Jewish Parents: Four Things I Wish You Wouldn’t Say to Your Teenager

 

Making decisions about continuing Jewish Education  is often a challenge, though I’m not sure why. 

The comments below are ones I’ve heard directly, usually on the phone when asked whether their child will continue in our program, or sign up for the first time.  

Every year, unlike with other educational venues and opportunities, the conversation about Jewish education is reopened.  I’m not sure why Jewish education gets the blow-off.

Parents would never question other identity-building, intellectually engaging, social-emotional experiences and leadership opportunities, but in this case they do. (Le’ts see…do you want to continue editing the high school paper next year? Do you really want to put that effort into the advanced calc club?).

So, this posting is my way of  assembling the most common things I’ve heard, and  my responses.  I’d love to hear yours. Here is my brief list:

“It’s your decision”

Why? Why is furthering education a child’s decision? Parents make decisions about other forms of education, why abdicate here? Generally, teens are not wired for more school, they’re wired for less, so this becomes no decision at all.  Would parents ask if their child wants to ‘go on’ in Math or English? Of course not. Because in order to be an educated person you need a modicum of education. Putting Jewish education in an optional category makes more of a statement about its relevance for the parents, which speaks volumes.  Say no more, your child has already figured out your priorities.

“Your school work is more important”

Ditto, plus is school work always more important? More important than identity-building? Personal development? Creating a network of like-minded peers? Students will often need to juggle responsibilities between numerous commitments. You’ve  just told them there is no choice.  But is this really true? Won’t they have to make decisions about these commitments and sometimes choose the non-secular choice? Like whether to attend class on a Jewish holiday? Like whether to speak up and challenge a professor when tests are given on those holidays?

“Are you having fun?”

Ask any student involved in athletics if they’ve had fun at practice.  Yet, everyone knows that the end result: inner satisfaction with an accomplishment trumps ‘fun’.  Also, teens love learning and grappling with issues. Why do we underestimate them in this way?  You might ask what they’ve learned, what questions they’ve asked, what new issues they’ve explored.  This is our hope for the substance of their experience.

“You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”

Really? If they’re part of the Jewish-people team, than isn’t showing up part of the obligation? Should they miss marching band? Practice? The reasoning used there is that they’ve made a commitment to be part of a group, and that holds responsibilities. Each person is depended upon to hold his/her own weight. Why should our language be any different here? They’re part of a team….why not transmit that message early on?

Please share your comments and thoughts, I’d like to hear from you.

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About Ruth Schapira

As a Jewish educator and consultant, I hope to spur new ideas through this blog to hopefully inspire conversation and motivate change within the Jewish community. I'm interested in making a difference through training, leadership development, and outreach. View all posts by Ruth Schapira

2 responses to “Jewish Parents: Four Things I Wish You Wouldn’t Say to Your Teenager

  • Ruth Schapira

    Thank you for your comment. I agree, working this issue through with parents is very difficult, because often they aren’t willing to be the decision-maker. We hope that the students love attending so much, that they will convince the parent(s) to let them stay. Ironic isn’t it….that where Jewish education is concerned, the teens seem to be making those choices and the parents follow their lead. This picture is very different from years ago.

    That’s why I feel it’s so important to have the capacity to reach out to Jewish teens, because they end up being the game changers. Yet, not having the capacity to do that due to lack of funding is really frustrating.

  • Bess

    Yes, I’ve also heard all of these. Question is – how do you respond without alienating the parent or putting them on the defensive?

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