Posts tagged " teenagers "

Stop Being an Ostrich

November 5th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 43 comments

Are you stressed? That’s a silly question. The results of this election matter a great deal to our lives and to the future of this country and the world. While I have faith that God is leading us on an ultimately glorious path, in the short-term that path can be uncomfortable, scary, and dangerous for us as individuals and families.

However, aside from praying, the conclusion of this episode is out of the hands of most of us. Whatever happens, the following remains true: elections reflect the culture. If we allow the culture to influence us, our families, and friends, we have no reason to expect elections to produce better results.

A pre-election article in the Wall Street Journal asked a number of people how they were going to handle the tension of Election Day. It quoted one pastor from Arkansas who expected to share the evening with his 12 and 14-year-old daughters. As a side comment, he mentioned that they, “[had] been radicalized by TikTok.” While he didn’t reveal his own voting preferences, “radicalized” is not generally a positive word. I assume that he and his daughters do not agree on politics.

His family is not an anomaly. I know many families where the parents hold strongly traditional and conservative views and who are aghast at their children’s contradictory ideas. (There are families that slant the other way as well, but I want to stick with this more common direction.) I also know families, and my husband and I rejoice that ours falls into this category, where the children, while having their own individual personalities and preferences, express the same morality and values as their parents.

Is this blind luck? I don’t think so. Parents can certainly do everything right and tragically watch their children go down a misguided road. However, while we cannot guarantee that our children follow in our steps, we can certainly do things to make that more probable. Perhaps the pastor in the above story is not shrugging his shoulders resignedly as my mind pictures, but if I was him, my reaction to the realization that my children were being radicalized would lead me to take radical steps. His daughters are 12 and 14, for goodness sake. Pull them out of school, do whatever you have to, and start spending multiple hours together, no electronics allowed!

If you picture my internal voice rising as I wrote those last sentences you would be correct. I have too many friends who sent their children to school, creating their schedules around their kids’ education, sports, friends, and hobbies and then sacrificed to pay enormous sums to send their children to college, only to be gobsmacked at the adults their children became. I want to be clear. Many of these young adults are lovely, caring, and hard-working. But they do not share the deepest values of their parents. Their teachers and friends shaped their thinking; their homes did not. These parents surrendered too much family autonomy.

I see many mothers deciding to stay home with their babies and I agree that, if possible, that is desirable. Too many of those moms, and fathers also,  assume that once their children are in school, their parenting role is secondary. That is false. It is absolutely imperative to understand that if your children are in government schools (or, as my husband calls them, GICs, government indoctrination camps), that is what will shape their values.  This is true even if they attend many Jewish or Christian schools as well. I have spoken to graduates of Christian colleges who tell me that their parents would be shocked to hear how some of their professors speak. I know the same is true in Jewish schools.

Here are my not-so-modestly-offered suggestions:

  1. Get your head out of the sand. You need to know what your children are learning, what they are reading, who they are hanging out with, what they are thinking, and what the latest is on social media. If you can’t find the time to do that between carpool and supervising homework and attending their soccer games and making sure they go to the dentist and everything else, then you need to change your schedule and theirs. They need concentrated and planned time with you more than they need Tae-Kwon-Do.
  2. You need to be able to think through and articulate your views and what matters to you and to choose reading and viewing material for the family. Much of what we want to teach our children like being kind and giving charity, never gets discussed on a more sophisticated level as they grow up. We neglect to explain how kindness can actually be cruel and that the government cannot be charitable. We leave our children thinking that what was appropriate when they were five is the whole picture.
  3. If you are considering helping your child go to college in any way whatsoever, think very seriously about that decision. If you go ahead, do not restrict your role to doling out dollars. Consider yourself as one of your child’s professors with full authority to assign reading material and hold seminars where you discuss what was read. A history major today may never have heard of the Federalist Papers, an economics major may not know of Adam Smith. You need to educate yourself and educate your child. Values, beliefs, and our understanding of the world do not sit on a chromosome; they will not be automatically inherited.
  4. Sharing your deepest beliefs with your child should be as much fun as sharing skiing or camping. All of the above suggestions are predicated on putting in the time, effort, and wisdom to create a relationship with your child. Love and connection aren’t enough, but if they are not present the rest is futile.

