Category Archives: Youth

Do Jewish Teens Need an Ethical Tune-Up?

cheating

How ethical are today’s teens?

When given the chance to cheat, what would the teenagers you know do?

A recent New York Times article on the subject of Ethics in Life and Business explored the difficulty adults have in making the right choice.

The author says: “The problem, research shows, is that how we think we’re going to act when faced with a moral decision and how we really do act are often vastly different.”

How much more challenging is this for teens growing up in a confusing world of right and wrong?

Months ago, I was surprised to learn how teens defined cheating while defending their behavior.

Since the scandals of the 80′s, businesses and researchers were propelled to give ethics serious consideration and there is now a website devoted to the matter.

As the article states, the difficulty in teaching ethics is that there is a difference between the ‘should’ self (what should be done in a given situation) and the ‘want’ self (wanting to be liked, accepted).

I imagine that with teens, that ‘want’ self is really strong in the adolescent years.

Social media hasn’t made things any easier for them, where there is even more of a pull to be one of the crowd.

Academic pressure hasn’t helped either, with the resultant urge to cheat becoming ever stronger.

Based on everything we know, there is a real benefit to training teens in this area while giving them real skills to succeed in the world of business,

So, how to we hope to teach ethics to teens?

By practice. Repetition. Role-plays. Scenarios where teenagers get to act out their choices.

High schools rarely offer ethics as a subject area.

Monthly programs for teens can not begin to instill these skills, there’s just not enough time to make anything ‘stick’.

Jewish educators who meet with teens weekly have an exceptional opportunity to give them a much-needed tune-up.


You won’t believe these words trending for #teens

Guess what's trending for #teens?

Guess what’s trending for #teens?

I discovered a helpful tool for twitter, a free site called hashtagify.me that lets you search trending hashtags.

You can easily search any hashtag and you’ll get instant results for the top ten hashtags words related to that word.

Easy enough.

So, I put in #teens in the search bar and the terms come up in a graphic resembling typical mind map visuals.

In addition, you can hover over each word to determine how popular the term is.

Do you want to take a guess what words came up? 

#School? #Jobs? #Internships? #College? #Scholarships?

No on all counts.

Here’s the list in order of popularity from highest to lowest. Caution given before proceeding…

  1. porn
  2. sex
  3. sexy
  4. xxx
  5. teen
  6. girls
  7. tits
  8. hardcore
  9. freeporn
  10. parenting

Sure, the hashtag search is a very basic measure of who is searching for what, but when talking about teens being on twitter, it might be interesting to note what they’re searching for. 

So, care to conclude anything based on these results?

Certainly, the list seems to represent more boys’ interests than girls. And those interests fall pretty much in a limited area related to hormones.

That being said, it’s interesting that #parenting made to the list.

Go parents!  for giving the list a reality check and being concerned about your #teens!


Jewish Teens Should Know: Artists Get Flack for Performing in Israel

Alicia Keys is getting pressure to cancel her performance in Tel-Aviv Israel. Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters announced this past March that he would not be performing in Israel, as originally scheduled.  He wrote Alicia Keys a letter stating

Please, Alicia, do not lend your name to give legitimacy to the Israeli government policies of illegal, apartheid, occupation of the homelands of the indigenous people of Palestine.

Others may try to persuade you that by playing in Israel you may magically effect some change; we know that this is not true, appeasement didn’t work with South Africa and it has not worked in Israel. ” 

I’ve decided not to go into all the reasons here why it is so obvious that Israel is not an apartheid state. Please refer to the many, many articles available on the web about that.

However, just based on all of the activity centered around boycotting, I was curious what would come up when googling this topic. When searching for “Boycotts of Israel” it produced “about 26,800,000 results in 0.32 seconds that were headed by a wikipedia listing.  Say what you will about wikipedia, it’s an influential gauge of cultural information.  This is from that page:

“Boycotts of Israel are economic and political cultural campaigns or actions that seek a selective or total cutting of ties with the State of Israel, Israelis or Israeli corporations.”

So, in fairness to wikipedia and the intelligence of the international community, (and of course Roger Waters), I decided to search for another country, one that would be ‘worthy’ of boycotting due to horrible, despicable acts.

