Scared for my Pre-teen

Question of the week:

I am a 51 year old Black American female who is a single mother of a 12 year old boy. I come from a very impoverished family who was just surrounded by “low class “ values and people. I too have participated in many low class practices including two divorces and poor financial lifestyles. I am a Christian and I am a 4th Grade teacher with a college degree. I also am recently debt free (thanks to Dave Ramsey).

I also have managed to have a small amount of money saved (6 months of my salary). I have been learning so much about money and my view of it since I recently began listening to your podcast. How can I begin to pass some of these principles regarding finances, family etc. to my 12-year-old son if I have been a poor model in the past. My 12-year-old son is at risk for all the negative problems that the typical African American male falls prey to. I am not married and there is no male role model in the home. He has poor behavior, he lives in the presence and does not think of the future or consequences. Poor grades, Poor speech, poor work ethics… I am embarrassed that I am in this situation. This is my only child. What can I do to try and save my child from this???

I hope it is not too late! Please any advice will be greatly appreciated. Can you recommend any books or other resources. I need desperate help. I am trying to change my family tree.
I love all that you do.

God Bless,
~ Ursula

Dear Ursula,

Your desire to save your son from making some of the mistakes you made is shared by every good parent. Seeing how hard you are working to overcome past mistakes is a tremendous lesson for your son.

We encourage you to speak openly with him about what you have learned and are learning. We know you won’t fall into the trap of preaching pedantic lectures at him, but instead verbalizing how happy it makes you to not worry about debt collectors, to know that if something breaks you can afford a replacement because you have savings, and how grateful you are to be working and being productive rather than relying on charity from your fellow citizens. In terms of economic understanding, Dave Ramsey has resources for youth and Connor Boyack has wonderful books as well. Read these with your son or have him read them and then discuss them over dinner. At twelve, your son is old enough for you to share logical and intelligent conversations.

Use the summer months when school is closed to your advantage. We hope that at twelve, your son still accepts your authority. Plan activities with him that, while being fun, also transmit the ideas you wish to teach him. While he may prefer being out all day with friends, it would be valuable for him to spend time with you. He should have a clear list of tasks to do that must be finished before playing and you should make every effort to turn cooking and cleaning together into an enjoyable rather than punitive experience or something that only you do. Maybe Monday mornings can be set aside for the two of you to visit local historic sites and another morning can include a shared volunteer opportunity. Pick a book to read aloud in the evening based on his interests and your goals. (One resource for book ideas as well as ideas for how best to read aloud is Insert yourself into his life rather than retreating away from it. Make your home one where his friends hang out and don’t hesitate to establish house rules as to language and behavior.

Living in the present is a perfectly normal state-of-being for a twelve-year-old. Make sure the vision you present to him is one of high expectations. Don’t allow him to think that failure is an option; explain how that can so easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is certainly not too late for your son to grow into a fine man.

Admittedly, you are in a tougher situation because your son doesn’t have a responsible father living in the home. Sadly, too many of the male role models we see around us these days are negative ones. But there are plenty of good men and good families around that can serve as models and even resources. Seek out mentors for yourself also, in terms of mothers with experience communicating effectively with a teenage boy. Finding those alternate authority figures is your job. Keep searching until you find a church or youth group that has a proven record of properly mentoring young men. The right men in the black community will be better able to advise you than we are.

We aren’t trying to whitewash the challenges that face you. Your fears are grounded in reality. Pray, pray some more and then seize every bit of control that you possibly can. You have already gone outside your comfort zone and taken hold of the economic reins in your life. You are clearly a warrior. Keep on fighting. This story can have a very happy second chapter…

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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11 thoughts on “Scared for my Pre-teen”

  1. Great advice for Ms. Ursula. I was once that wayward child. My parents were teenagers when I was born. My mother was 15; and my father was 17. I was born in one of the most violent areas of Baltimore City Maryland. And to top it off, my mother hated anything that dealt with Judeo-Christianity… so in many respects, I was a sitting duck for anything worldly and bad. But my mother made sure I attended the best schools afforded to me; there were teachers along the way that seeded responsibility and talent into me… So as long as single mother does all she can to provide her child with resources (and social settings) that encourage the best in them, the child will persevere.

