photo by: Ruth Schapira
Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality
How ethical are today’s teens?
When given the chance to cheat, what would the teenagers you know do?
A recent New York Times article on the subject of Ethics in Life and Business explored the difficulty adults have in making the right choice.
The author says: “The problem, research shows, is that how we think we’re going to act when faced with a moral decision and how we really do act are often vastly different.”
How much more challenging is this for teens growing up in a confusing world of right and wrong?
Months ago, I was surprised to learn how teens defined cheating while defending their behavior.
Since the scandals of the 80’s, businesses and researchers were propelled to give ethics serious consideration and there is now a website devoted to the matter.
As the article states, the difficulty in teaching ethics is that there is a difference between the ‘should’ self (what should be done in a given situation) and the ‘want’ self (wanting to be liked, accepted).
I imagine that with teens, that ‘want’ self is really strong in the adolescent years.
Social media hasn’t made things any easier for them, where there is even more of a pull to be one of the crowd.
Academic pressure hasn’t helped either, with the resultant urge to cheat becoming ever stronger.
Based on everything we know, there is a real benefit to training teens in this area while giving them real skills to succeed in the world of business,
So, how to we hope to teach ethics to teens?
By practice. Repetition. Role-plays. Scenarios where teenagers get to act out their choices.
High schools rarely offer ethics as a subject area.
Monthly programs for teens can not begin to instill these skills, there’s just not enough time to make anything ‘stick’.
Jewish educators who meet with teens weekly have an exceptional opportunity to give them a much-needed tune-up.
For my family, when selecting college options, it was never solely about the numbers of Jewish students on campus. It was more nuanced than that, because in today’s environment, there are so many more factors to consider other than statistics.
For example, a school may have a large Jewish population, but precisely due to that size, students might not opt for specifically “Jewish” activities when given the many choices there are in a large school.
So below is a top ten list of questions (actually ten main questions, with lots more in between) you might ask when selecting colleges that match your teen’s interest level for Jewish engagement.
Hillel, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, has a searchable online tool that answers some basic questions about sheer numbers of Jewish students, but does not offer specific answers to most of the questions below.
- Is there a Hillel or other Jewish options on campus (Chabad, Meor, Jewish Student Unions are examples). How far are they from the main campus? How well attended are the events they sponsor? Are there different choices for prayer styles? What is the attendance like? Are there students who take leadership roles? Is the staffing full or part-time? Does the Hillel consider itself an “Open Hillel”? Does the Hillel sponsor a Birthright trip?
- Is there an option for Kosher Dining on Campus? Is there open dining, so that students can eat at both places as part of the meal plan?
- Are there opportunities to major or minor in Jewish Studies? Is Hebrew language offered? If not, are there partnerships with other schools that have more choices? Will the school easily accept credits in these areas from other colleges?
- What is the environment like concerning Israel? Is there an active “Students for Justice in Palestine” group on campus? Have there been anti-Israel rallies? Is there a BDS movement on campus? Have any Israeli products ever been banned from campus stores?
- Are there travel abroad opportunities within the State of Israel?
- What is the school’s policy about Jewish holiday observance? Are there provisions on campus to celebrate Passover? Are there on-campus holiday services?
- Are there Jewish fraternities or sororities? Are they in the same location as other Greek groups?
- How many synagogues are there in close proximity to the campus? Is there an opportunity for students to participate at neighboring synagogues? Are there jobs in local synagogues for teachers? Youth group leaders?
- Has the college been in the news concerning issues surrounding academic freedom? Have the professors signed any petitions for political causes?
- What is the roommate selection process like?
If you feel a bit overwhelmed by this list, well….don’t. College costs are high, and the stakes are even higher. Ask away, then make a decision that is informed.
For more general information:
Synagogue newsletters: not everyone’s optimal reading material when finding a treasured bit of rare, spare time.
It doesn’t help that many feel like a throw-back to a different era with some of the most musty names like Beacon, Herald or Courier.
The part that I do enjoy reading, when available, is the pithy, brief biographies that young teens write (or have ghost-written by phenomenally proud parents) prior to their B’nai Mitzvahs.
Some are unbelievably artistic and have bios that rival Carnegie Hall performers: (names are changed, but quotes are exact)
“Shaya is an accomplished dancer (she enjoys ballet, jazz and hip-hop) and musician (she plays piano and guitar and enjoys composing, playing and singing).”
Notably the guys in the group, seem to breathe sports air:
“Jonathan is passionate about sports in general: baseball, tennis, squash, soccer and basketball.”
Some are jet setters, even at this early age:
“Shira loves her pets, piano, photography and travels to both coasts and abroad.”
Most are highly involved in the mitzvah part of the event:
“Steve has baked for Ronald McDonald House and helped clean up Yellowstone National Park.”
“Rebecca has been participating in Street Soccer, USA, a nonprofit that helps homeless men and women learn skills beyond the field, by playing soccer with as well as collecting donations for a Philadelphia team.”
“Max participated in the Little League Challenger Program in which he helped kids with special needs play and enjoy the game of baseball.”
“Michal is coordinating donation efforts to bring indoor sports equipment to the JBH playrooms and is organizing and leading several activity nights for the children.”
It doesn’t need mentioning that we want our teens to be active and involved members of the Jewish and American community. Plus, parents want their kids to excel in areas of their interest, and do important service and community work.
But isn’t it odd that the community service these teens accomplished did not occur within a Jewish organization?
Of the ten teens whose faces and bios are featured in the B’nai Mitzvah bios with accompanying meaningful descriptions of their activities, not ONE mentioned what the teenager’s plans were for continuing their education past the much awaited-for ceremony.
