Category Archives: Life

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.


the challenge of raising teens in a country missing moral clarity

Ethical clarity? Clueless

Ethical clarity? Clueless

The year is newly born, yet through the lens of ethics things feel quite stale.

The clarity that should come easily when as a country, we are faced with ethical challenges, eludes us and sadly, our teenagers.

This evening, the news reported that yes, in fact, the White House made a mistake by not sending a noted and visible government official to the protests in France. This admission by our leadership, came a full day after everyone was shaking their heads in confusion about why the U.S. was absent from such a history-making event.

On January 11th, Paris was the place to be, a place where world leaders and millions gathered to support the lofty goals that make us human.

The coverage yesterday billowed with those intangible ideals that some risk their lives preserving.

What could have been more clear than for the U.S. to show support not only for the freedom of free speech (#JeSuisCharlie) but for freedom of religion (#JeSuisJuif). Both exemplify the values our country was founded upon.

usflag

Ideals are the very thing that inspires our youth, especially Jewish teens. Our teens need to  see that the world has the capacity to stand up against anti-Semitism, terror, and cruelty. That’s the message that we would want our civic leaders to share.

In today’s times, when our youth need to grow up with a clearer ethical direction, instead they often experience the swampy murkiness of political correctness, hedging, and wishy-washy behavior.

Yesterday for me was a chance to purge ourselves just a tiny bit from the overwhelming heap of moral misses: cheating on tests by school districts, abuse by teachers, stealing by politicians, abuse of power by the famous and infamous, and an increasing distrust of those who serve to protect us.

What better time than now, to reflect on what has the potential to make humans great, instead of what havoc has been created from terrorists.

Our teens hear too much from the dark side and subsequently, the downside of being Jewish. The past year has been challenging to embrace Judaism and its future. This was the year of the Gaza war, the signed petition by university academics boycotting Israel, the increased visibility of the BDS movement, and the Pew report on the disaffiliation rates of American Jews that take their searches for meaning outside the typical synagogue experience. Hitting closer to home was the debate about Open Hillels and the USY controversy, creating many opportunity for rich discussions, but when not taken, just causing more confusion and bewilderment.

Yesterday, at least for that day, although I hope and pray for much longer, we could have thought about the fact that Jews are not in the freedom fight alone. There is a world of people out there who care about fairness, innocence and who are willing to call evil and terror just what it is.

Reporters worldwide were talking about Anti-Semitism in France, for the first time.

And Jewish educators felt vindicated: yes, there are these horrible things that happened and the world took notice.

Except their own country was not visible on that day. And yes, it was a big deal and a big loss.

(I wonder how the history books will retell the march in France….would it be noted as the historic event it was, or will be downplayed because the U.S. did not participate?).

It is up to us then, to make sure that the lessons of the day, unlike the transitory images on the screen, don’t disappear. I am embarrassed that my country did not choose to be visible and laud this event for what it was: an opportunity to gain moral clarity for our teens.

Photo courtesy of Gratisography.com


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: Watch Your Social Media Presence

twitter logo map 09

twitter logo map 09 (Photo credit: The Next Web)

“Treat every conversation you have on Twitter or Facebook as if it were a nationally televised press conference.”

This advice is not a recommendation from a public relations firm, or from a head hunter, or from a corporate policy book on social media. Nor was it taken from a how-to book on political life.

None of those sources would be surprising.

The quote above is from a sign posted in a Minnesota high school locker room in response to the rampant posting of students taking part in illegal activities online.

Some students, turning against friends, are giving coaches and teachers pictures of them in ‘compromising’ situations at drinking parties and participating in other illegal activities.

Sports scholarships have been pulled based on information coaches glean on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

In a previous post, I wrote that teens’ should make sure their online profiles are clean and scrubbed when applying to college.  As with other things, everything moves down a bit, and what teens do in high school is not exempt from a close look by interested parties.

Opportunities may be in jeopardy based on discoveries online.  Scholarships, nominations, recommendations…..all come into play mostly in the junior year of high school, but since online identities don’t disappear, it’s never too early to start thinking about this issue.

We know that checking someone out online is very tempting and all too easy.

So, for all the teens out there: think about who you are online. Does it match who you want to be? What will you need to do to make the image you want equal to the one you have?  Would you feel comfortable if a scholarship committee saw your posts? Think about the quote at the beginning of this post.

To Parents: The advice above is worth sharing with your teen as part of  a frank conversation about public and private identity, social media privacy settings, limit setting, trust and more.


Parent Conversations With Teens

Teens sharing earphones, listening music outdo...

We need to tune in to teens

Life is busy, so how do we get the time to interact with teen-aged kids when everybody is literally on the run?

By the time teens are in high school, the time you may get to spend with each other may be less than an hour per day–including dinner.

Try to take that in. That’s an abysmally low amount of time to talk about the big stuff of life….that is if you ever get to it.

The constant pecks of life’s immediacies, like “When do you need to be picked up?” “When is that report due?” “Did you wash my uniform?” “What’s in the frig/freezer for dinner?” tend to take over any paltry time there is in a day.

It’s tempting to put off important conversations until there’s more time, but when does that time come?

In a very short time, they’ll be out of the house.

I remember when my oldest child was going off to college, the reality came crashing in on me when she came ambling down the steps, carrying an enormous amount of stuff and shifting her weight between the backpack and a duffel bag on her shoulder.

She was taking her stuff! She was really leaving—-and for the next four years, at the minimum, she’d have a home base somewhere else.

Questions and self-doubt came pouring in.

Did I use every opportunity to have meaningful conversations with her? Was she really equipped to be on her own? Had we instilled enough Jewish values so she’d have a strong foundation to draw upon in college? Would she select friends who would be equally concerned about values and ethics?  Would she make the right decisions? Would she make those choice through a Jewish lens?

My questions couldn’t even begin to cover the doubts I had, or most parents might have, before sending their teen off to college.

So, how can you capture this very precious time before your teen bounds out of the house for good?

For us, the clock slowed its frenetic pace once a week, giving us an opportunity to capture special time that only Shabbat can allow. It was our time to take a breather, catch up and check in with each other…..on a far deeper level than the trivialities of the everyday permit.

It also taught us to make the most of every single conversation and interaction.

What does it mean to maximize conversation? Don’t let things go in favor of waiting for a ‘better time’. Most likely it won’t come.

The expression ‘don’t sweat the small stuff?’….mostly ignore it. Yes, for sure, don’t dwell on the little details of life that in the grand scheme, won’t amount to much one way or the other….but DO sweat about anything that has larger life implications—like things with moral/ethical underpinnings.

Regardless of your personal observances, having an island of time (as Heschel called it) is almost an essential approach in today’s frantically paced world.  So, you  might want to think about instituting something like it….and the period of time between Friday night and Saturday night is a convenient reminder.

First, when making that decision, you must ignore the eye rolls and shrugs. That’s part of the script that just is. You’ll need to get over it. Let the conversations begin.

Photo credit: wikipedia creative commons 2.0 license