Acts such as murder (even of children and women), decapitation, dismemberment, rape, fetal killings, etc. I tried searching “Boycotts of Syria”.

There was no wikipedia page listed on the first page of results, nor is there a listing at all. This is the response I received:

The page “Boycotts of Syria” does not exist. You can ask for it to be created, but consider checking the search results below to see whether the topic is already covered. For search help, please visit Help:Searching.

When I went back to Google, there were articles connecting the word boycott to Syria. Here’s what one of the several on that page were about:  “Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group says it will not take part in the upcoming US-Russian-sponsored conference aimed at finding a solution to the ongoing crisis in Syria.”

This came to my Inbox, via the Israeli Consulate, and I thought it might prompt some action on the part of Jewish teens, and others who want to applaud Alicia’s decision:

“I want to let you know what YOU can do to help support Alicia Keys’ visit to Israel. While Alicia Keys has made it clear that she is not going to give in to the BDS propaganda and will perform in Israel, we think it’s important to show her just how enthusiastic we all are about her trip to Israel.

Comment on her posts on her Facebook page, Facebook.com/aliciakeys, tell her what her music and visit mean to the Israeli people

Tweet @aliciakeys 

This isn’t about polls or petitions alone, but about sending a message that shows Alicia that her fans in Israel love her music as much as anyone else, and that no artist should be bullied out of  performing in front of their fans.” 


Jewish Teens: Thinking About Religious Truths and Scientific Lies

Science and Religion: Not a good fit

Science and Religion: Not a good fit

Among students I’ve worked with, the majority are really not comfortable talking about Religion, at least in the way that American Judaism seems to define it for them. As they describe it, Judaism involves prayer to a Being they can’t comprehend or even believe exists.

Granted, these conversations are held with high school students, who haven’t yet been exposed to deeper scientific or philosophical thinking. They live in a daily world where logic and  mathematical constructs rule supreme.  The unknowable, the impenetrable, the effervescence of life itself….those deep thoughts might come later, after they’ve captured the basic constructs they need to.

But we do need to meet these teens where they are, and most remain dubious about what they call ‘organized religion’, and words like ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ tend to make them wince.

When I’ve probed, to explore these ideas with them, the responses I get come from their limited exposure to courses in science, biology, physics–all good reasoned and rational things to know in order to be an educated person.  Thoughts of anything else seem to go against what they’re learning in a secular school.

This will not come as news to most, as there are studies from both Christian and Jewish sides about the disengagement of our youth, but this post is not about new initiatives or programs, it is about the conversations that never happen, even in the best of programs.

Those are the conversations that usually occur in camp late at night, or in a dorm room somewhere, where students might grapple with the inconsistencies of life in a deeper and longer conversation.

We are limited, in our once or twice a week programs, to touch students in this way. I’m not even sure if enough day schools are tackling these concerns.

How can we jump start that process?  Here is one way:

I happened on this video, on of the University of Pennsylvania’s 60 second lecture series, and thought that it would provide a great trigger to these kinds of conversations. Lying Your Way to the Truth

The video explores the need to dispel any notion that science can provide truths: “Science lets us find out the truth at the independent intersection of lies” the professor boldly states. A Penn Professor at that.

I hope you will find this helpful. I’d love to hear the feedback!


Teens: Cheating on Standardized Tests?

No digital devices in sight

No digital devices in sight

The Los Angeles Times reported that California is coping, almost feverishly it seems, with new measures that require students to turn in digital devices before taking standardized tests.

“The proliferation of cellphones and their potential use for cheating has prompted heightened security measures on this year’s administration of standardized tests in California schools.”

In the previous year, students posted 36 questions from standardized exams on social media platforms.  The consequences were serious for those schools where the posts were from. The 12 schools are not eligible to receive academic awards the next year.

I’m sure that other states will soon need to create their own guidelines to prevent just such a thing.

So, what is the news here?

This is almost too obvious–taking away cell phones and digital devices during a test?

Teens would say “no kidding.”

What I found remarkable about the article, was that although very specific details were given of the egregious acts, the article did not mention that there was a concerns over so many teens engaging in cheating behaviors:

“In all, 249 individuals posted 442 images of test materials that were linked to 147 schools in 94 California school districts.”   (To be fair, “Most images were not of actual test questions.”)

