foul language when mom says no, or we move out of the room because she won’t listen and how it affects the others in the household is the hardest… yes i understand picture a handicap as she is handicapped without it being visible.

    We are in counseling-family, though she refuses to go, so the others go including I. Her father does nothing wrong, only mom does. Dad refuses to let her come live with her and it’s all mom’s fault. Some days it is hard to be strong.

    This year she will be going to public school. The day school says she gets more against judaism the more they try and teach and if a topic comes up that she is displeased with, like tznius (one of her favorites). Though the school has been positive and wonderful, including her friends.

    Now she is in jeopardy of loosing her best friend as the parents say she can no longer bye friends with my daughter if she goes to public school. It would be nice if the parents would be more open and accepting and this would be a connection for my daughter

    Thank you for the different resources, I will see if any such ones are in my area as I am not in the NY area.


    lkaufman: I AM dealing with a similar situation at home. It’s a little complicated but be assured I’m speaking from experience.


    First: I disagree with the attitude that lays ALL responsibility for the teen-agers actions at the door-step of the parents. Tell me, who do you know that grew up with no issues between themselves and their parents? Is there a human being alive on this planet who doesn’t have “issues” with Mom and Dad? Yet somehow, people manage to grew up and get on with their lives even in the face of “issues”. I think your perspective is a product of our “victim” oriented culture that sees everybody as a victim who is not able to take responsibility for their actions.

    Second: When I write about neglecting the rest of the family, I’m not writing about skipping a chumash play or missing a bed-time story. I’m talking about dealing with the problem of different standards for each child. What do you do when you have a daughter who is, for example, dressed inappropriately, and brining her “friends” to the house and your other daughter (who is an “eidel” Bais Yaakov girl) feels that she has no place in her own home beacuse her parents are compromising on Yiddishkeit for her sister? Perhaps that “eidel” daughter will begin to act out (anorexia comes to mind) and then what do you do?

    Third: I reject the notion that leaving the “derech” is always a product of emotional issues. That attitude reminds me of the old USSR where they would put political opponents in mental hospitals. A perfectly normal and well-balanced person can still choose a secular life style. To say otherwise is to reject “bechira Chofshis”.


    bentzy18 – WOW! what can I add after your beautiful, sensitive piece! All I will say is that if anyone is interested there is an excellent book by Farank Margolese called “Off the Derech”.


    Teenagers have it much more challenging then adults give credit for. You have to take in to consideration a couple of things before you get to the rebellious role in all this. Now, as young as 11 or 12, kids are maturing in to adulthood. Their bodies are changing. Hormones are racing through them they don’t know how to control, New emotions start emerging which a large part of the time goes unnoticed by the adults, Brains, Weight and Looks suddenly becomes a more important topic, Being accepted is a major priority now more than ever, They are starting to think for themselves and have loads of questions on just about everything in life. So when you have a teen who gets ignored in any of these areas (not intentionally sometimes), and especially if their self esteem is suffering, they “act out” to get noticed, to fit in with some of the crowds, a feeling of non acceptance by their family, friends or community, and sometimes just by pure boredom. The list of reasons can go on forever, but the point I’m making is, there is usually a reason for a teen to rebel. So for anyone who looks at these teens (& parents) with such harsh negative judgement, and disgrace, just think about your teen years, and your own teenagers, because chances are, it may be happening to them. I knew someone that loved to gossip about other people’s “troubled teens” and didn’t realize that her own children were in trouble, and now the gossip is on her. Don’t judge these teens, if you are going to stare and have an opinion, why don’t you use that energy for helping them not pushing them further away from religion.


    For all of us who have a teen “off the derech”, there are different reasons behind it, but the pain we feel and the stress we go through is the same. It definitely does affect all family members. We try to do the best we can for each of them, but it’s hard and some days you feel like you just can’t do it anymore. Sometimes you just want to throw them out so your life can be normal again, but of course you don’t because they are your child and you love them unconditionally. You have to get them the help they need and help each family member the way they need help so they can lead a normal productive life. You can go to support groups and commiserate with your peers, and learn things and just talk it out to make you feel a little better. You just have to do whatever you have to do to cope and live your best life even if it feels like you don’t have the strength anymore.



    Have you ever heard of Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz? The reason I am thinking of him is because he recently wrote on his site about kids switching schools. He also just put out this book on parenting. You can google him or Project Yes. Oiy, your kid is 16, such a hard age! Hang on, it will get better, G-d willing. Just be very VERY patient.


    i have a friend who is currently going through tough times. She feels like she has been forced to lead a frum life. But she wants to actually choose to live the frum life.

