Jewish Journal


September 23, 2010

The Torah of teens


I was driving my 15-year-old daughter to her bus stop, frantic over whether we’d get there in time. She was digging through her backpack for the bus pass that too often seems to go missing. She snapped at me, and I took a deep breath and asked her as kindly as I could not to address me that way.

Did I resolve her problem? No, but the heat of the moment was diffused.

Most of the time, it’s not my fault when my kid loses something, and, sometimes, it is my fault when we’re late. But who’s at fault really doesn’t matter when we’re on the road and there’s no going back. My job right then is to remember to be the parent – reasonable and ready to resolve any situation to the best of my abilities – and also to let go.

Teenagers today, the articles in these pages teach us, are as difficult to parent as they always have been, and they also face new challenges previous generations never confronted. Some are obvious: School has become more academic, testing more stringent, and the stakes higher than ever — I have no idea what my daughter’s math book is about, and not just because I can’t remember that far back. Getting into a good college is more competitive each year – and tuitions are always rising.

On top of all that, it’s harder than ever for teens to stay focused: Social networking has added a new level of potential distractions and booby traps for bad behavior; drugs and alcohol are as available as ever, and as dangerous, if not more so. Plus, teens today are often really tired – many, like my daughter, have to travel long distances to get to the private or magnet or charter school of choice, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to bed early.

But the roots of their tensions often aren’t evident in the moment. While we’re arguing with them about inappropriate behavior, they’re worrying about how to face World War III over who sits with whom at lunch.

So how do we (and they) deal with this?

Vanessa Van Petten, a self-titled “youthologist” who is not far from being a teen herself, reminds us that talking to teens is crucial.

An excerpt from best-selling author Wendy Mogel’s new book, “The Blessing of a B Minus,” suggests too that while we can’t stop teens from being teens, we can offer examples for good behavior.

My daughter and I got to the bus stop in time, and I resisted the impulse to hover and make sure the driver would let her on without her pass. And even without my hovering, she made it to school. Happily, I’ve learned by now that the flash of anger I had just witnessed would not control her day, nor should it mar mine.

But every day I’m reminded that the lesson of how to let go while still holding on is one of life’s hardest. How do we adapt to change and navigate life’s many challenges – big and small – with consideration and conscience?

There is a Jewish road. Torah, Mogel’s books suggest, offers help with the most fundamental skills of parenting and can guide us all – not just our children – on how to become better, kinder people.

And, if we’re lucky, or wise enough to know how to ask for the favor, someone might cut us some slack and let us on the bus without a pass.

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