There were no consequences mentioned in the article for the teens who posted the images or content.

However, we do know clearly the measures being taken to prevent such a thing in the future:

  1. Signage in the testing room warning students not to use digital devices
  2. Better proctoring of exams
  3. Strong suggestions to teachers to move around the room to monitor students

But we’re still left wondering if anyone is asking the big questions tied to these occurrences.

Specifically, was there any follow-up with the teens themselves?

What was the intention for these posts?

What are the ethical implications of these behaviors?

Did the students involved do this as a joke?

Was this an act of rebellion?

Or even the most primary question: Did the teens even think this was cheating?

I wrote some time ago about our role in guiding students toward moral clarity. At a later point, I wrote about how teens view cheating, and how shocking their experiences were to me.  This is an issue that won’t simply go away. It will get worse.

I remember not being surprised when corporations, in the realization that so many ethical issues were on the line, and after so many improprieties and illegal allegations, began hiring Chief Ethical Officers.

“The position of ethics officer is of relatively recent vintage, first appearing in the early 1990s, according to Forbes.com.

The job descriptions for Ethics Officers insures accountability between a code of ethics and actual operational procedures.

It’s not a bad idea to institute this position in some school districts. An even better idea is starting to think that way now.


How Jewish Teens Might View Rights, Responsibilities, and Radicalization

The Ten Commandments, In SVG

The Ten Commandments, In SVG (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

A while back, I was listening to a televised lecture by Joseph Telushkin on Shalom TV about the differences between Jewish and American Law. To greatly paraphrase him, Jewish law is about taking responsibility. There are so many laws in Jewish tradition that are based on individual accountability: regulating weights and measures, building proper roof safeguards, being responsible for a student’s progress, even watching one’s words and the effect they might have on others.

 

American law stresses a person’s rights: The right to free speech, to gather in protest, to be protected from search and seizure, and more. Not that there aren’t areas of responsibility assumed in the laws, but the different emphasis is clear.

 

So, I am holding this information against my visceral response to the news of the past week that talks of the “Radicalization” of the Boston Marathon Bombers. I wonder to myself how the power of words influences the way we think. The image of radicalization to me is of someone being deceived, duped, or similarly drawn into a process that he had little to do with. It’s almost as if that person was dunked in a pool and then came out “radicalized”.

 

Someone ‘gets’ radicalized, it happens to them.

 

What does that say about personal responsibility? What does the use of that word say about our ability to regard the person as perpetrator or victim?

 

What is the message the media is giving our teens? They may be just taking this in at face value; after all, it’s the media.  I know there has been much talk about this issue, but frankly, I’ve tuned much of it out, and have put serious limits on how much I will listen to concerning the bombers themselves, so I apologize in advance if all this seems like it’s revisiting the obvious.

 

All of this stuff however, does lead us to think of the many opportunities we have to engage in serious conversations with teens about this issue more.

 

What do we do in the face of evil?

 

Is there ever an excuse for violence?

 

How do we cope when we see how, in seconds, life can change?

 

What opportunities are there to see a totally different side than the one we’re seeing in the media?

 

How might you write this story? What would you want to know….and why?

 

 


Jewish Education: How to add value for Jewish Teens

Are we selling the right “product”?

It used to be that you couldn’t use words like “sell”, “product” or “market” easily when talking about Jewish education.

That was when the product actually sold itself.

Jewish education was valued for its own sake; no one needed to be sold on its importance.

In today’s consumer environment, the game has changed.

The terms value-added, cost-benefit analysis, customer base, target markets and more are now part of the consumer’s consciousness.

And we need to respond appropriately.

What are we selling that Jewish teens should buy?

We’re not selling widgets or milkshakes, but we really need to determine the value added of programs past the drop-off age of bar/bat mitzvah.

What are you selling? Fun? Free? Friends? Food?

Or are we selling things that might resonate with today’s teens on so many levels:

For the college conscious population: promoting intellectual curiosity, college readiness, opportunity for debate, free exchange of marketplace ideas, ways to connect with timeless tradition….