    Unfortunately she is not satisfied enough being raised religious and all…she feels she has to make the decision on her own. It does say that we have B’chirah on how we want to live–and she feels like she wants to check out whats out there and then choose.

    I as her friend, and the rest of my friends are there to listen and keep up w/ her..the most we can do is to keep up w/ her—like this we keep the connection

    children growing up very restricted may reach a point where they feel like they’re being choked, instead of being happy they are FFB and seeing the beauty of Yiddishkeit.


    lkaufman: Thank you for your kind words and thank you for starting the thread in the first place. As I’m sure this is not an easy path to go down, you have shared a part of your life with us and I’m sure we are all that much better for it.

    Yussel, I want to thank you for your opinions and start off by saying that you too must be going through a hard and terrible matziv in your life. While we may disagree on many points I hope and pray for you that Shalom may return to what ever situation you and your family may be dealing with.

    Next: I want to start off by stating that my main reason(s) for responding to your posts is to:

    -a- Continue a dialog so that others who may be reading this will get a better perspective of what happens to a teen who goes off the Derech. We are a very proud nation and are quick to respond when our religion is threatened and attacked. It is so easy to misread the actions of these kids and thus we as nation are not able to properly deal with the problem. Something has to be done, but only by properly identifying the problem will we be effective in dealing with it.

    -b- To be an advocate for these kids who often don’t have a voice speaking up for them. Many of them are too bitter to speak up for themselves and many were not given the skills to speak up. Many of them actually believe that they don’t deserve a voice and that this life of misery is a way of G-d punishing them for not being the perfect Jew.

    -c- I too was just like Yussel at one point, until our teen at risk was dropped at our doorposts. Through a unique sequence events, a close relative whom needed to get away, came to stay with us for a few weeks winded up becoming a permanent resident. Over time I was able to see into a world that I didn’t know existed and see a very different perspective. Gehenim is a good way to describe it and B”H my kids (as well as us) have grown in ways that I could never imagine. It took a lot of work on a lot of people’s part, but B’H we are living in a different world that I could never hope of being. (This relative is now stable, actively involved with my kids as a “positive” role model, completing his education and looking to take it to the next level where he will be in the position to help others)

    OK, now to deal with your last post.

    As I wrote my last post I tried very hard from putting the “blame” on anyone in particular. This whole Teen-off-the-derech is a very complex situation with many factors that could be the cause. As far as responsibility I’m a big believer that as parents we are the first layer of defense and have the responsibility to either shield our kids from bad things or to give them the skills to cope when life hands you lemons. Many times parents are not to blame for when their kids go off the Derech. There are (some) authority figures out there, who mean well, but are destroying children non-the-less. Sometimes it is a matter of actively feeding a all or nothing derech / approach, sometimes it’s by sitting back and letting injustice being done (like when a kid is being bullied or called shvartzah because his darker skin, or shegetz because he played with cats in the street). However, it is only the parent who would be able to pick up their children’s subtle cries for help in their youth way before it spirals into something unimaginable years later. (I also mention that in this day and age, parents are working harder and sometimes are not able to see the signs) However, to get back to the point, we need to identify where things were “disconnected” so that the individual can cope and bring closure to that aspect of their life.

    Do I think that our cultural “victim” mentality is blinding us as well as our youth from taking responsibility (for things on this magnitude) ? NO I don’t. At what age do you consider a youth to be grown up enough to do this? There is a reason why we are not held responsible for the big averos until we are 20. There is a reason why society doesn’t allow teens (regardless of their physical size or intelligence) the right, to drive, vote, join the army or drink and now even smoke.

    Before I go on I would like to divide this into two categories of responsibility and explain why these kids off the derech would have trouble with both.

    First off is the responsibility between them and Hashem (as well as acceptance of religion). First off, as mentioned earlier, the mitzvohs/spiritual obligations are not given to us to be fun. There will be times when it will be hard and inconvenient. Still, they were given to us to make us into better people and to bring us closer to Hashem. However, this would only be affective when the individual can feel the growth or positive happening with in themselves. If kids are given a diet of dry meaningless rules of which they must follow or else, what incentive or motivation will there be to follow? Kids by nature want to fit in, and when they start becoming independent, what is going to happen when they feel nothing positive towards religion? When would anyone under the circumstance be able to grow up and get with it? There is no free will in this circumstance. The beauty and value of Yiddishkeit was not given effectively and thus there is no balance to make the person want to follow in these ways.