If God forbid, the air and water outside your home were polluted, you would do whatever is necessary to protect your children so that they could grow up healthy. The ideas surrounding today’s culture are badly polluted. Protect your children and when they reflect their deepest held values in the voting booth, you won’t be surprised.

Read this book, discuss it with the next generation, and
use it as a guidebook to analyzing current events.
America’s Real War: an Orthodox Rabbi Insists that Judeo-Christian Values
Are Vital for the Nation’s Survival

paperback combo: special price on paperback and ebook ebook

Teenage Depression

March 10th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 16 comments

I have been a regular listener of your podcast for quite some time now.  I first found the podcast after returning from Israel, where I had the pleasure of staying with Jewish friends and getting to know a little more of their faith and culture.  When I came home I started searching for ways to continue learning from that worldview because I greatly admire the Jewish perspective. 

Not long ago you did an episode where you  spoke of depression and you said something that resonated with me then, and continues to stay on my mind.  To paraphrase, you said, “Happiness is not the opposite of depression, the opposite of depression is purpose.” 

I have a teenage daughter who struggles with depression; she has every symptom.  We have her seeing a counselor who was the first to mention to us that she is very likely clinically depressed.  This brings me to my twofold question; I hope you can provide information that will help us.

How does a depressed person find purpose, and how does a parent guide a depressed teen toward their purpose?

Thank you for any wisdom you have to share.

Regards,

Matthew M.

Dear Matthew,

Thank you for your kind words;  we are terribly sorry to hear of your daughter’s struggles. You are clearly a loving father and doing whatever you can including working with a counselor. We are sure you understand that anything we say is intended as general advice since we neither know your daughter’s specific situation nor do we have special expertise with teenage girls (other than having raised quite a few of our own) or with clinical depression.

Before we touch on your question about purpose, we would like to suggest that you become familiar with two resources. The first is Dr. Leonard Saks’ book, Girls on the Edge, which Susan recommended in her Practical Parenting column. Dr. Saks, a pediatrician, shares fascinating research on teenage girls. From our perspective, one of the most interesting is his conclusion as to the importance of faith in keeping girls emotionally healthy, but his book will give you much insight. We also recommend becoming familiar with the folks who made Screenagers, a movie that focuses on the effects of technology on our teens. They note that social media seems to be affecting girls, in particular, in an emotionally harmful way.

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What’s Your College Admission Scandal?

March 5th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 19 comments

We have been having stimulating and entertaining conversations in our America’s Real War Master Class. One topic we discussed had to do with the terrible job our generation, in general, has done in passing on the values of gratitude, hard work, faith and patriotism to the next generation. Not only has this left younger people vulnerable to warped ideologies but it has also resulted in many of them feeling depressed, anxious and lonely.

There are many reasons, but I’ve been thinking about one potential culprit in particular. Whether articulated or not, many parents have turned their children’s education into a false god. Many of us may have expressed disdain at the recently exposed college admissions scandal. In the desire to see their children attend “top” universities and/or the school of their choice, parents became embroiled in lying, bribing and other underhanded activities. Yet, since few of us have the monetary resources that would make us susceptible to that scheme, honesty demands that we ask if we have done even slightly similar things on a smaller level.

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What’s Right with the Teenage Mind and Wrong with Society

April 16th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

A Practical Parenting Golden Oldie: 

Thinking “I told you so” is gratifying. Saying it might be crass, but thinking it feels pretty good. Reading a Wall Street Journal article entitled, What’s Wrong with the Teenage Mind? I definitely underwent an “I told you so” moment.  My husband and I tried as best we could to structure our children’s upbringing according to 3,000 year old Torah principles rather than to the latest issue of Psychology Today. After all, when the newest fad passes you don’t get a chance to press “rewind”. For instance, if you teach your children to call you by your first name when the currently reigning psychologist explains how that will foster closeness, you will struggle to regain lost authority five years later when the most recently crowned psychologists reject that reasoning. 

One commonly accepted view that my husband and I disregarded was a prevalent concept of “adolescence.” We did not accept it as an inevitable stage during which our teenagers would automatically behave recklessly because their prefrontal cortex wouldn’t fully develop until a few years later.  We certainly expected their judgment to improve as they matured, but we were never tempted to excuse destructive, impulsive behavior by blaming it on biology. We anticipated their making proper choices and overwhelmingly, they delivered.

