By Rabbi Yitzie Ross

Question:

I live on a frum block, and on this block is a family that does not do a good job raising their kids. They let them have unlimited access to all electronics without filters, they allow them to stay up very late at night, and these kids don’t even do well in school. A few of us have discussed this l’toeles, and we need to do something. We are writing them an anonymous letter and are trying to decide what to include as a first step. What do you think?

S.K.
Flatbush

Response:

I really debated responding publicly to your email, but I’ve received enough similar questions to justify a public response. Living on a frum block is amazing. You can run to your neighbor for a missing ingredient, and if the kids are in the same school, carpool is a cinch. The hard part can be raising your own children without being judged by everyone on the block. While I understand and empathize with you, there are two things you wrote that I take issue with.

The scariest words for me on Shabbos are “Nisht oif Shabbos gerret, but …” since it’s obvious that I’m about to hear something that isn’t appropriate for Shabbos. The scariest word during the week is “l’toeles,” since many people think it’s a word that gives permission to speak about other people. It’s not. You need to ask your rav before deciding that it’s permitted to speak to others about a third party. While I understand that you’re concerned and frustrated, speaking about other people is wrong.

The second item I took issue with is the anonymous letter. I heard that one of the gedolim said years ago, “An anonymous letter is not worth the paper it’s written on.” I’ve been on the receiving end of such emails, and I just delete them without even reading them. If you can’t put your name on something, it shouldn’t be written. If you feel the need to tell these parents something, knock on their door and tell them how you feel (while being sensitive to their feelings). They’ll respect you for it, and you’ll save yourself, and them, a lot of heartache.

As I mentioned earlier, there are pros and cons to being surrounded by other frum families. I don’t think it’s such a bad thing to have families that are different on the same block. It’s a great opportunity to be mechanech your children. You can explain that there are different types of people, and Hashem loves each one of us. If your children ask why they get to stay up later, you can tell them every parent raises their children differently. Believe me — your children will compare your parenting style to many others over the years. It doesn’t mean you have to change anything.

Another thing to think about is that you and your neighbors are agreeing about the lack of proper parenting in this one family. What will happen if you and one of these neighbors disagree about bedtime? How about if you want to allow your kids to watch a video that a different neighbor finds inappropriate? There will always be things that you’ll disagree about. Focusing on others’ parenting is a very dangerous game to play.

On the flip side, there are times when people can use help parenting. If you see a mother making constant mistakes, there’s nothing wrong with giving helpful advice. We’re all in this together, and sharing ideas in an appropriate fashion is usually appreciated. If you feel that it would be better if it came from a rav, go for it. I would suggest not speaking to anyone about any perceived issues except for the rav. I have heard stories about people who called family members to intervene. Not only did this cause serious family issues, it ended up backfiring horribly.

A few quick thoughts about giving advice to parents. These tips would seem to be common sense, but I feel that it might be prudent to share them.

  1. Any advice you want to share should be in a private venue. Never discuss these things publicly.
  2. Giving advice isn’t helpful when people are upset. If you see a parent yelling at his child, you probably shouldn’t tell him while he’s upset not to yell.
  3. It’s helpful to explain things from a third-party perspective. In other words, don’t tell someone, “Yelling at your children can be counterproductive.” Rather, tell them that you heard someone explain the dangers of yelling uncontrollably at children.
  4. Lastly, perhaps pick up a parenting or chinuch book from your local Judaica store and give it to them. I would tell them, “I really enjoyed this book on parenting, and I thought you might enjoy it.”

Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly emails and read the comments, visit YidParenting.com.

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