Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Ellul 5761 - August 29, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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Home and Family
Adolescence -- Dealing with Mini-Adults

by Menucha Fuchs
Author of dozens of adult and children's books, parenting counselor

Parents of small children sometimes feel bewildered. They start off as parents of one child and suddenly, before they can come to terms with the birth of their eldest, they are already parents to his siblings.

Young parents, without any experience, especially those coming from families where they didn't have to help with younger children, feel that the load on their shoulders is overwhelming. These parents find it difficult to care for their children and are in need of help, of a listening ear and also practical assistance. But then, all beginnings are hard, and over the years, the load gets lighter and the problems become easier to handle.

The children grow up, the parents gain confidence and experience and then, suddenly, the eldest becomes a teenager -- a well developed young person who suddenly questions all the conventions which were until now accepted, and proceeds to undermine them. How does this revolution take place and what can be done about it?

1. Accept the fact that the child is growing up

A young child accepts things as they are and doesn't ask too many questions. He doesn't look for things above and beyond. "If Mother says so," he reasons, "she probably knows." But an adolescent is different than a young child. He is already big and feels big. He knows and he understands (maybe even better than his parents...).

It is from this inner feeling of the adolescent that the era of arguments and shouting begins. Teenagers argue passionately about everything. Some of the things they argue about may seem silly or absurd to the parents but the adolescent will see them as top priority and remain stubborn about these issues. In this stage, the young person who feels intelligent is sure that he knows it all. He is impressed by what he hears, and attracted by certain friends. He doesn't check things out too much. He acts without thinking too much and changes his mind very quickly.

Do we have to dance to his tune?

Well, this is the time to learn to accept our fellowman (if we haven't yet learned this): is he doing something legitimate, even though it doesn't always please us, or are those things unacceptable in our home? If we judge each case in itself, we will discover that it doesn't pay to be stubborn about everything, nor would we be right every time. After all, our child who is maturing also has a personality of his own, with his own desires and point of view, and it is impossible for every member of the family to think the same way.

If we can learn to judge each argument for itself and stay away from unnecessary disputes, there will be fewer squabbles and more peace between ourselves and our adolescents.

2. Children want parents with authority

Every child wants his parent to be an authoritative figure. A parent who lacks authority will be looked down upon by his children. Such a parent causes the child to feel a lack of security in his presence. Adolescents, with all their desire for independence, need a strong parent figure. Deep inside, the young adult has no wish at all for the parent to lean on him, give in to all his demands, or agree with all his ideas. If this were to be so, the teenageer would feel like an orphan who has no one to lean on or to count on. He wants parents who understand, parents who care what he thinks, and pay attention to what he says, and who, in general, accept the fact that he has his own way of looking at things.

Bearing all this in mind, he still needs authoritative parents, on whose word he can count, and whose wishes he has to respect. We have to listen to our children and at the same time be firm and adult in our outlook.

3. Understanding the adolescent's feelings

Teenagers are not all made from the same mold. Some are very stubborn and extremely anti, and others will go through adolescence rather calmly. Parents have to remember that the adolescent stage is an unstable one, that stability comes after it, if they let their children check things out for themselves, make up their own minds and take on responsiblity for their actions.

In order for a teenager to learn from the results of his actions, we have to give him the opportunity to act and to understand his needs, but not to give in on everything. And not to be afraid of his reaction. Adolsescent's reactions tend to be extreme. If the parent made a descision after thinking clearly and carefully, he should not be afraid of his child's reaction. The adolescent is allowed to get angry when the parent's decision doesn't please him; he is allowed to be upset and disappointed, and he is even allowed to lock himself in his room until he calms down. All within the bounds of basic parental respect.

4. Using cooperation and advice as tools

Teenagers, who are in reality mini-adults, don't like being told what to do. They like to be consulted and included in the decison-making. Similarly, as younger children get older, they don't like getting orders from higher up. Sometimes there is no end to these directives, but in the case of adolescents, it would be better for everyone if they could participate fully.

Of course, it's always better to prepare ourselves and use preventive medicine, especially in the case of teens. Let us not wait until the last minute -- until our daughter is all dressed up and ready to leave for the party we wouldn't want her to attend. Or until our son is leaving for an overnight trip to the Golan. It is better to discuss it all first, way before the crucial time, during a calm moment when no one is upset or tense.


Educating our children demands much investment and endless effort. If we do this with the realization that no endeavor is without recompense, we'll continue to invest, while at the same time remembering that "It's not up to us to finish the task..."


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