Paramus—American culture is a strong factor in helping shape our children’s attitudes about intimacy and sexuality. “As media continues to grow and as our youth continue to be very much engaged in media, the challenge grows,” said Dr. Yocheved Debow, a clinical psychologist and academic principal in Israel. She was speaking at the Yeshiva Counseling Network—Jewish mental-health school-based professionals in New York and New Jersey, who meet monthly with Dr. Aliza Frohlich, director of Middle School Guidance at Yavneh Academy. Dr. Debow has conducted extensive research and developed educational curricula about issues of intimacy and sexuality for Jewish youth in Israel and the United States.
Dr. Debow talked about how children and teenagers engage in different behaviors that may “cross boundaries” in what is healthy for their emotional development. Because there are no counter-messages to combat the cultural bombardment from the media, more norms of the world have been influencing the norms of the Jewish community. This, Dr. Debow said, is something that needs to be shifted.
Dr. Debow spoke about the importance of having a parent/school partnership to produce a counter-message to the media that our children can respect and admire. She said children should learn to cherish and respect the Torah’s view of intimacy and sexuality and should not feel that the Torah’s message about sexuality is archaic and obsolete. Parents can and should be involved in ongoing discussions with their children about healthy sexuality and intimacy. She added that our community should impart a strong religious message that can be appreciated by our children, to counteract strong cultural influences.
Continued parent education and group support are necessary components to produce a shift in our children’s behavior, she said. She advised parents to become better educated about how to talk to their children about sexuality and intimacy. The approaches will be different based on age, development, and gender. Talking to children about what they see in the media and what they are downloading on their smartphones is crucial if parents want to have a positive impact on their children.
Among the issues highlighted by the speaker were
1) Showing restraint is a Jewish concept and while at times difficult, can be viewed as a beautiful thing.
2) Judaism is a religion of struggle. Struggling with issues of physical development and increased gender communication should be validated by parents but they should not take an anything-goes attitude toward their children’s sexual behaviors.
3) Adults should speak to their children about hormonal challenges, so they understand why it is so difficult to show physical restraint at specific times. While this communication needs to be carefully crafted to suit each age group, it is important for teenagers to understand they are not doing something “impossible, unbearable, and that no one else does.”
By Mark Staum