Dear High School Senior:
As I sat down to write this article, I was just days away from attending my first significant graduation as a father.
True, it was an elementary school graduation and not a high school one, but those milestone moments at any age prompt parents to think about the words of wisdom they want to offer their kids at this crucial juncture in their lives. So I come to you today not wearing my Amudim hat, but as a dad, albeit one who knows more than most about the challenges teens face today.
As you got ready to don your cap and gown (or maybe just a suit and tie) you were no doubt excitedly looking towards the opportunities that lie ahead. For many of you that means leaving home for the first time as you write the next chapter of your educational career and, quite possibly for the first time ever, being responsible for yourselves. Some of those decisions that lie ahead may be as simple as where to spend Shabbos or whether or not to go out for dinner with your friends, while others may involve far more serious matters that can have devastating consequences. And with your parents many, many miles away, this time you will be the one determining what your next move will be.
As with so many other challenges in life, it helps to be prepared for what is heading your way, so that when you hit one of those inevitable bumps in the road, and I promise you, you will, you know how to deal with it. Whether you are heading off to yeshiva, seminary, or some other institute of higher learning, there will be moments when you will wish you were back home, surrounded by your family. There will be times when you will be stressed out because you had a tough day, you are missing a simcha back home, you are dealing with unresolved issues that have been tucked away in the back corners of your mind for years, or you are trying to find your place in an unfamiliar social scene and wondering why on earth you ever thought spending a year away from home would be a good idea.
At moments like that, when you are feeling lost and vulnerable, escaping reality by getting drunk or high might seem like an excellent idea.
Or consider this scenario. You are away in school and have really clicked with your new friends. They are fun, they really get you, and now that they are far away from their parents’ watchful eyes, they know how to party like nobody’s business. While you undoubtedly are mature enough to realize that they are clearly overindulging, you really want to fit in and be one of the gang, and you may find yourself wondering if bingeing on alcohol, smoking some weed, or experimenting with pills is really such a big deal.
I am telling you right now, that it is. Going down any of those roads could potentially set you on an extremely dangerous path, one that could have devastating consequences. Addiction can have lifelong consequences.
Fatal ones, too.
Finding yourself as you are now, on the cusp of adulthood, it’s time to realize that life is full of unexpected surprises and not all of them are pleasant. There are times when the going is going to be way more than tough, and you just don’t know how you are going to get through the day. Turning to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain might seem like a good idea, but nothing could be further from the truth. Whether you are 18 or 81, numbing the pain doesn’t solve anything. It is a temporary escape, and once your poison of choice wears off, the pain still is going to be there. Worse yet, you will have created an even larger problem for yourself, because when future difficulties crop up, drugs or alcohol will seem like the easy answer, and before you know it, you can get caught up in the vicious cycle of addiction, one that has taken all too many young lives in recent years.
And while we are discussing sensitive subjects, there is one more that I need to address. For a variety of reasons, people who were abused as children often are afraid to speak up while they are living at home, and over the past few years we have seen many young adults who go away to Israel or anywhere else for a year finally seeking the help they need, now that they are in a safe environment. If you have an incident in your past that needs to be addressed, or there is something going on in your school or in your life right now that sets off alarm bells, seek out someone you trust and tell them that you need their help. Or you can call Amudim’s Israel office, which was created to deal with exactly these situations.
Know that far from feeling embarrassment or shame for things that may have taken place that were beyond your control, dealing with them head on is an act of incredible bravery. I cannot emphasize enough just how important it is to deal with unresolved issues like these now, before you choose a spouse and start a family of your own because, as with so many other situations in life, burying serious problems is a recipe for disaster because they only come back to haunt you somewhere down the road.
So as you finish up your last finals and get ready to close the book on high school, I ask you to take these fatherly thoughts to heart.
Choose wisely when it comes to making new friends. Be prepared for the fact that some days are going to be hard, and have solutions prepared to deal with them. Listen to those voices in your head that tell you that indulging in certain behaviors is not a good idea. Know who the trusted adults are in your school and speak to them if you need someone to pick you up when you’re feeling low or have unresolved issues that you need to discuss. And if you find yourself in need of more serious help, know that Amudim is there for you on both sides of the Atlantic and our caseworkers are ready to help 24/7m in Israel at 02-374-0175, 516-636-0175 or email@example.com, and in the United States at call (201) 464-8000 or email NorthernNJ@amudim.org.
Mazel tov on this wonderful accomplishment and hatzlacha raba in your upcoming studies. I can’t wait to hear great things from you in the future.
Rabbi Zvi Gluck is the director of Amudim, an organization dedicated to helping abuse victims and those suffering with addiction within the Jewish community, and he has been involved in crisis intervention and management for the past 18 years. Amudim has established a presence in Teaneck. For more information go to www.amudim.org, call (201) 464-8000, or email NorthernNJ@amudim.org.