By now it has become a commonplace to admit that the various social ills of the West have invaded the lives of Jewish families. Unlike the former U.S. president, most any teenager will confess to having inhaled a joint, if not delved more seriously into drugs. Drinking is de rigueur, and sexual dabbling is omnipresent. Eating disorders, boredom, ennui, and even petty criminality all lurk at our door.
As we live in a tragically scientific age, where statistics are the street level version of what was once called Truth, those disturbed by such allegations continuously insist that the dilemma is a) not as widespread as the rumour mongers wish to make out or b) at the very least not as bad as what occurs "amongst the goyim." The flaw with the former is that statistics are notoriously hard to amass in such cases and rarely reflect the scope of the calamity, as any sociologist could verify in assessing the actual incidence in society of say, rape. The latter argument, that we ain't as bad as the non-Jews, is so tepid a defence of Jewish morality as to somehow ring pathetic.
Regarding the specific populace of Orthodox teenagers, it is often striking how the adolescent's issues of family rift, personal depression or existential dislocation are passed off--and thus obfuscated--as being a problem with Torah observance. Yet it is perhaps more true to say that religion is often the manifestation rather than the cause of the child's difficulties. Instead of probing deeply into the heart of why a child expresses his or her discontent with God, prayer and halakha, and what such rebellion represents, we in religious communities often resort to tried and true excuses: "Macintosh/Madonna/Mcgwire/Macdonald's - simply "macdernity".
Such rationales are excuses not because they are entirely inaccurate but because they deflect the task away from ourselves and onto the big bad other. If Jewish education can play a role in inspiring young people and gently dissuading them from the unreality of legal and illegal distractions which constitute the ethos of our culture, it won't be as a compensation for the child's primary source of guidance and nourishment. One thing is a surety and is repeatedly forgotten in the minds of many. Schools are not miracle workers and, for the most part, are not correctives to bad family dynamics, inappropriate social milieu, lack of love, punitive religious indoctrination (or on the other hand, lack of any religious training). Not to mention parents who value money over meaning, or are too busy nursing their own wounds to be able to caress those of their children.
Not long ago, I posed the following question to my high school students. Would you sacrifice 50% of your parents' present income if you could go back to (earlier) childhood and arrange it so that your parents (especially fathers) would spend a lot more time with you--then and now--in a meaningful way? After a unanimous chorus of "Yes," I absorbed a chill of understanding about the current crisis in our midst.