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“I Can’t Be Bothered”

Let’s first understand this new disorder before we look at the remedy


It’s a dark, cold winter’s morning in London. Another couple is describing to me how their son Chaim is just not interested in going to yeshivah and refuses to get out of bed in the morning. I have a chat with Chaim before then meeting with the parents again to discuss my observations and diagnosis.

Recently it’s been a worryingly familiar theme. They ask me if their son has depression or something worse.

“Would you be recommending medication?” they ask nervously.

Relief is etched onto their faces when I tell them that it looks like their son is not suffering from any clinical diagnosis and won’t require any medication.

“So, what’s going on?” they ask.

I think back to a week ago, when the same question was asked by the parents of 13-year-old Rachel. Their daughter wasn’t doing her schoolwork anymore, and school administrators were threatening expulsion.

I face Chaim’s parents and inform them that Chaim has what I tend to label as “CBB disorder” — CBB stands for “Can’t Be Bothered.” This disorder is an emotional pandemic affecting millions of children around the world. I believe it is responsible for a vast number of our own Yiddishe boys and girls struggling in their Yiddishkeit and mental health today. The medication, I tell parents, is not something you can buy over the counter or get on prescription.

It’s going to take a lot more work than that.

But let’s back up a little bit and first understand this new disorder before we look at the remedy.

Today we are living in an instant society, and it’s unbelievably addictive. Technology has evolved at a furious pace, and everything is now accessible at the touch of a button. Emails, texts, notifications, and tweets are sent and instantly responded to. It’s become so easy. We can have instant information, promises of instant money (if we join up to the latest money-making webinar), and entertainment on demand.

Our modern world has ushered in a spirit of luxury and convenience, and all of us, including our children, are reveling in it. Food and shopping can be ordered, and delivery arranged, all from the comfort of the couch, where we peruse the newspapers looking at which Pesach hotel takes our fancy. The stories of our great grandparents’ childhoods, working down in coal mines, in sweat shops — their worries about survival, about what they would eat the next day — are from a bygone era to which we cannot connect anymore.

Aren’t we fortunate to be able to live in such comfort and ease?

The reality is that G-d designed the world to function with diametrically opposing values. Adam l’amal yulad. A person was created to work, and within every person’s DNA there is the need to feel fulfilled and accomplished. But how? Only through perseverance and hard work. To have success in any major area in life requires this one vital ingredient.

How do we become successful in learning Torah? Pure hard work — Yagata u’matsasa. Working on self-improvement? Yes, it’s hard work. Relationships and marriage, which for many begin with ease and romance, are again quickly replaced by the need to work and persevere in order for them to develop.

But what if our comfortable world has made us become inherently allergic to hard work and conditioned to laziness? Well, relationships will break down, and today’s exploding divorce rate becomes a natural but obvious consequence. Without “sweat and toil,” fulfillment becomes impossible to attain, and antidepressants are required to fill the void. If we aren’t willing to work hard, then our Yiddishkeit — our connection with G-d and His Torah — becomes a burden and a pain instead of a privilege and an honor. So it’s no surprise that many will choose the easier path of giving it all up.

In my own world of psychological health, the inability of a person to work and overcome is devastating. As we all know, challenges and difficulties are inevitable in life. Surmounting them requires effort and resilience, which anyone with CBB disorder just can’t do. Every day I see people who are suffering from all kinds of emotional issues, from the very severe to the more minor.

You might think that the person with the more minor problem has a greater chance of happiness than the person with the more severe problem. Yet time and time again, I can see that this is not the case. Success in battling emotional health challenges and difficulties is not about how big the problem is, but rather how much effort and motivation the person is willing to invest in overcoming it.

Someone who has never worked, has never had to put in effort for anything, and has not developed any self-discipline, is poles apart from someone who has these virtues. Ultimately, change requires effort — which is the one thing that someone with CBB disorder can’t stand. Chaim’s parents, and Rachel’s, and so many others, might be relieved that their children don’t have an official disorder, but in my mind, what they do have is far more sinister.

We can’t blame our children that so many are getting stricken with CBB. It is the nature of a human being to want to avoid hard work (the fancy term for this in psychology is “experiential avoidance”) and it’s the role of those responsible for their development to ensure that this does not happen. Too often our educational establishments are giving a green light to laziness. There are far too many schools, yeshivos, and seminaries allowing their students to play the CBB system. As long as a child is not at the bottom of the class and not causing any trouble, he is left to float along, to continue his relaxed, stress-free existence, never facing demands to put in more than the minimum effort.

It is no surprise that I find that those with chronic laziness are usually above average in academic ability. These children can get along even when they don’t do their homework, learn for tests, or arrive on time for lessons. Why? Because no one really says they can’t. Perhaps we have become too scared to demand improvement out of fear we will alienate our children. The reality is that we are alienating them far more by indulging them with easiness.

If the remedy for CBB is hard work and determination, then parents have a major role in preventing this disorder. If home life for our children is a hotel existence, with no house rules, tasks, or chores imposed on them, then we are once more conditioning them to a life devoid of effort. When a little Chaim or Rachel says, “It’s too hard, I’m not doing this math homework,” or, “I’m not learning for this test, ’cuz who cares anyway,” what is our response? Do we avoid the conflict and give in, or do we patiently and firmly work with our children to help them put in the required effort and help them taste accomplishment and success?

Let’s try to praise the effort instead of the result. If a child works hard but doesn’t achieve a good grade, then we fully acknowledge and applaud the effort spent — not as a token gesture, but because that is where success will come from.

As parents, we also have to ask ourselves whether we are role-modeling effort and perseverance to our children. Are we choosing the couch and the enjoyment of the phone over our duties and responsibilities? Let us show our children that we are embracing challenges and effort instead of taking the easy, convenient shortcuts through life.

Failure to work hard should come with some significant consequences for our children. The best example of this is when they fail to do their homework or get a low grade in an exam. Even if teachers and schools want to employ a range of unpleasant consequences so our children can learn from mistakes, it has become the norm that parents rush to defend their children and demand leniency. Unfortunately, all we are doing is teaching them that they can fail to work hard and get away with it. If we are going to try help our CBB generation, then we need to step back and let our children face the consequences of not putting in enough effort.

The more we can create an environment where hard work is encouraged, and habituate our children to it from a young age, the greater the chance that they will not have to face more serious lessons later in their lives — and fall victim to CBB disorder.


Rabbi Yaakov Barr is a psychotherapist specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy and a clinical supervisor working in private practice in London. He lectures in mental health awareness and is the founder of Jteen, an emotional health text helpline for teens in the UK and Belgium.

 (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 895)

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