The author of the WSJ article cites the latest studies showing that real life experiences drive the maturation of the impulse controlling parts of the brain. She mentions how cultural psychologist Barbara Rogoff studied Guatemalan Indians and found that their children could handle machetes quite competently. Yet western teenagers basically sit in classrooms, an activity which often starts when they are toddlers and continues for years on end. They may very well be acquiring information; they are not acquiring wisdom. Wisdom means understanding how the world really works. It comes from interacting with people and things, slowly developing a variety of skills. This is best achieved with a mentor who gradually accords his or her disciple greater independence. Information has potential value, but activating its potential means applying, practicing, testing, reassessing and utilizing the raw data.

As our children grew, we helped them develop skills. At tender years they worked in the kitchen, using the stove and sharp knives at ages which would have made Child Protective Services uneasy.  They learned to read charts and check the gauges in a boat’s engine room, to care for infants and toddlers, to do their own laundry and to earn money in ways which probably didn’t meet child labor laws. In varying degrees they learned to sew and work with wood and how to use public transportation and navigate bureaucracies. They studied as well, but book learning and safe, cocooned adult-directed activities didn’t consume their entire time. As they proved themselves capable of shouldering responsibility we gave them more freedom, and for the most part their teenage years were a delight.

While discussing the later arrival of impulse-control in today’s times, the author of the above article also says, “…for reasons that are somewhat mysterious, puberty is now kicking in at an earlier and earlier age. “ For those of you who don’t have time to wait for the next psychological revelation to explain the mysterious reasons for the earlier onset of puberty, let me suggest an important component.  I believe that just as our actions influence our brain development in the prefrontal cortex, they also influence our hormones.

As a society we now give our children less and less freedom to roam and ramble and to push their physical limits. We provide them with an increasing number of electronic gadgets keeping them entertained and isolated in the home rather than playing in the streets. We organize their sports, arts and learning rather than allowing them independence. We do this (in my opinion usually to a much greater degree than is necessary) in the name of protecting them from the dangers which lurk outside. But at the same time we expose them to levels of sexuality which would have ranked as pornography in earlier times. We dress five year old girls like tramps and think it’s cute when little boys learn to parrot lewd expressions. This past week I was in a hotel room and flipped through TV stations. Three minutes of a popular show aimed at pre-teens were so brazen that I couldn’t watch it.  We force our children to lose their innocence in sexual education classes and bombard them with too much information as mommy and daddy host a revolving door through which boyfriends and girlfriends pass. We force intimate, private actions onto a public stage and we push our children into front row seats.  Lacking a shared moral compass in our society we contribute to early puberty with premature and excessive exposure to sexuality.

There may be satisfaction in seeing the world come to accept something which I never doubted. But I would gladly give up that satisfaction and instead be part of a correct-thinking community. It is incredibly difficult to defy the downward gravity of a society bent on devolution. Those of us who believe in timeless truths rather than transitory trends have a hard path to hoe – preferably shoulder to shoulder with our children as we guide them along.

Originally published Feb. 8, 2012

It’s a Miserable Life

August 29th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 19 comments

If you were unaware of the inaugural Summit on the Research and Teaching of Young Adult Literature that took place recently in Las Vegas, so was I. If you have pre-teenage and/or teenage children, you can’t afford to be.

This morning’s Wall Street Journal features an article about the summit by author and journalism professor Steve Salerno.   (You need a subscription to read it online.) To anyone has been paying attention, young adult literature is increasingly dark and this summit suggests that things are getting worse. Unless you live off the grid and completely isolated, your children will be exposed to this form of literature. If your children go to school, some of it may very well be required reading.

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What is my son’s father’s role?

May 30th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 21 comments

I trust you are well, I am a South African single mother.

My son is 10 years old and is starting to get difficult to deal with. The other day he lied for two weeks about his ear phones that he lost and said they were at school in his locker.  I called his dad to assist in disciplining him and he was very dismissive and said he must just go look for the earphones. For me it was not about the earphones but about the fact that he lied.  How do you think I should have handled this? Should have I done the disciplining just by myself or was I right by including his dad? I grew up in a household that had both parents present and when disciplining happened it was done by both my parents.