Even though the information above is excerpted from one synagogue newsletter, from those I’ve read, this one was not unusual.If there is a template that all the kids follow, why is the question about continuing the journey of Jewish education missing?
Is not the ceremony part of an ongoing developmental process in a journey toward Jewish adulthood?
Beyond all the tumult, hype, sweat equity, and of course unparalleled joys leading up to the actual ceremony, we have to ask ourselves questions about why so often the very purpose of the ceremony seems to be absent.
Even in the best case scenario, when I’ve seen teens communicate their intention to continue a commitment to further their Jewish education from the bima (podium), it doesn’t seem to appear in other places.
So, I ask again, why is their place in the Jewish community of the future a mystery?
A confident, tall, yet boyish 11th grade teenager asked this question of Rabbis who were participating in a panel called “Ask the Rabbi Anything”.
The teen who asked the question wasn’t just any boy–he is already different from most other Jewish teens his age.
He’s attending a supplementary school program one day a week and working as a Hebrew school teacher’s aide a second day.
His plan is to earn a Teaching Certificate at the end of a two-year program.
Yet, he had a concern about whether or not the community considered him Jewish simply because he has doubts about God.
The good news?
He received warm and thoughtful responses by all Rabbis that I’m sure allayed any concerns he had, plus gave him plenty of things to grapple with and think about.
There were about 45 other teens in the room that seemed really interested in hearing the answers….so we can assume that the question resonated with them as well.
So, what can we learn about from this very important and urgent question?
We need to create the space for teens to share their feelings of doubt.
How well have we taught our teens that asking questions is the beginning of a journey?
How many of the teens we work with feel discomfort about faith? God? The bible?
How many teens might turn away from Judaism believing that they don’t quite measure up to some arbitrary definition of what a Jew is?
Judging from the thoughtful questions the teens asked and the depth of their comments, it was apparent that they experienced a wide open and accepting space to begin to figure things out, and for me–I was happy to share that space with them.
When it comes to teens, it seems that “Headlines” are usually “Dead Lines”….yes….news about deaths, teenage thugs, bullying, and more.
I’m tired of reading all this bad news about teens.
You might ask: “So, just look for the good news, what are you complaining about?”
It’s not that easy.
I get news alerts from Google and Yahoo sent to my Inbox, and generally what comes up, almost on a daily basis, is what you see below.
Tired teenagers may need a new mattressFree Malaysia Today – 20 hours
The researchers found that teenagers’ mattresses were often too small to accommodate their rapid growth. Moreover, they were often worn out …
Teenage thugs locked up after brutally attacking cyclist for being ‘ginger’Manchester Evening News – 25 minutes
Court is told that the four teenagers launched an ‘unprovoked attack’ on the cyclist as he stopped at lights in the city centre.
New wearable tech Ringblingz to help teenagers stay connectedNew Kerala – 16 hours
Washington, Feb. 09 : A new wearable technology has been reportedly launched that helps teenagers stay connected based on the social media …
Teenagers held over car theftsThe Herald – 2 hours
TWO teenagers have been apprehended by police and three stolen vehicles recovered after residents raised the alarm about suspicious activity.
Two Tucson teens arrested in murder plotFOX 10 Phoenix – 11 hours
Two Tucson teenagers are facing charges of conspiracy to commit murder after Pima County deputies say they were plotting to kill an …
Cincinnati Police arrest four teens in weekend aggravated robberiesFOX 19 Cincinnati – 14 hours
Cincinnati Police have arrested four teenagers in connection with two aggravated robbery offenses during the past weekend in Northside.
Russian teen project charged with “gay propaganda”Scoop.co.nz – 9 hours
“The Children-404 project is being prosecuted for “gay propaganda” because it provides sympathetic, supportive advice to isolated, bullied, …
I’m not saying that teens are not often a troubled lot, or that teenage rebellion is something we should be surprised about.
After all, James Dean, Catcher in the Rye, and all that…..we’ve all been sensitized to the plight of the adolescent.
However, it is worse now with bullying occupying a virtual limitless space and even bigger social platforms where often teens feel unwanted, unloved, and ostracized.
I’m just saying that I need a break.
So please, to all of you out there working with teenagers or reporting about them…..just write more of the good stuff, if only so it takes up more space in my Inbox.
What would you say about how to change the world?
Why does Judaism value education so much?
How are educational values embedded in our tradition?
It’s not possible to improve on the eloquent words of a master writer and teacher, the Former Chief Rabbi of the U.K.
Rabbi Sacks writes a series of articles on the Torah portion of the week entitled “Covenant & Conversation”.
I encourage you to get acquainted with his writings; they will stir you.
When I read something written so beautifully, that exquisitely states Judaism’s mission of perpetuation through education, all I can hope for is that others like you will read it too.
Education has been the key to our survival, and that notion is at risk.
We’ve often gone for the glitz and forgot the substance.
I’m not bemoaning the loss of old ideas, worn out ways of doing things, or suggesting that we return to unsuccessful models.
But I am saying that whatever we do, we must do it in the name of education.
In today’s world, ‘content is king’.
How fitting for us at this time. We have permission to offer our teens real substantive content.
If we focus on this, we will guarantee a healthy future.
This must be our unified message.
“The Mesopotamians built ziggurats. The Egyptians built pyramids. The Greeks built the Parthenon. The Romans built the Coliseum. Jews built schools.”
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks continues: …..”that is why they alone, of all the civilizations of the ancient world are still alive and strong, still continuing their ancestors’ vocation, their heritage intact and undiminished.”
Click, Read, Learn….may your efforts continue our tradition.