Youth Groups, Kids and Responsible Parents

A Shul Politics reader recently asked what I thought about “youth groups during shul and the kids playing sports like dodge ball and such rather than Shabbos morning appropriate activities”. I think it’s a great Shul Politics issue because it requires one to balance the needs of parents with active kids, with the rest of the membership. Like most issues, there is rarely a one-size-fits-all solution, and it is dependent on the makeup and governance of your particular Shul.

Our Shul encourages parents to bring their children on Shabbos morning and we have youth groups in our social hall, with paid leaders, for children under Bar and Bat Mitzvah age. On Friday nights and before the groups start, some of the boys play dodge ball and such in the Social Hall. It works out well, and my experience has taught me that these activities do not negatively effect the spiritual development of the children.

For Shalosh Seudos, many of the kids come early to help set up, which is a nice introduction to communal chesed. During Shalosh Seudos, when the men are in the social hall, the kids play outside or in the lobby. Sometimes this gets out of hand, and a responsible adult goes up to calm it down.

One issue that comes up, is when a member, who is not an officer and is not responsible for youth activities, disciplines a child or talks to a parent about their child. This almost never turns out well, but unfortunately it’s hard to stop some parents when they see a real or imagined Shul decorum violation. In these cases, it’s important for the president to talk to the disciplining member and to strongly encourage him not to rebuke children or their parents, but rather to bring it to the attention of the president or another officer.

Another important factor for successful coexistence between the kids and the davening members, is for parents to be responsible for their children. This means knowing where they are, what they are doing, and being ready and willing to step in, if the child needs discipline. When the parent does not act when necessary, it can create a difficult situation in which the president may need to step in.

I think we have found a good balance on this issue, but I was recently informed that there are parents who want their children to be able to be as active as they wish, without supervision, so they daven in another communal institution which has no groups and no supervision. If the building can handle that and it doesn’t interfere with the davening, Kol HaKavod.