For teens who have the gut-wrenching angst of fearing they don’t fit in: discussing issues that happen in public school in a supportive, ethic-laden environment, communicating with a group of Jewish peers about the anti-semitic/Israel/Zionism remark overheard in social studies classes, or talking about the ethical conundrum of knowing  your friends cheat/do drugs/cut themselves/abuse others/are abused….

the lists can go on. These are parts of the program that will make a difference—a lasting impact.

And oh yes, the program also offers fun, food, and friends.

So, what are we selling? And what will Jewish teens and their parents be buying?

Photocredit: Google images free use


A Short List of What the Jewish Community Should Do for Teens

Check out the really short list

Check out the really short list

In what seems a long time ago, I wrote a post about the Jewish community’s ‘in-the-box-thinking.’  As a novice to the blogging world, I feared the worst because it was the first time I shared my dissatisfaction about how my local Jewish community was functioning.

Well, sometimes the blogosphere can be eerily silent.  I didn’t receive a single comment or e-mail about it (though who did I think was possibly reading my blog anyway???)

Helping teens figure out their connection to the Jewish community and general direction in life is a worthy goal for those of us in the Jewish communal world.  After all, if we don’t clarify our mission, we’re like a broken compass.  No directional pull, no navigational tools–just spinning like crazy.

So, I’d like to create a short wish list for what I’d love to see happen in the Jewish community.

These things would help teens navigate better:

1. Define the Alphabet Soup. Ready? Do you know the differences between the JCC, JFCS, JCRC, JFGP. Great. Do you think our teens do? How about AIPAC, ZOA, or AJC? Wait, it gets more complicated, how about these fundraising organizations: AFMDA, FIDF, AFHU? Or these viable options for semester abroad programs in Israel: EIE, TRY, MUSS? Well, you can see the challenge. We either could use an app, or a catch-all portal to make all this accessible and understandable.  Whether we agree with an organization’s politics or not, Jewish life should be approachable. Doing this one thing could prompt all kinds of things, from learning the scope of needs the Jewish community deals with, to seeing how responsive the Jewish community is, to thinking of Jewish jobs beyond the synagogue.

2. Invite a teen to sit on a committee where communal activities are discussed. How can we get our teens invested in the future of a community in which they are not real stakeholders? I’m not talking about teen versions of funding and allocations committees, who do a great job of getting teens involved in what it takes to raise money and make decisions about where it goes. I mean positions at the table.  It’s called influence.  Teens know and appreciate when they ‘re offered it and when they have it.

3. Match Jewish teens with Jewish professionals in the field who can give them a sense of what it means to work in the community.  Their knowledge of professional positions in the Jewish community is limited to perhaps these careers: Rabbi, Cantor, Education Director, Youth Advisor, and Teacher. BUT they won’t have an idea that an interest in business, management, marketing, or any number of other careers may find a place in the Jewish community. There are teen mentorship programs that are for a select few, but we need to think broad and wide. There are many teens who are unaware of the many job opportunities in the Jewish communal world. Here, I’m not focused on the dentist or lawyer who happens to be Jewish. I’m specifically talking about connecting teens with Jewish professionals. Again, does our mission match our actions? We want Jewish leaders….how are we growing them?

4. Most Jewish students don’t have a clue about what the local Jewish community near their college campus has to offer, and don’t have a way of connecting with it for jobs, internships, mentorships, etc.  College internships. Somehow, we leave the college population to Birthright, Hillels and Chabad, and less visible, Meor and Aish. Yet, students are looking for real life experiences. Jewish communal organizations should do recruiting on campus. In a time where extra staffing is needed, we can provide teens with the job experiences they need.

Let’s stop the spinning and begin to help teens navigate.

image courtesy of pds photostream


For Teens: Worrying About Being Normal? Don’t.

English: Histogram of sepal widths for Iris ve...

What’s the new normal anyway?

I recently read a great post called Approaching Normal.  It got me thinking about how teens today think about being ‘normal’.

Even as adults, we all wonder about it, and the post describes just how much politicians, advertising gurus, and marketing mavens depend on our desire to be in that state of normalcy.

So, we all think about being normal and fitting in, into some group,  but take yourself back to your teen years.  You might want to add in some thoughts about your identity as a Jewish teen, especially if you lived in an area lacking a large Jewish population.

Try to imagine dealing with the wrenching angst of feelings that you didn’t fit in.

