REFLECTIONS OF A COUNSELOR

By Eden Farber
AJT CONRTIBUTOR

Over the years, my involvement with children has steadily increased from the occasional babysitting job to a full-time career. I’ve grown from being a counselor for Bnei Akiva youth group to running it, from working at summer camp to teaching at Hebrew school. As this year winds down and I see that my path is taking new turns, I decided to reflect on what I’ve learned from working with, teaching and admiring children.

1.      People only lie when we make them.

“I didn’t eat it!” he exclaimed to me, as I watched him swallow the last bite of his classmate’s cookie. Being lied to so obviously is a kind of surreal feeling—hoping I was just imagining things, cookie crumbs on his chin and all. I realized, though, that the only reason he lied to me was because his system had taught him to. The school system had taught him that you can avoid punishment by lying about good behavior easier than by admitting to bad. Therefore, the only way to ensure a world of honesty is by creating that system of trust on one’s own. “Of course you didn’t,” I responded. “But where did it go?”

2.      Creativity is powerful.

I was watching a six-year-old in a park, playing with sticks, cogs in her mind turning. Children are so innocent. Minutes later, she was up on the top of the play-set—she had used the sticks and twigs to tie up her stuffed animal horsey, and as if roasting it, held it over the heads of all the children playing below. The scene was a mixture of bizarre and hilarious, but it mostly has stuck with me because I learned that little girls and toy horseys are really not to be trifled with.

3.      Screaming is good for the soul.

A seven year old boy was working on his homework. I watched him systematically fill out three problems, look up to the sky, scream, look back down and repeat the process. I don’t know why we’ve decided as a culture that loud is bad. After a long day, difficult work, or a painful social interaction, there’s really nothing like screaming. This boy knew that being able to let our emotions run free is an immeasurable gift. This boy knew how to scream.

4.      You can’t hide.

Kids notice everything. Whether you’re checking the time more than usual or dressed a bit sloppier, they will not only notice but blatantly point it out. In fact, it was my campers that predicted my now-almost-one-year relationship before I even decided I was interested. It amazes me how much we try to hide from children, when we should really be seeking out their insight and fresh takes on the world.

5.      Do not tease Happy Fun Ball.

As I collected drawings, based on the instructions “Design a flying machine,” I found a desktop computer with wings (a machine that can fly is apparently different from a flying machine). Laughing at a child’s work can be the most detrimental thing an authority figure could ever do. Creation and ideas, what you put into the world, is never trivial. Taking a child’s ideas seriously builds them into strong, thinking adults; it is the gift to them and the world that just keeps on giving.

6.      Respect, if not mutual, is not real.

There is no such thing as one-way respect. Respect is a journey, it is a process, and it is a type of relationship that can only be built with experiences, not with labels. It is kids learning my passions and me learning theirs. I went in to every job knowing that I had to earn kids’ trust and respect—demanding it as their teacher or authority figure is useless—and from that mindset alone I grew tremendously.

It’s been swell, kids. Thank you for all that you’ve taught me.

Atlanta’s Eden Farber, 16, was recognized in the Jewish Heritage National Poetry Contest of 2010 and has published op-eds and poetry in Modern Hippie Magazine and the NY Jewish Week’s Fresh Ink for Teens section.