The Second Hatching of Children: A Metaphor for Parents and Values Educators
By Jonathan Roth Magidovitch and Gadi Raviv
December 23, 2014
Many years ago during a lunch meeting of our Interfaith Clergy Association, we were bemoaning the disappearance of our youth immediately after their Bnai Mitzvah/Confirmation.
We of each faith group had somehow thought it was only our kids who left. We shared surprise and then shared this joke: “We had a rat problem at our church. Expert after expert would rid of us rats but they always came back. Finally, a professional came who rounded up every rat they could and Confirmed them. We never saw those rats again.”
This essay is to suggest a new metaphor, a new way of looking at how we work with our youth in their transition to adulthood.
Yesterday, a colleague got my attention. He said, “Children are little chicks. They hatch. They come out of their shell open and playful. “By first grade they start to build a new shell, and in their early teens they begin to break out of this shell.”
Why do those pre-first-graders build themselves a shell? As with Adam and Eve, shame and embarrassment are factors, perhaps generated or enhanced by elementary school or socialization in general. In particular, “children have begun to feel that peers are watching them.” They retreat behind a barrier of their own creation. Fear is not the major motivator for children building their second shell.
We believe children instinctively understand that they have a lot to learn about being with their peers. Observation, seeing, is by far the strongest learning tool we have. Intuitively, children understand that an unseen observer gets cleaner information than a participant observer does. The presence of the observer alters the thing being observed. This is the reason children build their own shell. It’s their duck blind. It’s their one-way mirror.
And, why do they as pre-adolescents begin to peck apart their shell? Their need to connect with peers overpowers their need to hide. Its biology; preservation of the species. The clock has ticked. Time has arrived to put knowledge into practice.
As their adults, it is our goal to provide them tools for breaking out, and this is where faith educators come in heavy with tools, conceptions and expectations for specific outcomes.
My colleague asserted that these kids are not interested in Bible, or Judaism (Christianity) or in performing, but they put huge effort into their Bnai Mitzvah studies because “They are proving themselves as adults.”
At this point, we add that so much of religious education feels like an imposition. Educators and parents feel pressure to inject stuff into our kids. It’s invasive.
Could we instead “go with” the urge to adulthood of our children?
With peers as witness, our kids need to prove themselves as adults. We want them to be adults and independent, but we want them to have the tools by which to live that life in the best way possible.
We are not neutral in what is “best.” And, broadly speaking, our children have already accepted the values we are trying to convey. That is, the vast majority of our children believe that the world is a better place if we all respect each other’s property and lives. Simply put, somehow our kids have already gotten the values. Now it’s about implementation.
What we have is a methodological problem. We tend to impose, restrict, manage and boss our children at the exact moment when they need to be self-directing.
We present them with tools and with myriad directions for how to use these tools.
Maybe when you were a kid, your dad put you on his lap as he drove the car. That was great and empowering when you were five. As a teen, it would be both creepy and dangerous.
Similarly, we need to put tools into our kids’ hands, the tools they need to live by their values. Further, we need to allow that our children might find tools of their own.
An example of that is social media. Values are developed and refined in their online communities. Those communities are generally pleasant places to be. They do have bad actors in them, trolls, and adult presence is important but best as supportive and background. Like driving the car, it’s unhelpful when adults take control in the spaces where kids need to be exercising their adulthood.
As for that joke about Confirming the rats, clearly our children are not rats. Also clearly, we do not really want them hanging around our houses as adults. We want them to go out into the world and find their life and build their home.
The home we built and raised them in was their “first shell.” They must hatch from it, be free of it.
Speaking of spiritual homes, Temple, Church or Synagogue, those were for our children “first shells.” We cannot expect them to take up residence in those spaces. In fact such expectation they will read as overbearing.
At the very least, if we want our children to inhabit the places of spirit and of values that we built, we have to give over our tools to them and the deeds to our buildings and give them our blessing to remodel the places to their needs.
Good if they choose to remodel, but just as good if they choose a complete rebuild. It’s their world, their life, and we do best if we trust them.
We are part of the shell they broke free of. There was a moment when we could see ourselves as their leaders. While they are still very young, it is best if we become their cheerleaders.
Performing rites of passage at the time of their transition to adulthood is instrumental in providing children and their adults with a textual and ceremonial platform to celebrate and exercise their “second hatching. The ritual here is vital because it acknowledges what is already happening.
Gadi Raviv is a Reform Rabbi in Karmiel, Israel and a 3rd generation kibbutz member. He creates life-cycle and holy day ceremonies for secular Israelis by mixing traditional and modern Judaism with Israeli popular culture, kibbutz heritage and humanistic psychology.
Jonathan Roth Magidovitch works in the US and Israel as a coach/consultant for individuals, families and family businesses. He is the principal of Yosef Meged Consulting and the Rabbi of Kehillat Ohel Moed.