Parenting Jewish Teens

How to help your teens grow as they prepare to leave home.

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Chastise When Necessary, But Do So Carefully

The Torah clearly states the obligation to let another person know when he or she is doing something wrong  (Leviticus 19:17). It is equally important, though, that this be done with great sensitivity. Notes commentator Avnei Azel: " 'You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall surely rebuke your neighbor'…What is the link between these two parts of the verse? The explanation is that one can only truly rebuke a person that one loves and whom one wishes to see mend his ways, such as the way a father rebukes his son. The closer a person is to another person, the greater the love and the more earnest the rebuke. A rebuke which is the product of love is more effective." (Torah Gems Volume 2, Yavneh Publishing House)

Manage Your Anger

Teenager behavior can be quite vexing and even downright infuriating. An enraged response on the part of the parent, however, should be avoided. According to Maimonides: "Anger is…an exceptionally bad quality. It is fitting and proper that one move away from it and adopt the opposite extreme. He should school himself not to become angry even when it is fitting to be angry. If he should wish to arouse fear in his children and household…to motivate them to return to the proper path, he should present an angry front to them to punish them, but he should be inwardly calm. He should be like one who acts out the part of an angry man in his wrath, but is not himself angry." (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Deot 2:3) Parents can apply this advice by taking a few minutes, if need be, to collect their thoughts, put the situation in perspective, and respond appropriately to the problem at hand. This approach stands a far better chance of getting the desired results.

Positive Interactions Should Outweigh Negative Ones

If parents are always chastising their teens about the more annoying aspects of teen behavior (messy room, inattention to schoolwork, issues about money, laziness, loud music, to name a few), there will be little opportunity to normalize the relationship. The Torah warns against being vengeful or bearing a grudge (Leviticus 19:18), because such behavior can cause us to continuously view another through an overly negative lens. The advice of the Talmud (Sanhedrin 107b) is to discipline with the left (weaker) hand and to reach out with the right (stronger), so that reconciliation is possible. Relationships between today's parents and teens can deteriorate quite quickly unless parents deal with difficult issues and move forward in a constructive way.

Respect Differences in the Area of Jewish Observance

It is often quite difficult to accept the fact that a teenager may not want to participate in the family's Jewish observances in the way he or she did when younger, and this can feel like a rejection of a parent's core values. However, the Talmud teaches us not to impose restrictions that cannot be adhered to (Bava Batra 60b), so it is wise to make accommodations during this time, where possible, in order to facilitate an eventual return to parental teachings. A wonderful model for this can be found in a tale that is told about the Baal Shem Tov (Master of the Good Name), the founder of Hasidism. When a distraught Hasid came to see him, the rebbe gently asked: "What is the problem?" "It is my son," the Hasid bemoaned. "He no longer follows our religion,"  "Do you love your son?" the Baal Shem Tov inquired. "Of course I do!" the man cried. "Then love him even more," was the rebbe's response.

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Joanne Doades

Joanne Doades the author of Parenting Jewish Teens: A Guide for the Perplexed (Jewish Lights Publishing) and the Director of Curriculum Development for the Union for Reform Judaism Department of Lifelong Jewish Learning.