Dear Rabbi and Susan Lapin.
I got The Holistic You book and I am blown away by how the 5 Fs interact. In addition, your latest podcast relating to the Daily Mail scenario was truly eye-opening… I have learned so much from you and really appreciate your honesty without the warm butter LOL.
I have a question that I think would be helpful to many listeners on how we can apply the five Fs to teenagers. I have a lovely teenage girl who is good at saving her money, does well academically in school, has faith, but she is not really doing as well with family, friends, and fitness. She constantly bickers with her brother, making demands of him, has had fallings out with friends in the past year, and has terrible snacking habits.
We have discussed the 5 Fs, but I’m having difficulty holding her accountable. I am emulating great behavior for her and show her how I do it and the great results I’m getting but ultimately, I’m not seeing progress from her. Any advice would be welcomed.
I hope many people get the book because it is truly incredible.
At one point, we had a household full of teenagers, but that was a few years ago. We wanted you to receive an answer from someone currently in the trenches. We turned to our daughter, Rebecca Masinter, who not only has a few teenagers, but is one of the wisest mothers we know. We’re delighted to share her answer with you.
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
Thank you for your question. As a mother of several teenagers, I very much relate to your situation and am sure that many other parents of teens and preteens can as well. I believe that in your commitment to modeling the Five Fs for your daughter, you are acting wisely. Whether or not you see the effects right away, rest assured that she is observing closely, and your example will be of great importance in her life.
I want to commend you for your question and desire to help your teenager develop the Five Fs. Unfortunately, many parents today feel powerless over their adolescents, and some have fallen prey to the mistaken but common attitude that parents don’t matter as much as peers to a teenager. You are correct that you hold tremendous influence over her and have the ability to help her in her continued growth and development. However, as you acknowledge in your letter, parenting teenagers is challenging and requires new skills from parents.
Firstly, we need to understand the new dynamic in our relationship with our teenagers. When a child is young, she finds her security and sense of self primarily through her relationship with her parents. A four-year-old can’t survive physically, psychologically or emotionally without committed adults caring for her. A healthy adult though is someone who can live and thrive on his or her own two feet. Although relationships in an adult’s life are hugely important, they are a product of independently healthy people choosing to connect and build a relationship. The relationship isn’t a prerequisite to a sense of self like it is for a young child. Teenagers are in the transition phase between the children they were and the adults they will be. This means that at one and the same time they desperately need their parents’ love, support, and guidance and also are developing physical, psychological, and emotional independence. Your daughter still needs you to teach her the Five Fs, but she won’t be as receptive to your teachings if she feels your guidance is an assault on her (perhaps unconscious) drive for independence. Our goal is to guide our teenagers so subtly and wisely that they don’t feel our influence as an attempt at control, which is anathema to them.
Can you look for creative and alternative ways to help your daughter learn relationship and fitness skills? Presumably, you’ve already told her directly what you think of her bickering and making demands on her brother and that approach hasn’t worked. Perhaps now it’s time to brainstorm a subtle idea that will unobtrusively turn the siblings into allies instead of antagonists. Perhaps a family project (home improvement, volunteer opportunity, etc.) that can be used as a vehicle to generate teamwork. When you’ve engineered a situation that contains a good sibling dynamic, you can then find a quiet moment to authentically commend your daughter for a specific positive interaction you witnessed.
Similarly, instead of head-on discussing fitness, use your parental ingenuity to find a non-threatening and very subtle way to help her expand her activity level or improve her eating habits. I will share with you a personal example from my life. I wasn’t thrilled with the nutritional quality of school lunches that one of my children was eating, yet I knew that she wouldn’t be open to a direct conversation which she could perceive as an attack. Instead, I cooked several batches of different vegetable soups and froze them in single-serve containers. I very casually told her that I had prepared some of her favorite soups in case she or anyone in the family wanted an easy hot meal during the cold winter months. Every day now she heats up soup, puts it in a thermos, and brings lunch to school. Instead of trying to control her, she felt that I was trying to help her achieve something she wanted. You may be able to plan fun family activities or vacations that include physical activity. Finding ways to help her enjoy moving and eating healthily will probably work better than telling her directly why she should.
The second point I want to mention is one that I am sure you already know, but it is a foundational parenting principle and deserves mention. Parenting is not a short-term project. When we raise our children, our goals extend far beyond the here and now. Although I know you would love to see your daughter internalizing the Five Fs now, I am sure that your true hope is that however she gets through these tumultuous years, she grows into a healthy adult who lives the Five Fs for many decades. It is scary to be a parent of a teenager because we worry that what we see today may be their adult default. We can relax. Our adolescents are still very much growing and changing and today’s faults may not be tomorrow’s. While it is very gratifying when we see growth, often true development is hidden before it blossoms. Don’t let a perceived lack of progress get you down.
I encourage you to keep on strengthening your relationship with your daughter. Your influence is as strong as the connection she feels to you, so spend time with her, enjoy her, and continue to lead by example and with subtle wisdom. For more suggestions and an in-depth understanding of parenting adolescents, I encourage you to watch my full video, Thriving With Teenagers, where I delve deeply into these topics and more.
My husband, Max, and I are going to be co-hosting a webinar on parenting with your spouse. We are offering a special discount for early registration. Use the coupon code EARLYBIRD, before December 20, for 20% off. We’d love to see you there.
Keep the faith,
This Ask the Rabbi is dedicated in memory of Iván Illarramendi Saizer, age 46, and his wife Loren (Dafna) Pamela Garcovich Montoya, age 47, who were murdered on October 7, 2023. Their remains were only recently identified by a forensic institute based on bone fragments, ash, and limited body parts. May HaShem avenge their deaths.
With prayers for the safe release of the remaining hostages, among them, Naama Levy, age 19.
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