Tag Archives: Adolescence

For Teens: Worrying About Being Normal? Don’t.

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What’s the new normal anyway?

I recently read a great post called Approaching Normal.  It got me thinking about how teens today think about being ‘normal’.

Even as adults, we all wonder about it, and the post describes just how much politicians, advertising gurus, and marketing mavens depend on our desire to be in that state of normalcy.

So, we all think about being normal and fitting in, into some group,  but take yourself back to your teen years.  You might want to add in some thoughts about your identity as a Jewish teen, especially if you lived in an area lacking a large Jewish population.

Try to imagine dealing with the wrenching angst of feelings that you didn’t fit in.

Of being out of the place you coveted for whatever reason. And then think of the reasons you thought you couldn’t make the grade: wrong clothes, image, name, hair, really……it could have been for any reason at all.  Logic, though trying to peek through the fog, has no role here.

Think about what you were thinking, feeling, or even how you were acting….did you think you were totally normal and just like everyone else?

Those years were tough, weren’t they? But you’re done now, and all grown up (debatable, I know).

Well, our teens live and breathe in that world, but now it’s even harder: more pressured, more intense, more public.  There are fewer places to hide.

Did I say the right thing? Wrong thing? Will my peers/teachers/boy-girl friend hate me? Will this be posted on facebook? Who will see? What will my parents think? Where else will it be shared, and how quick? Who will be texting this? Who can I rally? What will happen in school tomorrow? Will everyone on the bus know? Maybe I should stay home?

They live in that excruciating difficult world of alternating fear, wonder and panic. They are surrounded by unanswerable questions and questionable answers that are nearly impossible to obtain with any certainty.

We can’t even begin to imagine. Well, it turns out that there is no ‘Normal’.  Not really for anyone. That’s a relief, because what our teens are going through isn’t really normal, or is it?

Photocredit: Wikipedia


Current Events: did your teenager’s eyes just glaze over?

taken by משתמש:Hmbr

Mention “Current Events” to a group of teens and just watch what happens.  Their eyes seem to glaze over.

As if talking about something that isn’t in a textbook is a violation of protocol.

I don’t want to be an alarmist, but to some students, reading a newspaper might seem like reading information in a foreign language.

I’m not sure how much today’s teens are grappling with the issues of the day.

How can this be?

Easy. It’s not in the curriculum.

Sure, when something really big happens, it gets some class attention.

However, the stories that are important, but not part of breaking news, are literally another story.

Where are our students getting the depth of a story?

My experience with Israeli teens has always been the opposite. They are intimately involved in the politics of the day, and those conversations happen informally: in the taxi, on-line at the movies, everywhere.

The article in the link below notes that according to a Pew Research study, 49% of people were getting their news in digital form. Good for them. But are today’s teens using their apps for news?

Try an experiment. Ask someone you know, under the age of 18, what news they’ve heard recently. Chances are it’s the new sensational story with the glitz, gore or glamour that way back, was called Yellow journalism.

So, what will change? You.

Have conversations about what’s important to you as a parent, and it will trickle down. Be broad about subject matter.

Don’t wait for a family dinner (those are in short supply). Talk about current news anywhere. In the car. On the line at Target.

Try to make those little moments count for some ‘thought’ time.

Those teenage brains need a workout, and our teens are capable of great thoughts.

Time for that may not always be part of the school curriculum, but it can be part of yours.

photo credit: Wikipedia


Teens: Got a bad grade? Work it!

Life Stinks

Image via Wikipedia

Getting a bad grade, especially when you expected something else entirely, pretty much stinks.

It’s hard enough being in high school when so much of your life seems to be defined by grades. When the grades don’t match up with your expectations or your output, it must feel lousy.

Though I have issues with the idea of being defined by grades, we’re not going there now.

So, you can either sulk or use this life event to get some feedback.

Think of this as an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with your teacher about your work. I know, it’s tough, but give it a try. You can:

  • learn how to advocate for yourself
  • begin to see yourself the way he/she does, and take the opportunity to self-correct
  • figure out what the teacher really wants before it’s too late in the year
  • impress the teacher with your willingness to engage in this type of conversation
  • practice asking for clarification of a decision, which is a skill you’ll use later in life
  • demonstrate your interest in the subject matter
  • cut yourself a break.
  • learn that despite what you’re feeling now, this doesn’t define you
  • feel great about asserting yourself!

Five Things Jewish Parents Should Know

Imagine that you’re on a boat in the middle of the ocean in a thunderous storm. Waves are coming fast and furiously.  Water is splashing inside and out, and luckily you’re still afloat. There is no fast escape.

How do you survive? What is the best strategy?

Just hold on–and be as steadfast as you can.

creative commons license

You’re experiencing what it’s like to be a parent of an adolescent. I can relate to your worries, concerns, problems, and fears.

You just need to hold on to your values and principles so you can stay the course.

How do I know?

I was once there.

From the many comments and responses I’ve exchanged with parents over the years regarding this period of rowboat rocking, and particularly how it pertains to continuing Jewish education, here are five points I’d like you to consider:

#1. you will have push back. Teens are hard-wired to rebel. It’s what they do. Don’t expect them to act differently.  You just need to stay the course and don’t take it personally, but see #2.

#2. the push back will most often be in the areas that coincidentally are important to you. This will make you feel bad and start to question your judgement. You may feel that everything you’ve deemed important will be disregarded. Are you active in the Jewish community? Are you a Jewish educator? Guess what, your teen may give you the hardest time when Jewish education is up for discussion (it shouldn’t be). You’re in for a ride but again, hold on and stay the course. As parents, we are like farmers planting seeds for the future. Teens are into instant gratification. You can see the challenge.

