Parenting

What Can I Do About a Teen Ager that Leaves the Family and Judaism?

How can I get them to come home at an age they want to run away?

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Q. I’m very frustrated in dealing with my older children. Their emotional distance is very difficult for me, they don’t share their experiences with me and it causes fights and wars. I feel wounded from them and don’t know what to do with what’s going on at home. I really need help in dealing with them. What do you propose I do?

A. Hello Precious Mother,

From reading your words I can see the great difficulty you experience. Adolescence is known to be a difficult age which raises challenges for both the children and parents. To overcome these challenges we should know that at a certain point in their lives our children need less pressure and comments from their parents. They need ‘their space’. On the other hand they still need our affection, an attentive ear and our shoulders for support in any situation.

Adolescence has a whirlpool of emotions that are very stormy. The teen himself can’t always explain what he’s going through and they often feel powerless. They’re confused when facing life’s big questions and don’t know what is right and wrong, truth or falsehood, who likes him and who is his real enemy. This is a long term state which is potentially explosive and can cause arguments and rebellion. The teen can get easily confused and turn his loving parents into his biggest enemies especially if they seem arbitrary in their dealing with him which brings to an ongoing free for all where parents have zero authority.

To bring our children to the right places we must have the right advice not to get swept into this dizzying place. With the onset of adolescence the desire to remove parental authority strengthens. This is a natural thing. It starts with trial and error whose end result will lead to mature independent self-identification. Since adolescents can’t digest all of the changes they are going through which are physical emotional, spiritual and hormonal, the adolescent will naturally seek to distance himself from himself and also his parents. He develops a new dependence on his peers and social status to measure himself and they have a big influence on him.

In order for our child to successfully navigate this natural upheaval he is going through it is important for us as parents to show responsibility, tolerance and patience. Only in this way will we be role models lighting the way for them and steadily being there for them in the middle of their stormy realities.

Many times an adolescent will interpret his parents concern as mixing into his life which will cause him to distance himself, disconnect or respond with uncontrolled aggressiveness. When we parents get swept into this emotional maelstrom where their child is we can’t effectively help him at all. The only way we can help is by exercising self-control and learning to work on our own character traits even with everything overturning in our own homes. When we remain stable in spirit and strong-minded enough not to get swept into the storm we can react maturely and not like another child.

The adolescent needs a stable, guiding encouraging and supporting parent that knows when to take a deep breath and light up the way for his child. So here are some important tips:

1. The natural tendency is to show our children that the way we think is right is really the right way. The thing is that each child has his own unique path in life and he’s not interested in hearing what others say is good for him. He wants us to help him discover himself on his own in his own way and our sages said: Teach the youth according to his path.”

2. Every child needs a parent with authority that can read the map correctly. Many think that to be authoritative is to be tough. But true authority is not t meant to arouse rebellion or war, rather true authority arouses respect and reverence. An authoritative parent knows how to give clear boundaries without shouting them or mumbling them under his breath.  Let’s look at an expert doctor for example. When we go to a doctor seeking help, he doesn’t yell at his patient to take the medicine nor does he beg him to take it. He just clearly states what you need to do to get better and not doing it will cause you pain, illness and discomfort.

3. Adolescents also need boundaries but forced upon them. The boundaries are established by handing over trust and personal responsibilities to the adolescent. For example saying: “I understand that everyone goes in this manner, but I’m depending on you to know that when you see something which is not morally correct  taking place, that you will do all in your power not to take part in it. Even though it’s difficult I believe in you and know that even when it’s difficult for you, you can do it!

This only works if you really believe in him and don’t just say it as a manipulative statement. You must really truly believe that if G-d gave your child this test it’s only because he can succeed in it! And even if he repeatedly falls we should continue to believe in him and his abilities and help him see the good inside him.

4. In every adolescent there is a raging battle between good and bad, right and wrong, the need to fit in with peers and the need for parental closeness. To help our children always find the path home we have to stop waging war against him.  Every criticism, judgmental or aggressive statement we make to our adolescent will cause him to reject us and close up. In addition we shouldn’t think we know where our child is holding because we truly don’t know what is going through his mind or what he’s going through.

The one thing we must do is to learn how to help him realize his tremendous potential. I recommend to every parent who really wants to help his child get to a safe healthy place in life to take parenting classes at every stage of his child’s life.

5. Personal example is the best recipe for influencing our children. If we will be a personal example of good health and stability for our children to follow they will find it easier to seek out and choose the good and the truth instead of getting swept up in the wrong situations.

6. Even if we did our best to work on ourselves and speak to our children in an honorable fashion, get parenting classes, remove aggressiveness and judgment from our speech and are stellar personal examples who unconditionally love our children, we still must pray to G-d from the depths of our hearts to help us merit that even if we erred, fell got swept into something or got confused  and left the correct way, that G-d should see our good intentions and pour on us an abundance of blessings, success, true knowledge and divine assistance to go on the true path.

One who seeks to purify, receives divine assistance!
 
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