    1. I think your words will give a great deal of strength to Ursula, Nya. Thanks for sharing.

  2. A resource you may not already know is “The Tuttle Twins”, children’s books that teach about freedom, for ages 5-11. “Are Your Kids Being Taught to Support Socialism? Our children’s books help you teach your kids how the world really works*… ”
    *yep, that’s what they say!

  3. Baruch HaShem! My background is similar to this dear lady. I do not have children. Yet I was my own child and raised myself with no support. As an avid reader, especially of biographies, I understood as a child that there were better things in the world for me regardless how hard and sometimes how invisible those paths appear to be.

    I say to this dear lady, do not dismiss nor despise your humble beginnings. Being low class is not evil, nor a sin. It just means one does not know any better at the moment. And when one begins to know better, they can become better and do better for themselves.

    Many libraries and local college campuses (and even the youtube channel) offer inexpensive youth programs to learn crafts, small business, real estate, career preparation, etiquette, finances (debt, credit, investments, house buying, etc). Unfortunately, you may have to seek these things outside your environment, community, and even the church. A growing fish can only survive in a small fish bowl for so long. You and your son deserve to keep growing into a better future regardless of any circumstances.

  4. Ursula, you are a brave and honest mother and you have your heart in the right position! You and your son are in my prayers. RDL, thank you for publishing this letter and your thoughtful, kind, and wise advice!

  5. Dear Ursula:
    A hearty, Amen (!) to everything, Rabbi Lapin has written.
    In addition, encourage yourself, regarding the battle you are facing by watching or re-visiting the movie: Prayer Room. Remember, with God: “ ALL things are possible…”
    Go into your sons room and empty it of anything you feel has a dark spiritual connection—sweetly but firmly tell him, “not in my home.” (If he had a rattlesnake loose in his room would you let him keep it? Spiritual poison, though “well packaged” by our hedonistic society is just as deadly.)
    Also, go into his room, when he’s not there, and read all the scriptural promises for his future. Go often!
    Take him to church at least once a week. Ignore any protest he may make. I have seen my children go into The House of God, belligerent and angry and come out sweet as a lamb for no other reason except they had been exposed to the presence of God Almighty.
    And lastly, pray for perfect wisdom so that you can understand and minister uniquely to your child. God has promised he will not fail you on this request. Do pray over your son EVERY night by gently laying your hand on his head: impart a blessing of great hope. Keep it short but quietly powerful. I ALWAYS ended my blessing with the heartfelt request of:
    “Give us (I always included myself) a happy heart, a sweet heart, an obedient heart.”
    Live by the standards your “teach”—-never fall into the trap of : “do what I say not what I do.”
    P.S. Television viewing matters.
    Take heart, I am on the other side of all the above with amazing results. Now, I’m “working” on my Grandchildren….!

  6. As always such sound advice!!! I love reading your wisdom. I wanted to send a couple additional resources:

    -There is an app called Streetlights. It is the Bible spoken along with urban music. (That may not sit well with you Rabbi, my apologies.) It may be fun for them to listen to together. They also have urban videos talking about how G-d helped these guys turn their lives around.

    -In the Boys Adrift, Dr. Leonard Sax mentions a camp or male mentoring group called Boys To Men.

    1. Hilary, we usually don’t let links get through, but I am a big fan of Dr. Sax’s books. Another suggestion that we didn’t mention for Ursula is to read his Boys Adrift.

  7. As a Christian, I would counsel her to find a church that loves the Lord and get the spiritual nourishment and fellowship she and her son needs even more than money. Not that her financial security is not important, ir is, but it is not more important than her and her son’s eternal soul! Reading Scripture daily and prayer is her most powerful tool!

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