Parenting Jewish Teens

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

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Move from Control to Consultation

Our forefather Abraham is instructed by God to leave his native land and his father's house and to go to a land that God will show him (Genesis 12:1). Why the redundancy? If you are leaving your native land, are you not by definition leaving your father's house as well? Perhaps the message is that in order to grow to become the person you are meant to be, you must step out into the world in a decisive way, leaving behind the rules, regulations, and practices of the home in which you were raised.

At some point children need to separate from their parents, both emotionally as well as physically. Despite the legitimate and real feelings of loss that Jewish parents may experience during this transitional period, it is important to facilitate this process in a constructive way so that teens can grow into emotionally healthy adulthood. Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson of the University of Judaism puts it this way: "While casting a giant shadow over our children's perceptions and actions, their maturation entails a retreat of the parents' ability to impose their own preferences. Ultimately, children learn to become responsible for themselves and their own behavior. Can we, as parents, learn to let our children take charge?" Knowing when to hold them close and when to nudge them toward independence is one of the most difficult--and important--trials of parenting Jewish teens.

Encourage Teens to Stay Involved in the Jewish Community

Pirkei Avot (2:4) urges us to not separate from the community, and this is great advice for Jewish teens and their parents. Recent studies indicate the strong influence of parents in teen decision-making about continued involvement in Jewish activities such as Hebrew high school, youth groups, summer camps, and Israel trips. These are positive experiences in which teens continue to learn, grow, and socialize in settings defined by Jewish values, a wonderful antidote to many of the objectionable images and messages so antithetical to Jewish beliefs and practices that can be found in the popular media.  Jewish parents, too, can benefit from remaining affiliated with Jewish institutions such as the synagogue and community center during their children's teenage years, and parents can help create Parenting Jewish Teens groups when pre-bar and bat mitzvah family education programs are no longer available.

In the Torah, when God calls out to individuals for whom God has a special job, the response that indicates commitment in every sense of the word is, "Hineini--here I am!" Perhaps the job of parenting Jewish teens today is to say to our teens, "Hineini," and to live its message in our parenting each day.

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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.