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The Age of Innocence

The Age of Innocence

What kind of memories do we want our children to have?

by

Recently a well-meaning family member sent my ten-year-old a book for a gift. It was a "coming of age" novel, and after scanning it I determined that it was not appropriate for my children. I thanked the relative and tossed the book.

So what turned me into such a prudish censor?

Sad experience, and the desire to protect my kids from the same.

I grew up – as most Americans do in our day – bombarded by messages about sexuality. I have no specific memory of how I learned everything there is to know about the "facts of life." I just knew. We all knew, my friends and I, and it seemed we'd always known.

There were movies, books and magazines, and people dressed to attract attention. There was innuendo on television (this was long enough ago that they still stopped at innuendo; today, from what I hear, there's no longer any requirement of subtlety). There were "cool" parents who weren't afraid to talk frankly, to take their kids to Planned Parenthood, to encourage the "responsible" exercise of all this liberated activity.

I remember once when I was around 11 years old, my aunt and uncle took me to a movie, and during an explicit scene, my aunt whispered to me that she was sorry; she hadn't realized the movie would be so "adult."

"Oh, don't worry," I nonchalantly replied. "I'm used to it." By then I'd seen much worse.

For a time in my young adulthood, I really prided myself on being unfazeable. "There's not much that can shock me," I said between drags on my cigarette.

But inside I was empty. My self-respect had gone the way of my innocence, and I felt devalued and debased.

When I was exposed to traditional Judaism for the first time as an adult, this was one of many areas where the truth of Torah penetrated my heart.

I learned to dress in a modest fashion, allowing me to present myself as a person instead of a body. I felt free for the first time from the pressures of displaying myself to all of humanity. I felt a new sense of nobility. I am a Jewish woman, I realized, a daughter of the King. And I don't have to wait for a special occasion to clothe myself accordingly.

I learned to reserve my touch for those closest to me. I stopped shaking hands with men, and in so doing I felt I had stopped diluting the power of the affection I could share with my husband. Torah released me from the perceived obligation to give of myself to all, without boundaries.

Adopting Judaism's "restrictions" proved to be wonderfully liberating.

It also helped me regain some measure of my innocence.

I'll never forget the first time I went to the mall after I had been living as an observant Jew for a while. As I stepped off the elevator, I was confronted with an enormous poster of a shirtless man. It was a curious advertisement for a men's clothing store since there were no clothes anywhere in sight. And I blushed and averted my gaze.

I was happy to realize that I was allowing myself to be fazed.

Manis Friedman in his wonderful book Doesn't Anyone Blush Anymore? says that when a man and a woman touch each other, they should feel something. To feel nothing is sad; it's a diminishment of the potential of this special relationship that God has given us.

I am burdened with memories that no daughter of the King should have to bear. And I want better for my children.

I had to work to reclaim this natural innocence, and it is not one hundred percent reclaimable. I am burdened with memories that no daughter of the King should have to bear.

And I want better for my children.

That is why I choose to raise them in a relatively sheltered manner. My husband and I carefully screen the materials our kids are exposed to. We do not keep explicit images around the house, and we do not allow them to read explicit materials (the same goes for violent materials, or other things that do not reflect our values). We do not watch movies, and we do not own a television. We have chosen to live in a religious community in Israel where our children are exposed to a minimum of vulgarity.

My children do not know who is the latest, hottest entertainer. They have no idea what's on television. They are blissfully unaware of the latest navel-baring fashions. And they do not, as of yet, know "the facts of life."

I don't think my children are missing anything. We listen – and dance to – joyful music that connects them to their traditions and enhances their spirituality with inspiring lyrics. They may not know Madonna, but they love Mordechai ben David. They read voraciously in both English and Hebrew, and we provide them with books that educate and entertain without reference to television, gratuitous violence, or intimate matters that they really don't need to think about at their tender age (yes, there really are books like that!). And as to the facts of life, we will teach them in the proper time, within a context of helping them to envision a committed family life.

I once heard Rabbi Noach Orlowek respond to a question about how we should teach our children about anti-Semitism. He gave an interesting metaphor. You pay a price for being a Jew in this world, he said. And everyone wants to get value for their money. The way to make it worth paying the price is simply to give our children a superior product. Give them the full richness of living a Jewish life (Shabbat, a full year of meaningful holidays, celebrations, Torah learning, and so on), and the rest will take care of itself. They will know that it is worth the "risk."