Of being out of the place you coveted for whatever reason. And then think of the reasons you thought you couldn’t make the grade: wrong clothes, image, name, hair, really……it could have been for any reason at all.  Logic, though trying to peek through the fog, has no role here.

Think about what you were thinking, feeling, or even how you were acting….did you think you were totally normal and just like everyone else?

Those years were tough, weren’t they? But you’re done now, and all grown up (debatable, I know).

Well, our teens live and breathe in that world, but now it’s even harder: more pressured, more intense, more public.  There are fewer places to hide.

Did I say the right thing? Wrong thing? Will my peers/teachers/boy-girl friend hate me? Will this be posted on facebook? Who will see? What will my parents think? Where else will it be shared, and how quick? Who will be texting this? Who can I rally? What will happen in school tomorrow? Will everyone on the bus know? Maybe I should stay home?

They live in that excruciating difficult world of alternating fear, wonder and panic. They are surrounded by unanswerable questions and questionable answers that are nearly impossible to obtain with any certainty.

We can’t even begin to imagine. Well, it turns out that there is no ‘Normal’.  Not really for anyone. That’s a relief, because what our teens are going through isn’t really normal, or is it?

Photocredit: Wikipedia


‘Wow, You’re Soooo Jewish!”

What image comes to mind when you read the headline?

Is it the consummate Jewish nebbish, portrayed here by Woody Allen?

The words “You’re soooo0 Jewish”, said in that tone of voice, from one Jewish teenager to another, is not meant as a compliment.

So, what does it mean?

Really, take a minute.

What would it mean to you?

 

To this teenager, it meant that his Jewish friend was taking Judaism seriously, too seriously.

Not only was he Jewish, he was acting Jewish.

Forget that being ‘so Jewish’ is a little like being a human. You either are or you’re not.

But that’s not the point.

The comment was meant as a put-down, a derogatory statement about identity.

Clearly, there is no ‘cool’ factor when it comes to Jewish education for these students.

Okay, you’re wondering, what is it that this student is doing that makes his peers say he’s so Jewish?

He attends a supplementary high school program two days a week.

He’s in 8th grade, and says that he wants to graduate the program in 12th.

He belongs to a youth group.

He sometimes attends synagogue on Shabbat. And he sometimes studies with a Rabbi.

Okay, by now you’re probably convinced that his Jewish involvement is unusual, and you might be shaking your head.

Years ago, this student would not have been labeled ‘SuperJew‘.

On the contrary, that’s what thousands of teens were doing. Then.

Before their lives got so busy, complicated, college-focused and pressured. Now, based on today’s new realities and priorities, our expectations have changed. So, is the student I described s00000 Jewish, or have we bought into diminished standards?

What Jewish involvements are too much? Too little?

How do you feel about the term s0000o Jewish?

What I will say, is that the one thing, the Jewish identification thing, that will help Jewish teens be more grounded before they run off to college is the thing that tends to get low priority.

Unless of course, you’re “SuperJew” and one of the kids who is “sooooo Jewish.”


Current Events: did your teenager’s eyes just glaze over?

taken by משתמש:Hmbr

Mention “Current Events” to a group of teens and just watch what happens.  Their eyes seem to glaze over.

As if talking about something that isn’t in a textbook is a violation of protocol.

I don’t want to be an alarmist, but to some students, reading a newspaper might seem like reading information in a foreign language.

I’m not sure how much today’s teens are grappling with the issues of the day.

How can this be?

Easy. It’s not in the curriculum.

Sure, when something really big happens, it gets some class attention.

However, the stories that are important, but not part of breaking news, are literally another story.

Where are our students getting the depth of a story?

My experience with Israeli teens has always been the opposite. They are intimately involved in the politics of the day, and those conversations happen informally: in the taxi, on-line at the movies, everywhere.

The article in the link below notes that according to a Pew Research study, 49% of people were getting their news in digital form. Good for them. But are today’s teens using their apps for news?

Try an experiment. Ask someone you know, under the age of 18, what news they’ve heard recently. Chances are it’s the new sensational story with the glitz, gore or glamour that way back, was called Yellow journalism.

So, what will change? You.

Have conversations about what’s important to you as a parent, and it will trickle down. Be broad about subject matter.

