Parenting a Jewish Teen: A Conversation with Adrienne Gold Davis
Earlier this month, a JWRP sister opened up about a difficult moment she faced with her teenage daughter. When they bumped into each other on the street, the daughter mocked her mother’s outfit in front of her friends, and the mother, feeling helpless, remained silent. (You can read the full story and Adrienne Gold Davis’s advice to her here.) As so many of us know, raising teenagers is not easy, and it takes a lot of strength and thought, intertwined with Jewish values. In this interview, Adrienne shares her wisdom about how to transition from being the director of our tweens to the supervisor of our teens and how to influence our teens to spend time with a good group of friends.
Is there a Jewish way to parent a Jewish teen?
Understanding that you are no longer the director, but the supervisor is not exclusive to parenting a Jewish teen, but is a universal necessity. Ask yourself, what does a bad supervisor do? She micromanages, yells, bullies, shames, does the work for you, takes credit for everything, allows no space for the employees to learn from their mistakes, and doesn't allow employees to reach their potential because she over-functions, helicopters, and rescues. Don't be a bad supervisor. By the time your kids are teens, they know what is important to you. Now, instead of lecturing and reminding them, be sure to model the values that are precious to you. Create a home environment that is filled with warmth, security, and safety. Your teens will do exactly what they want to do, but ultimately, they may model their own homes after the ones they were raised in — if the environment feels loving, accepting, and affirming.
How can we encourage our teenagers to feel good about their bodies?
While it is helpful to make them media savvy and to show them that most of what they look at is not real or is radically altered, the most important thing is to feel good about yourself! Stop asking, “Do I look fat in this?" Let them see that adulthood comes with self-acceptance and even self-celebration. Encourage them to spend more time working on their personalities and characters than they do in the gym and in front of the mirror. This creates a balanced inner/outer world, and in Judaism, that is how we define beauty. Many mothers worry that their children will miss out on life if they don't look their best, and their anxiety — even unspoken — creates anxiety in their kids. Trust that your children can and will make the right decisions about how they eat, dress, and exercise — for themselves.
What are some strategies for effectively interacting with our children as they grow from tweens to teens?
How you transition in your role from director to supervisor will differ for each child. A tween acts like a teenager but without the hormonal soup, so it’s a good time to begin loosening the reigns. Talk to your tween about areas where you can slowly hand over the control. Might that be bedtime? Allowance? Privacy for them? I believe that tweens still need to be closely monitored, using computers in public areas of the house and handing their phones to their parents at bedtime. When they earn more of your trust, you may choose to loosen some of these stringencies.
How can we get our teens involved in and excited about our family’s Jewish practices?
Very, very carefully, and without disciplinary consequences or guilt trips. By this age, they rarely want to spend a lot of time with anyone but their friends. Try to find a community early on where they have synagogue friends who will grow up together. Ensure that your family’s Jewish practices are meaningful and pleasurable. Open your Shabbat table to their friends and serve the most delicious food imaginable! If they are not on board, be sure to point out their menschy behaviors. (“Wow, you are so respectful to your grandmother, such a huge mitzvah!” or "You are so good to your friends, practicing acts kindness all the time!") Associating Jewish values with them in positive ways will help them build self-esteem and associate that self-esteem with Jewish values.
How can we influence our teens to hang out with a good group of friends?
There is very little that we can do in this area. Even in the best of schools, there will be a social hierarchy and your kids will want to be on top. If they can’t access that top spot, they will search for a group that makes them feel safe. If your home is a place filled with warmth and acceptance, you can provide a meeting place for your kids and their friends, and even help some of the less “good” friends become great. It takes a village.