“Why don't you ever listen?!?” Sounds like a common refrain in households where teens abide. It might escalate to “Hello! Am I talking to the walls?” At times it is difficult to ascertain whether their earbuds are in or not. The truth is, they have slyly tricked us all. They look like they are not listening, but they truly are absorbing every single word.
Research demonstrates that teens are in fact listening to what we tell them. 70% of teens identify their parents as the most important influence in their lives, according to Rice and Veerman. Research over and over again proclaims that teens emphatically state that their parents' opinions and discussions with them affect their decision making in all at-risk behaviors including drinking alcohol, engaging in other illegal substances etc.
Those conversations at dinner- where we see them rolling their eyes and eager to get out of the kitchen and on-line? That too is an act! When families eat dinner together children are less likely to drink, smoke, use drugs, have an eating disorder, get depressed, consider suicide, fail at school or have sex. They must be listening to something we're saying at those dinners!
In fact, teens actually like spending time with us more than they will admit. An Associated Press/MTV Study of Young People and Happiness of 2007 asked people ages 13-27 “What makes you happy?” The top answer that question was “spending time with family.” “Parents are seen as an overwhelmingly positive influence in the lives of most young people. Remarkably, nearly half of teens mention at least one of their parents as a hero.”
In an article written by a religious Christian named Steve Wright, he quotes another piece of interesting research, “The Barna Research Group found that Eighty- Five percent of parents with children under the age of 13 believe they have primary responsibility for teaching their children about religious beliefs and spiritual matters. However, a majority of parents don't spend any time during a typical week discussing religious matters or studying religious materials with their children.” Interestingly enough, he ends his article quoting Devarim 6:7-9 (otherwise known to us as the “shema”)- “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” Recite your values over and over until they practically get sick of it. Or more accurately, until they can recite it in their minds without your even being there. Don't ever stop having the “talks.”
For those who have been reading my column for some time, you will recognize that this is my opportunity to bring up my favorite Gemara regarding Yoseph, Yaakov and parenting. When Yoseph was in the house of Potiphar, far from home and his family, he faced the difficult situation of the wife of Potiphar. The Gemara in Sotah 36b describes, “It was taught in the School of R. Ishmael: That day was their feast-day, and they had all gone to their idolatrous temple; but she had pretended to be ill because she thought, I shall not have an opportunity like to-day for Joseph to associate with me. And she caught him by his garment, saying etc. At that moment his father's image came and appeared to him through the window and said: 'Joseph, your brothers will have their names inscribed upon the stones of the ephod and yours amongst theirs; is it your wish to have your name expunged from amongst theirs and be called an associate of harlots?' Immediately his bow abode in strength.”
Clearly Yoseph's father was far away in Canaan- how could he have seen the image of his father Yaakov in the window? That image of Yaakov that he saw was the voice in his head. Over and over he had heard his father say, “Good boys don't act that way. In our family, our values are...” And, of course, like any teenager, (Yoseph was just 17 when he went to Egypt), he said to his dad, “I know, I know- why do you keep on telling me the same thing?!” And, yet, Yaakov continued sending those messages. That is why, when faced with challenge to his morality, he heard that voice in his head.
So, when we have our frequent “talks” with our children they say to us, “I know, I know- enough already!” And, yet when they are faced with challenge, whether peer pressure to do the wrong thing or the temptation to engage in any at-risk behavior, they will hear our voices in their head, and practically see our images before them reminding them of what they should do.
Returning to the paragraph from Devarim quoted by Mr. Wright, that perek does really stress in the importance of constant conversations with your children about issue that are important to you. In actuality, experts share that there aren't any big “talks” you should be having with your kids. Dr. Yocheved Debow, in her book Talking About Intimacy And Sexuality- A Guide For Orthodox Jewish Parents, stated, (page 8), “One of the biggest myths about how parents should provide sexuality education to their children is the notion of 'the big talk.' This is the idea that all parents must have one important and serious conversation with their children about puberty and menstruation and changes children should expect in their bodies. Some parents may choose to include something about sexual activity and their values in this regard during this important conversation. Once we have had a big talk with our children and presented them with what we perceive they need to know, we have successfully fulfilled our parental responsibilities in this area. This notion, however , is false. Speeches do not necessarily educate. There are no values that we transmit to our children in a single conversation, whether about faith or manners or respect or the importance of an education. We allow ourselves to be in an ongoing conversation with our children about many topics, which we address in different ways at different ages and stages of development. We encourage dialogue and listen to our children's thoughts and opinions about these matters. Our job actually begins when our children are very young...Remembering that educating about sexuality is in fact so much more than simply educating about the sexual act helps us recognize the need for conversations with our children over the years.”
( TO HEAR MORE OF DR. YOCHEVED DEBOW'S ADVICE AND EXPERTISE JOIN US ON WEDNSDAY JANUARY 7, 7:30 PM ON THE TOPIC OF “What Every Parent Needs To Know About Development and Sexuality: A Workshop for Parents of Children All Ages and Stages”).
They are listening, as we have proven above. So, let's not stop talking. Or as Mr. Wright ends his column, “Your teens are listening...so what are you saying?”
- Sixth Grade- Students discussed what it is like to get their first middle school report card. They hypothesized why they got the grades they did and set goals for how they can do better. They also prepared themselves for a talk with their parents about those goals.
- Seventh Grade- Our seventh graders ended their unit on “When Life Gives You Lemons” focusing on the power of self-talk and affirmations in maintaining a positive attitude and achieving resiliency. They culminated this unit in a visit from Mrs. Shifra Srolovitz, a Child Life Specialist, who trained them in decorating stuffed dogs with inspirational messages for ill children, utilizing the skills they learned in Advisory.
- Eighth Grade- Students discussed the power of Instagram and social media in general and the impact it has on social exclusion and privacy.