People are setting into new routines and school is still in its start-up phase.
Schedules are being rewritten, dates are being calendared, and carpools being arranged.
From the myriad of after school activities that teens get to choose from, the options become dizzying. How can parents prioritize?
There are those activities that just might nail a college scholarship.
Then there are those that show the ability to be part of a team and as a plus, perhaps gain a honed skill in a much desired sport.
There are also those that demonstrate a level of creativity and talent.
Or a willingness to volunteer for a great cause and work towards an intangible goal.
Or demonstrate leadership by taking an active role in student government.
The choices are really endless, the goals often meritorious, and the pressure to succeed is on.
But what about the opportunity to talk about the larger issues in life?
What about teens who need to ‘download’ their day within a Jewish context—especially now when we’re confronted with so many moral and ethical challenges?
In the past few years, there are many more students who have stress-related disorders, and getting them at younger ages than ever.
The pressure to be busy has intensified, and Jewish education is suffering as a result, because it becomes a choice about which activity to do.
But what is the reality?
Actually, most teens have more time on their hands than parents realize…like spending the equivalent of almost a full day involved with social media: In 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that “Today’s teens spend more than 71/2 hours a day consuming media — watching TV, listening to music, surfing the Web, social networking, and playing video games, and that number has surely increased by now.”
So, if we get rid of the time obstacles, what might some other barriers be for today’s teens to participate in a regular Jewish educational program?
1. Cost might be a factor. Welcome to the age of “free”. Some would say that it all started with Birthright trips and the expectation that it was important enough for young adults to have a memorable and strong identification with Israel that trips were/are free. Other freebies followed suit in the manner of free Hebrew schools. So, actually paying for a program is not a given anymore.
2. Lack of commitment from Parents. Some parents are hard-pressed to make the tough decisions to have their teen attend a supplemental Jewish education program, not wanting to ‘force’ their kids to do anything that they might not automatically be drawn to. Some have said they are afraid their teens will ‘resent’ this later. (my experience is just the opposite, so many adults have said to me, after learning on their own or through an outreach organization, that they wished their parents ‘forced’ them to learn when they were younger).
3. No experience of their own to draw upon. For parents who themselves did not continue after the age of 13, (or didn’t pursue the extra education mentioned above), they don’t know what their teen will be missing, and therefore can’t ‘sell’ the concept.
4. False choices. Some parents think a ‘Jewish activity’ is important, but limit their teen’s participation to one thing, reinforcing the idea that Jewish education needs to ‘fit’ into a greater scheme of commitments. This is more difficult to understand and accept when the one thing is only a monthly program!
5. De-valuing of the Jewish educational experience.To a certain extent, we can choose to blame Hebrew schools as a convenient scapegoat, or we can look deeper into versions of “American Judaism” by-the-movements that did not speak enough to the deep need people have to connect. (Many have written about this, read further from authors such as Wertheimer, Sarna, Schwartz, Wolfson, etc.)
6. Parents are tired. Some say that their kids don’t want to have to 1. wake up early or 2. get home late, but often it is the parents themselves who are beat, can’t/won’t do one more carpool, shlep to one more activity. And this brings us to the point of the post.
Avraham Infeld is famous for saying “Judaism is not a religion.” What I’d like to add is “Judaism is not an activity”. It’s not what we squeeze in or have to fit into our schedules. It’s who we are. It’s about who they will become.
It’s what teens need time for….to figure out how Judaism plays a role in their lives, now and in the future.
Let’s at least make sure our teens are not losing out on this opportunity.