May 20, 2024
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Impacting Adolescents: Teaching Values with Joy

One of the greatest challenges that parents face is the balance be­tween raising children to live according to their val­ues, and encouraging the healthy development of a child’s independent self-identity. On the one hand, as Torah observant Jews, it is the mission of parents to instill in their children the practice and belief in Torah and mitzvah observance. On the other hand, as children mature, they are ex­posed to the world of ideas and values espoused by popular culture. As a result, children need to develop a strong and independent core of values from which they can confront this conflict.

The crucial point in a child’s development of self-identity is adolescence, which is roughly de­fined as the teenage years between ages 13 and 19. This is the transitional stage from childhood to adulthood, during which the individual explores the role that s/he will occupy as an adult.

The classic model of understanding the ad­olescent stage is based on Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. According to this the­ory, the adolescent experiences an “identity crisis” during which s/he explores the world and reex­amines the status quo. As part of this process, the child is ultimately searching for an understanding as to who he reallyis. It is crucial that parents and educators play an active role as adolescents ma­ture through this process.

There are several important chinuch princi­ples that should be utilized in successfully guid­ing teens through this stage. One crucial element is to ensure that we infuse the transmission of To­rah values to our children with joy. Our mandate is to serve Hashem with Simchah, and a sincere To­rah lifestyle provides a person with a sense of ful­fillment, meaning, and joy. It is essential that this attitude be conveyed in the Torah education of our children. It is not enough to know the details of the laws of Shabbos and Tefillah, in addition the meaning, and yes, the fun in mitzvah observance must be imparted as well. This is especially true as the outside world our children encounter is mar­keted as exciting, stimulating, and enticing. Our stress must not be merely on the restrictive as­pects of Torah, the sur mera, but also the aseh tov, the positive aspects that we actively engage in.

There are many practical things that parents and educators can do to promote a Judaism of joy. For example, Shabbos and Yom Tov are filled with opportunities to create excitement and love for mitzvos. This can be done through hosting an oneg or shabbos party, giving each child a spe­cial role at the Shabbos table, or allowing kids to choose a Shabbos menu and help in preparing special foods. This is also a time to engage kids in discussions about the deeper meaning of these special days, and to encourage the whole fami­ly to join in zemiros and song that allows a tangi­ble feeling of Shabbos and Yom Tov to come alive.

Parents should try to build upon the unique interests of each individual child and encourage him/her in an area that excites them. This can be a chesed activity that in­volves sports, raising tzedakah, or learning something together of the child’s choosing. Another strategy is to assign children leader­ship roles by giving them responsibility over­seeing an activity, such as building the suk­kah, preparing shalach manos, or helping younger siblings say berachos and daven. On a daily basis, a positive feeling can also be en­hanced by establishing age appropriate goals and incentives that reinforce mitzvah obser­vance.

Perhaps, the most powerful building block in teaching values is the parent-child relationship. If the child identifies with the person who is im­parting the message, s/he is significantly more likely to accept and internalize that message. Par­ents can try to create a meaningful bond by shar­ing the relevance of Torah values in today’s world through discussion of contemporary issues, sto­ries, and spending time talking with kids about what is important to them. Often it is more use­ful that the parent-child relationship be nur­tured in a setting unrelated to Jewish practice. By strengthening this bond and identifying with our children, they are more ready to accept our val­ues as their own in their search for identity.

One warning: Don’t wait! The older a child gets, the firmer his/her self-identity be­comes. As they progress it is more challeng­ing to play an influential role in forming their worldview. If you truly want to impact your adolescent, start before the teen years ar­rive…and the earlier the better.

Rabbi Avraham Shulman MS, LAC is a Rebbe and Mashgiach at MTA. He is also an Associate Mental Health Counselor at EK Counseling in Teaneck. He can be reached at [email protected] or 973 271 3753.

By Rabbi Avraham Shulman MS, LAC

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