Similarly, I think that when my children are – inevitably – exposed to some "temptation," they will feel that any "price" they may have paid (in the form of not having access to secular entertainments) is worth it. By exposing our children to positive images of wholesome family life, and to the cultural references that we feel truly are important to their development, my husband and I hope to give them a superior product. Having seen nothing but stable, committed, caring marriages (both ours and those of our friends, neighbors, rabbis, and so on), our children will know what they really want out of life. They won't fall for the cheap thrill of casual encounters or destructive behavior, because they will have the background to be able to see those things for what they are. They won't be gullible; on the contrary, they'll have greater clarity than their "with-it" contemporaries in the secular world.

Go ahead and call me naive. I'm afraid I'm anything but. I know all too well that whatever their brains get filled with now will shape their future thoughts. And I consider it my parental responsibility to ask the question: What kind of memories do I want my children to have?

My answer is easy: innocent ones.

Published: June 4, 2005


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Visitor Comments: 69

(68) Anonymous, March 3, 2014 9:12 PM

SMACK-DAB ON THE MONEY

This is so well said: "I had to work to reclaim this natural innocence, and it is not one hundred percent reclaimable. I am burdened with memories that no daughter of the King should have to bear."

So many returnees to Jewish observance - especially the women of us - are so burdened.

(67) AMSB, March 3, 2014 5:45 PM

Educate your children and empower them

I understand wanting to shelter your children and help them keep their innocence. But as others who've commented also said, sheltered children often go in the other direction and find what they didn't get from someone else. My mother didn't let me watch a specific TV show. So I watched it at a friend's house and my mom never knew. And that was only a TV show.
I also agree that if you don't talk about things with your children, you are actually teaching them that it's not ok to talk about it. That's why there are so many sexual issues in the Jewish community. B/c no one talks about it b/c we've all learned that it's not ok to talk about it. That's a horrible cycle to perpetuate.
I believe the best thing you can do for your children is educate them on what goes on in the real world, learning all of it from you, and not perhaps from the "wrong" person. Give them the tools to make their own educated choices and empower them to do so. Teens want to make their own decisions and you can't watch them all the time. By educating them and giving them the right tools, you can help them make good choices and be successful!

(66) Shirley, March 2, 2014 5:38 PM

protection versus sheltering

there is a huge difference between being sheltered and being protected We didnt have TV and my parents were very particular about reading material brought into the house. At the same time my dad from the time I was 4 or 5 started teaching me survival skills as in "if anybody tries to touch you inappropriately scream your head off - " and this was way back in the 60's. At the same time it was clear that if deliberately chose to "jump in the back seat of the car with a boy" I was on my own when it came to the consequences. Being protected does not automatically mean being defenseless in how to deal with people who are evil.

(65) Raquel de Almeida, March 2, 2014 4:33 PM

you are a mensh

It is great that yu have chosen to shelter your children from what we parents out in the aggressively secular world are one way or the other struggling to do the same. The battle to avoid explicit clothing, mindless and provocative pop songs and peer pressure is horrendous. However, we have Judaism and Jewish values to guide us and it is a struggle.
We can already see how our kids are developing and they don't miss mobile phones, games or the Internet, even if their friends all have the latest gadgets. Sheltering our kids from sexualised clothing, images and stuff is our duty.

(64) Anonymous, March 7, 2009 10:19 PM

Be careful because you may get the opposite of what you're hoping for

I am sorry to say that the way you are raising your children may not end up the way you want it to. For us out here in the REAL world, you must know that throughout their lives and their growth you will not be with them every single step and there will be times that they are with their friends, or learning new things. If you as a parent don't teach your children what there is to know in the world, they'll find out eventually and maybe from the wrong person. Sometimes children who are totally sheltered become wild once they have gotten a taste of something unknown and that you DO NOT want. You'd be surprised at how many previously sheltered Yeshiva boys now skip class to smoke or drink beers in the park. In other cases, later in life these children end up becoming non-observant out of their resentment for being unexposed to anything. The last thing we want our children to do is be blinded and unable to experience the true joys of Judaism and the help and light it brings us. The answer to raising innocent children isn't sheltering them or being naive, it's making them aware of happiness, love, family, Hashem and the beauty that all of those things bring. I was raised by parents who educated me about what was what, but made my life so enjoyable that I had no need for temptations. I was happy on my own without the sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Be careful because you can really end up causing your children a disservice.

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