#3. be glad that your teenager is rebelling now, which is better than later, when he/she is in college and faces so many more challenges. Plus, if that happens, you will not be there to set limits, be a supportive ear, or lend in-the-moment advice.

#4. being an authority figure doesn’t mean being authoritarian. Just because you are asserting your right to make decisions for your child, doesn’t mean that you’re ‘bossy’. Parents might be too afraid of taking a strong stance, but your teen will respect you for it, even if that realization comes years later.  Remember the planting metaphor (see #2).

#5. I’ve never met anyone who said to me: I wish my parents didn’t ‘make me go’ to Hebrew High School. Granted, I interact with a select group, but I’ve heard this from both adults and teens. More education is a worthwhile pursuit. As Jews, we believe in the inherent value of study. It’s what has helped us survive through the millenia and it’s up to you to continue that tradition.  Be strong and steadfast.


Why Do We Hate Teenagers?

The New York Times logo

Image via Wikipedia

Did this headline grab you? You’re not unique. It’s what seems to work for newspapers and television.

This is what I read in the New York Times this morning: “Raising a Teenager? What’s Not to Hate?” Not exactly what I like to read with my morning coffee, and I found the wording pretty distasteful.

What I wondered is how many click-throughs that headline got. But it got worse.

The article turned out to be a review of a tv show debuting tonight and actually said very little about teens and their parents. Except when the author made this indictment of children and teens everywhere:

“There’s nothing wrong with hating children, and teenagers all but ask for it.” 

I don’t think the writer said this in jest; the article was more serious than that.  Now my distaste has turned into disbelief and way more than dislike. I’m disarmed.

Why do teenagers seem to get a bad rep?

They are our future leaders, our creative spirits, and sometimes our conscience.  They make us think about who we are and what we represent. They ask great questions.

There have been countless times, when planning programs  in different venues, that the proprietor asked “You mean, your program is with TEENAGERS? How many? Will they be supervised? How many chaperones will there be? Are you insured? Has this been done before?

Even in the space our school shares on a weekly basis, there is an attitude that during break time ‘the kids are loud, create a mess and hang all over the furniture’. 

Break time is what I love.  There are close to 150 teenagers, all hanging out together, connecting with each other and their cellular devices…and it’s all good. 

Put that into a headline.


Jewish Teens Need More

Great Synagogue interior

  

We need to define Judaism more broadly.  

The Jewish teens I work with in a Jewish community high school are looking for more ways to connect with Judaism other than the synagogue/religious experience. 

The most lush and plush indoor spaces don’t help them feel more connected.  Many don’t get ‘prayer’ or the focus on a ‘higher being’.  It’s as if  belief in God is ‘so yesterday’ and they feel way past that intellectually.

 

At least these teens are in a Jewish academic and social environment on a weekly basis, where we touch on these issues. What about their Jewish friends (most) who don’t attend?

We know that Judaism is more than a religion, but on the American Jewish landscape, it sure seems that’s how we’re defining it for them.  And as long as they see Judaism strictly in those terms they can choose to opt out if they don’t ‘believe’. 

What’s the answer? For teens who don’t go to day school or Jewish camps, it could be sponsored trips to Israel that take place while in high school, instead of waiting for the Birthright bonus in college.  Perhaps incentives that would encourage them to participate in American Jewish World Service trips, Panim, teen fellowship programs and other successful ventures. How about communal scholarships to continue in a Jewish community high school? 

It could be many things that we haven’t even thought of yet. But we need to try.

I’m so glad that these teens are in a setting where we get to discuss these issues together.  When they’re here, they know they’re in a zone of non-judgement and impartiality that is palpable.

Just in the past two weeks, our school partnered with other youth movements and organizations (Habonim Dror, BBYO, Interfaithways) to bring our teens programs that challenged them to become aware of several real issues facing the Jewish community (hate speech, issues faced by interfaith families, personal comfort zones, and more). 

I’m not saying that this experience is the magic potion we need, but working with Jewish teens on these issues in an environment of a Jewish community high school sure makes me feel a lot better about options we’re giving them for future engagement.


When Teens Say “I’m not that Jewish”

Jewish Star; Star of David

Image by Alex E. Proimos via Flickr

I met with several teens yesterday, and when I asked them to tell me about their Jewish identity, their answers surprised me.  At one point or another, more than half of them responded in the negative with: “I’m not that Jewish” or “I’m not really so Jewish” and sometimes they completed  those statements with: “because I don’t go to synagogue”, “because I don’t really practice”, “because I’m not that religious”, or because I don’t really believe in God….”

Does this strike anyone else as strange? Why the emphasis on ‘not being Jewish’ and why the focus on what they don’t do?

Somehow, they are defining themselves by what they’re not.  Yet, I don’t think that holds true for other aspects of their lives.  If I would ask them to describe themselves, I doubt they’d begin by telling me what they’re not: “I’m not athletic, I’m not friendly, I’m not really into music” –would sound ridiculous.

I wanted to explore these comments with them, and decided to challenge them instead of playing it safe. I responded with something like: “saying you’re really not that Jewish is like saying ‘I’m really not that human’, isn’t it?  “A human is what you are through and through….and so is being Jewish. It’s your identity, it’s who you are and what you are.”

They just looked at me, surprised by my strong opinion.

I proceeded: “Why the continuum? Why do you rate yourself on your Jewishness? Why do an evaluation? By the way, do any of your non-Jewish friends define themselves that way—-on a scale?” (This sounds much harsher in print than the actual tone of the conversation, but you get the point).

I also encourage them to stop defining “Jewish” .  Those other qualifiers of belief, practice, attendance….tend to create distance and separation–the opposite of what we should be after.

I think we need to be aware of the language our teens use and help them flip it towards the positive.  As a start, “I am Jewish” sounds great to me.