    Then there is the responsibility towards the family or just being a mentch. Most of the behaviors that we possess are a mixture of our natural dispositions as well as the environment that we were raised in. (The whole nature vs. nurture aspect) When a teen wishes to not follow the rules of the house you have to identify what exactly the child is doing when the rules are being broken. Is the outburst a result of a larger temper tantrum given so that they can get their way or is it the result of many years of frustration or lack of stability that is causing this outburst. The parents have the right as well as the responsibility to establish and enforce the rules of the home (as well as religion) as they see fit. However, sechel/proper judgment must be used to make sure that the consequence (positive/nagative) is appropriate to the action as well as the means of enforcement are practical. For example, teen girl comes to table dressed in appropriately. On one hand this is your home, your table, and your comfort zone, so you have a right demand how people should be dressed. On the other side, religion doesn’t mean much in the area of Tznius to this girl, and she feels that she has the right to express herself (in her mode of dress) , so she feels wronged in being asked to accommodate her life choices to appeal to others. As a grown up, the parents are in the right and that is too bad. However, reality sets in and we have to ask of this is the battle that we are willing to loose everything on for? So what does a parent do, and honestly I don’t know. But what I do know is that this “battle” is the tip of an ice burg of a war of issues. This is when the alarm goes off that says you need to communicate and get outside help. This is where you can sit down with this girl, establish a compromise that meets both parties. You also need to find out why she needs to dress like this.

    Now what about that aidel Bais Yaakov sister who feels like she doesn’t have a home to come to? Well, I want to be mean for a second (for shock value and to give a little insight to what her sister has faced from others) but my answer to her is that, as a good Bais Yaakov girl she should have learned that before we were born all of our problems that we would have to face in our lifetimes were shown to us. It is through these challenges that we become bigger and better people and this is one of those challenges. Plus, after all was said and done, we all agreed to undertake this mission and accepted it. So, my young girl, this is really your problem and you will just have to deal with it. (OK take a breath now & digest)

    Reality: How unfair is it for me to say what I just did? What skills did I give over to her to either grow or effectivly deal with the sitution? The bottom line is that you are right Yussel that this girl-off-the-derech’s sister has a right to feel comfortable in her home. However, we need to understand that the rules that we have to follow are not going to be the same for everyone. Fairness is going to be different depending on the circumstances. I could suggest a few ideas that will allow both girls to have their say but it is something that needs to be addressed as a family in a calm environment. The teen off the derech needs a means to clarify why she doesn’t feel as a part of the family and why she needs to rebel and the teen who is affected needs to express her needs and desires and maybe the uncomfortable situtaion this creates, so that they (or an outside arbitrator) can make a compromise and game plan for both sides. What this might mean is switching days when they have friends over. This might mean having two entrances and places for their friends. I can’t tell you not knowing the dynamics or facts. Yet this is a lesson for both of them of how two opposite oppinions can find common ground.

    Last I agree that off the derech can’t always be an emotional issue. There are times when a consistent exposure to things outside the norm that will erode our foundation and escalate from there. However I have yet to see a “teen” who went off the derech because of this alone. The free will of a healthy teen, would still be held in check because of the fear of his parents and their reaction to it. Later on, when he/she is on their own, then free will would dictate a possible break.


    Many of you are writing beautiful sensitive things and it’s clear that some of you have or know a teen “off the derech”. A troubled religious teen just this past week was killed in a car crash in Baltimore due to his friend driving drunk. We need to find solutions now to this epidemic because more tragedy occurs. We are in trouble and need to heal and overcome this heartbreaking problem.


    micr63 – it sounds like what I started out with and my daughter at that age also wanted to go to public school after leaving her yeshivah and almost did but another wonderful person, Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein helped me get her into Priority 1 for girls. It was run by Yosefa Kraus,the most caring, nurturing person a girl at risk could meet. Unfortunately it and all the schools in the nyc area for girls at risk closed. Are there any such schools where you live?


    I put the blame firstly on our terrible Yeshivah system who very easily kick the kids out of there Yeshivah when a difficult situation comes up.

    Instead of helping the child that is having a difficult time in his/her teens the easiest way for them is just to kick the kids out . If for whatever reason you choose not to have a certain child in your yeshivah . You have to go out of your way to make sure that this child will be taken care of in the right way when he leaves your facility and not let him/her fend for themselves and shame them and hurt them..but unfortunatly that is not doen in most places.I know off hand what it is all about My husband and I went through this hell with 2 of our sons who for no good reason got kicked out of Yeshivah and left to fend for themselves.

    Basuch Hashem My boys survived and that is beacuse we as parents did not give up on them and made sure to keep them at home and that they got lots of love from us. But all those Yeshivas weather it is girls schools or boys are not trained to deal with any teen that is a little different or troubled and by that they are hurting our children.