Don’t wait for a family dinner (those are in short supply). Talk about current news anywhere. In the car. On the line at Target.

Try to make those little moments count for some ‘thought’ time.

Those teenage brains need a workout, and our teens are capable of great thoughts.

Time for that may not always be part of the school curriculum, but it can be part of yours.

photo credit: Wikipedia


Teens: Got a bad grade? Work it!

Life Stinks

Image via Wikipedia

Getting a bad grade, especially when you expected something else entirely, pretty much stinks.

It’s hard enough being in high school when so much of your life seems to be defined by grades. When the grades don’t match up with your expectations or your output, it must feel lousy.

Though I have issues with the idea of being defined by grades, we’re not going there now.

So, you can either sulk or use this life event to get some feedback.

Think of this as an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with your teacher about your work. I know, it’s tough, but give it a try. You can:

  • learn how to advocate for yourself
  • begin to see yourself the way he/she does, and take the opportunity to self-correct
  • figure out what the teacher really wants before it’s too late in the year
  • impress the teacher with your willingness to engage in this type of conversation
  • practice asking for clarification of a decision, which is a skill you’ll use later in life
  • demonstrate your interest in the subject matter
  • cut yourself a break.
  • learn that despite what you’re feeling now, this doesn’t define you
  • feel great about asserting yourself!

Jewish Teens Reinvent the Synagogue

I’m so lucky.  We Jewish educators trudge uphill a lot of the time, just to keep pace. Yet, every week I get inspired from the Jewish teens I work with. Last week I asked a group of 10th and 11th graders how they would reinvent the synagogue:

Synagogue construction, Baron De Hirsch Trade ...

“Your goal is to insure that people will be active, engaged, and interested. There are no limits. What will you create? What type of organization will speak to you?”

They had a hard time with this initially, not being able to get past what they experience now.  That surprised me. They first offered: more music, shorter services, more comfortable seats.

When I prodded further, they pushed the boundaries a little more.

Welcome to the synagogue as seen through the eyes of a group of Jewish teens: branding abounds, with lots and lots of food available (did I mention that there are mostly boys in this class?).

Someone piped in: “We could have a Manishewitz wing!” Another student shot right back: “Yeah,why not? Companies could be sponsors of the synagogue or even sponsor events.”

“Even Bar/t Mitzvahs I asked?”

“Yea, why not,” they responded. That way, they wouldn’t cost so much.”
Hmmmm. Interesting.

Unanimously, they all agreed that there needs to be more food.  Then they began to dream big, envisioning a cafe-type set-up, with lots of  informal places to sit–like a lobby in a hotel.  Oh, they were also big on sports options.  Basketball and racketball courts and pools. Places to sleep when family comes into town for b’nei mitzvahs. Why not a spa?

What they talked about resembled a newly configured JCC/Synagogue/Restaurant/Hotel.

I told them that they will be the ones to do this, and that we’re depending on them.

Though I don’t see a Rokeach-sponsored Bat Mitzvah anytime soon, I can see the ‘Awesome Osem Auction!’ with these teens in charge of things.  Just maybe we need to take some cues from these young leaders and simply lighten things up a little. Oh yes, and have some food.

Image: Synagogue construction, Baron De Hirsch Trade School, South Jersey Colonies, Carmel, NJ (Photo credit: Center for Jewish History, NYC)


Guiding teens without a moral compass

English: A HTC Desire S showing a compass app

Image via Wikipedia

Picture this: a class of freshly minted teenagers, not even a year after becoming b’nei mitzvah, who attend an optional Jewish education program.

Ostensibly they come from homes where the parent/s place an importance on Jewish values. Yet, despite that, they seem to have internalized society’s penchant for abdicating personal responsiblity.

Over 90% of high school students cheat. Entire schools have been accused of tampering with test results.

These incidents reverberate beyond charts and stats–and I felt the tremors last week.

I presented this scenario to students taking a class in Jewish values and ethics:

Your teacher asks you to take home and complete a unit summary without looking at notes, any textbooks, or the internet. What would you do?

I value their openness with me. Only one student in the class said that he would not cheat. One out of 15 students. Eighth graders.