I am actually so confused and afraid I will not raise a good boy without involving his dad therefore I always see the need to include his dad even though he is not that useful. It may be because he was raised by his grandmother and mother.

I hope you can assist me and point me to scriptures I can get encouragement, guidance and strength from.

Kind regards

Bulelwa M.

Dear Bulelwa,

Our hearts go out to you.  You are bravely facing the reality that raising a son to be a good man is vitally important but not an easy task. Doing so in a home without a father is certainly more difficult.

One of our hardest life lessons is learning to deal with our reality. It is so tempting to say, “If only” and think that if we were richer, prettier, wealthier, smarter, healthier, had different parents or were born in a different place our lives would be so much better. Yet, we all have to deal with what is truly in front of us.

It sounds like you had parents who acted as a devoted team. “If only” you could provide your son with the same. You cannot. Once you accept this truth, you will be better able to face the normal challenges that come with an adolescent boy. You will have to shoulder that responsibility yourself.

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What do I tell my teens about masturbation?

January 17th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 37 comments

Question: This is a serious question.  I have teenagers now.  What does the bible have to say about masturbation?  And is there a difference in teaching between boys and girls?  I would really appreciate an honest, biblical answer.  Thank you.

Joanne

Dear Joanne,

Of course this is a serious question but we understand why you felt it necessary to forewarn us.  And a serious, honest, Biblical answer is exactly what we would have done our best to provide, even had you not explicitly requested it.  We also empathize with you and admire how seriously you are accepting the responsibility of raising children.  In today’s cultural climate, it is enormously challenging to raise wholesome teenagers.  However, we feel certain that doing so with Biblical help is far easier than without.  For this reason, our answer involves you sitting down with each of your children in front of a Bible and studying some Scripture together. 

Sex in general can feel awkward to discuss, particularly out of context.  Its intensity is irrational and its power mysterious.  When sexual relationships form, the process involves ambiguity and risk of rejection.  Solo stimulation bypasses all of that for a small, sad, mimicking of sensation.  Yet all attempts to rationalize sex, demystify and reduce it to no more than a mutual spasm in the spinal column, as taught in most sex ed. classes at what we call GICs (public schools=government indoctrination camps)  have failed to improve male-female relations in America.  So, it is with some trepidation that we try to tackle this topic here. 

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Teenage Thief

December 15th, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 8 comments

Question:

 For 10 months I have employed a 13 year old boy to do yard work.  He is very bright, borrows my books which we discuss off work time.  Unfortunately it has just been confirmed that over time when he uses the bathroom he has been stealing from me.  When I started to suspect I set a trap. 

 When confronted he denied but later confessed claiming his parents take all the money he earns.  This may or may not be true and honestly I’m not sure about the parental situation. I do know if he was my 13 year old son I would have met his employer.  Of course restitution is a given but what other advice would you have to handle this properly and effectively.  Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Dave

Answer: 

Dear B.L.,

Dear Dave,

You are a good man. That’s our conclusion from the fact that you are concerned for this boy. Clearly, you aren’t happy with simply muttering, “What’s the world coming to.” If you are expecting restitution, than either you are meeting his parents or planning to have the boy work for you until he pays off his debt.

You know as well as we do that, “My parents take what I earn,” is not an excuse for stealing or for lying about stealing. It seems you see potential in this boy and perhaps realize that you can be a pivotal influence in his future life.

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Should my priority be career or marriage?

September 1st, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 3 comments

Question:

I am a Christian and a divorced mother (not by my own choice). I have been divorced for four years and have two teenage children still in the home. I am currently reading your book Thou Shall Prosper and am learning quite a lot that will help me provide better for my family. Although I have a BS degree and am diligently working to expand my career opportunities, my heart’s desire has always been to simply be a wife and mother.

My question is should I be investing a lot of time into furthering a career that I really don’t love, or instead, spend some time and resources seeking opportunities to attract a husband? I feel this idea is discouraged by most but no matter how hard I try I just can’t seem to change my heart’s desire. I am confused as to what would be the wisest and most fulfilling path for me.

Answer:

Dear friend,

While the question you are asking is complicated by the fact that you are divorced with two teenagers, in its most basic form, the work/family dilemma affects most of us. At many stages of life, we need to make choices that we hope will allow us to merge a successful financial life with a successful family life. (more…)

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