    I just want to let any Rosh Yeshivah or Menahelet that has ever thrown a talmid from his/her Yeshivah and that kid (wich is 99% of these kids) end up been off the derech doing drugs..stealing, comitting suriside..marring a goy…. or hurt after 120 years when they will stand in front all of these lost neshamas and hashem they will judge then for all the bad that they did for these neshamas and the hurt that they caused the child and there parents.They will have to pay for all there wrong doings.

    Please dont hurt our children ,, learn to understand them and find ways to help them cope with growing up in our difficult world….stop the abuse…

    Feif Un

    There are two separate issues with teens at risk. One is religion, the other is them being out on the streets. When I wasn’t frum, I wasn’t out on the streets. I went to school, I had a job, etc.

    The problem is, when teens don’t want to be frum, a lot of their friends won’t have anything to do with them. At home, they are yelled at, punished, etc. They need to get out and find someone who they feel cares about them, and often, it is the people on drugs and on the streets who accept them.

    Someone once asked me if I did drugs when I wasn’t frum, as it was “the thing those people do”. I replied that I had issues with religion and with G-d, but I wasn’t stupid. I know that drugs are bad for you, and avoided them. I didn’t want to throw my entire life away, I just had no interest in being religious.

    Another issue is what drives these kids away in the first place. Many times, it’s a lack of understanding and no answers when you question. My wife is also a BT, and when we got engaged, she asked a rebbetzin at a tape gemach if there were any tapes or books she could recommend about covering her hair after marriage. The rebbetzin replied, “It’s das Yehudis, that’s the halachah! Why do you need to know why? Just do it!” Unfortunately, many people have that attitude, and it really puts off a lot of people. When I was in yeshiva, I had questions, and also didn’t receive answers. Also, a lot of the rabbis and “elter bochurim” seemed very hypocritical in a lot of their actions, and I said, if this is what being frum is about, I’m not interested.

    To give an example (this was very early on, but I started with my issues when I was young), I was once sitting in class, and we were waiting for the rebbe to start teaching. I was in junior high, in a major Brooklyn yeshiva. The rebbe suddenly yelled at me, claiming I was talking and preventing him from starting the shiur. I replied that I wasn’t talking. he called me a liar and threw me out of the classroom. I sat outside the room for an hour, and the rebbe came out and asked me if I was willing to tell the truth. I told him I was, and I hadn’t been talking. He walked away. I sat outside the rest of the day. The next day, the same thing happened. he asked again, and I gave my same response. After that first time, he told me he wouldn’t ask again, but when I was ready, I could come in and publicly apologize to him. During that day, the menahel walked by, and asked why I was sitting outside. I told him what happened, and he asked, “Well, why don’t you just tell your rebbe that you were talking, apologize, and get it over with, even if you didn’t do it?” I told him I couldn’t do that, as I am not a liar, and wouldn’t say I was. He understood, and said he’d speak to the rebbe about it. The next morning, as I was again outside, the menahel came up to me, and told me he’d spoken to the rebbe. He said a boy who sat near me told the rebbe that he had been the one talking, and not me. I asked, “Why am I still outside?” He replied that the rebbe said I was chutzpadik when he said I was talking, and I contradicted him in front of the class. The rebbe said I should have said I was, and gone over to him later on, and told him privately that I wasn’t speaking. The rebbe never apologized to me for the incident. By the way, the rebbe wanted me to apologize for my chutzpa before he’d allow me back in. The menahel got him to let me in without it.

    That was just one story. I have others like it. I’ve had rabbeim publicly embarrass me in front of the class because I wasn’t paying full attention, I’ve asked questions about things I didn’t understand, and was told I’m an apikores for questioning these things, etc.

    That’s what made me not want to be frum. Kids need to see Judaism as a beautiful thing. They need good role models who will really show that the people who practice Judaism are worth emulating. Unfortunately, many people who work with our children an a daily basis are not worth emulating, and should not be working with them.

    Feif Un

    levi123, not everyone is quick to throw someone out.

    My Rosh Yeshiva once said that when he was a bochur, there was someone in the yeshiva who had a gambling problem. He also drew others into his gambling in an attempt to pay off his debts. My R”Y went with a few other elter bochurim to R’ Shmuel Berenbaum zt”l and asked him to make this bochur leave the yeshiva. R’ Shmuel began yelling at them, “Who are you to say a bochur will be thrown out?! Do you know what can happen to someone when you make him leave a yeshiva? Such a decision can never be made lightly!”

    R’ Shmuel ended up taking the bochur under his wing, and helped him through his problems. My R”Y didn’t say the person’s name, but told us he is a well-known talmud chochom today.

    My mother has been working in the school system for over 25 years. She’s had times where she felt a girl needed to be kicked out, and never did it lightly. She always made sure the girl had another school to go to first. She always asked a shailah to a big Rav about it before she did it.

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