What did the other students say? Most nodded enthusiastically to this response:

It was the teacher’s fault….she shouldn’t have expected us not to look at anything. Did she think we wouldn’t cheat?”

So, what they were saying is that the teacher should have known better. She should have known not to trust them.  For them, there is no such thing as an honor system.

When I was in middle school, cheating also occurred. It’s just that we knew who would cheat and who wouldn’t. I’m not sure that’s the case anymore.

In fact, what was the kicker to my question? Three students said that their teacher just gave them a similar assignment–to complete a worksheet at home–and when they came back to school she revealed that she expected them to look things up even though she asked them not to.  So this lack of trust goes both ways.

This is the world we are all living in and this is what we’re up against. 

There were other comments by students toward the beginning of the lesson that didn’t surprise me; comments about whether ‘to tell’ on a friend who cheated or stole. That was pretty predictable. The peer pressure is so intense they admitted, that no one wants to be labeled as ‘the kid who tells’.

When I discussed their reasoning for what they shared with me, they said that it’s okay because in “middle school you don’t have to worry about anything yet” (i.e. high school then college). They  continued trying to convince me that their choice was okay: “what you do in school doesn’t really matter until you get to 9th grade, or even 10th.

I wanted to teach them a different course of action and there were many topics to explore, but the clock was ticking with little time left in the period.

I could have espoused other teachings from sages and scholars who have been grappling with these issue throughout our tradition. I didn’t think this would resonate.  Instead, I briefly mentioned the perspective of Jewish law regarding personal responsibility.

Then, I told them they are like onions. Their character has layers, and everything they do, every action they take, forms who they are.  Those layered experiences are part of them, much like the peels of an onion that won’t just disappear when they get to another grade.

And if they make choices that they will regret, those choices will be there, under the surface, but there none the less.  And it will affect them.  Guiding teens through these perplexing situations is what we can do as Jewish educators and parents. How do we begin the process with our teens?

A good place to start is by opening the door to these types of conversations. Allow your teens to share what their school environment is like, and what ethical challenges they face. Listen to what they say. They are our very sweetest onions.


Jewish Teens: Lost?

"Adolescence"

"Adolescence" by Giacomo Manzu Image by Ko:(char *)hook

 

Let’s play a game. Read the quote below and try to guess who said it.

Ready?

No peeking.

“…..we are not preparing today’s teens and young adults for the kinds of pressures they actually face.”

Okay, to make sure you’re testing yourself honestly write your responses, and then share it with me here. Just hit comment at the end of the post.

It will be interesting for us to compare results, no?

Here’s the lead-in sentence to the quote above:

“We hope young Christ followers develop a faith strong enough to last and to influence those around them. However, for too many, their faith does not survive in the real world. Simply put, we are not preparing today’s teens and young adults for the kinds of pressures they actually face.”

Responses?

First, I’ll share more about the quote. It’s from an e-mail I receive from the Barna Group, announcing a new effort to share information, resources, and offer training on this topic to better equip those working with teens. 

They also revealed a new book, called YOU LOST ME,  which is the result of a five-year study about the “spiritual journeys of young Christians, especially how much our culture has changed and what it means for your efforts.”

So, I’d like to unpack this piece of news.

First is the feeling that maybe our Jewish teens are reflecting a greater spiritual need that is felt in other communities. In that case, we shouldn’t berate ourselves so much for our failures.

But the next thought that comes to mind is actually a bit of envy.  The Christian community is marshalling its resources to work on this challenge—and they’re tackling it as a community.

This group thought it important enough to invest FIVE YEARS of time, effort, and money into this issue. Imagine the interviews, focus groups, surveys it took to gather this data. So you’ll forgive me for the jealousy, since I’ve written about this plenty before.  It seems like many posts ago when I wrote that Jewish teens were underserved.

Though I am so very heartened by the URJ‘s new focus on youth engagement, it is a denominational response to a communal problem,and doesn’t create data about this population. And I am appreciative of the new study on Youth Engagement by the Jewish Education Project about teens in New York.

So, until the Jewish community decides that it is important to fully figure out broader solutions to the issue of teens who are ‘spiritually lost’ (without the piecemeal approach of a unique program here, a special grant there) I guess I’ll turn  my envy to respect for how the Christian community is going about this.


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