Topic for today: Bar Mitzvah Lunacy. But no, this is not the standard off-the-shelf rant about costly parties or questionable celebrations. It's about the teenage Shabbaton that comes with the celebration.
I'm talking about the practice of gathering a class full of twelve- and thirteen-year-old boys [as well as girls, in some communities] for Shabbos, concentrating a critical mass of flammable early adolescent rivalries and neuroses and hormones and egos in one location. I am young enough to remember the things our class did at that age, running around in packs at these Bar Mitzvah weekends.
Consider that no one really owns responsibility for kids who gather for these Shabbatonim. The bar mitzvah family may provide meals, and may even arrange activities and walking groups. The host family provides a safe home in which the kids can hang out, and perhaps even sleep should they wish to do so. But that leaves a lot of time and opportunity on teenage hands.
Consider that research demonstrates that teen brains are wired for risk, and to succumb to peer pressure. To quote a CNN article, "It's not that adolescents don't understand risk. They understand it perfectly well," says Beatriz Luna, a neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh. "It's just that they find it more rewarding to impress their peers, and things of that sort, than the risk that's involved to their actual survival; it's just what they value at that point."
Consider that Moshe blamed Gd for leaving the Jews leaderless and holding lots of gold with nothing to do while he was atop Mount Sinai…
So why, exactly, do we think it's a good idea to do this? Of course, we want our children to celebrate with their friends, but I'm surprised we have not evolved a better method.
Thank Gd, I survived my year of trips to the Washington Hotel, Long Beach, Far Rockaway, the Five Towns, and so on. And, thank Gd, my firstborn managed this rite of passage just fine over the past year. But it really seems odd to me.