Category Archives: Teens

Jewish Teen Engagement: Do We Want to Win or Lose the Game

Place your bets on teens!

Place your bets on teens!

The Jewish community is the throes of change that at times seems to be at a dizzying pace, yet there are still so many obstacles that seem to discourage the participation of Jewish teenagers in Jewish life.  (I’ve written about some of them here and here).

By the time we figure this all out, we might have lost our chance.  The adolescent years is a time for making decisions about identity, but that opportunity gets lost in the wave of programs trying to perpetuate themselves, rather than perpetuating a relationship with the Jewish people.

This is best explained through a case study.

Let’s pretend you’re a teenager who is part of a synagogue community. Your bar/bat mitzvah was a few years ago.  It was a great experience, and as you said in your speech “all the work you had to do was worth it in the end”. Your parents were so proud.

You were glad to ‘be done’ but against all odds, you decided to continue in your synagogue’s Confirmation program. You were surprised though that 50% of your friends dropped out. They were too busy they said (but aren’t you?) or their parents said they weren’t going to  ‘make them’ attend (your friends told you their parents said they didn’t want them to resent their parents later).

So, now, from a class of 25, there are about 12 kids in your weekly class. You really enjoy studying with the Rabbi, and talking about the issues that matter to you. You really are beginning to see the relevance of Judaism in your life. Some of your friends in other synagogues have a different set-up, they work in their synagogue schools every week and earn some money. Sometimes you wonder whether that would have been better, since your parents talk about college expenses so much. But, you do like learning…..so much so, that you might want to continue—-even after the Confirmation ceremony, but the only option is Adult Education, and that would just be too…..uh…..nerdy.  You’ve heard that your friend’s synagogue has a class for 11th graders, but you don’t belong to that synagogue.

If you are lucky enough to find out about a community Hebrew high school that offers programming for 11th and 12th graders (some community schools are seen as competition to synagogue offerings), you’d be one of the few to do so, because by about now, there are 75% less of your friends who would have made this same choice (so now you’re down to about 3 of your friends). Your other friends were too busy (but aren’t you?) and they have college to think about (don’t you?) and get their grades up to speed (don’t you?). And chances are, your synagogue might not have shared this information with you.

If you find a program to attend, you might want to learn conversational Hebrew, or take leadership classes, participate in an internship program, or even take a college course. Little do your friends know that this experience will actually help get you into college, prepare you to think more broadly (your Bio-Medical Ethics class is so issue-oriented), and gives you so many chances to develop your skills in public speaking (you plan programs for the school), attend college readiness programs and establish relationships with teachers….not to mention the ‘street cred’ of being able to handle everything you’re already doing plus this academic program.

But you are one of the lucky ones, and you probably will be among the future leaders, simply because the education and involvement you’ve had puts you there.

So, with you, the Jewish community won. Your friends? Well, time will tell.


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


Jewish Teen Education by the Hour

How much time is too much?

How much time is too much?

How many hours does it take to become knowledgeable about something?

I know, it’s a very broad question….but try to humor me. Your task is to become more learned about Judaism…..to become literate.

How many hours would you need to spend?

Okay, got it?

For comparison’s sake, students spend on average, 181 days per year in a K – 12 school environment, which translates into approximately 900 or so hours per year.

Many people don’t even think this is enough, especially when compared with the more rigorous school schedules of other countries. (And we know the U.S. is continuing to lose ground in the education of our youth).

Hourly disputes aside, no one would say that at the end of high school, one’s education is complete if mastery of a subject area is the goal.

Yet, (you know where I’m going with this), at the end of just  few short years in Hebrew school, at what amounts to a paltry number of hours, parents and students are calling it quits. (This post is not directed at teens enrolled in a Jewish day school).

Think about it…..if you’ve been to college and are reading this….how many “credit” hours did it take as an undergrad to major in something?  And if you added all the studying to those credit hours, what number would be your total?

More importantly, as a result, if you had to rate your knowledge about the subject, what score would you give yourself on a scale of 1 to 10?

(I’d love to read your comments on this).

When I googled the topic online, wiki answers provided me with this clarification of my question: “How many hours in your major do you need to graduate from college?” and generalized (though varying from institution to institution) that between 30 and 40 credit hours suffice for a major, with general agreement that each credit hour represents at least 15 hours of class time (exclusive of studying time).

So, back to Jewish teens and post B’nai Mitzvah education.

How many hours do you think teens should devote to learning about their heritage, language, culture, history?

Remember, these are the years when critical thinking kicks in…and teens can begin to wrestle with beliefs, tradition and change.

So, how much time in total per year? 

How about in aggregate, from between ages 13 – 18?

So, in all, how much time on the clock does the average Jewish teen spend on learning about Judaism?

I think the answer would astound you…..it shocks me.

In the best case scenario, where teens attend a Jewish educational program at least once a week, the time they spend watching TV is more than twice the amount of time spent learning about Judaism.

That’s the best case–and kudos to the parents and teens who are at least making that choice.

What does this say about the teens who are in monthly programs? Or those who are not participating in any learning during the academic year?

Malcolm Gladwell aside, we don’t need to create 10,000-hour experts, but teens wouldn’t even rate in any bare minimum category with the limited hours that are devoted to Jewish learning.

Years ago, a teacher I worked with said that parents were only interested in (this will sound dated) “Kodak Judaism”. When I looked puzzled she said “They’re only interested in exposure…as long as their teens are exposed to Judaism, that seems to be enough for them.”

Right about now, you might be thinking that immersive experiences offer the perfect answer…after all teens are living Judaism non-stop for hours on end in a Jewish summer camp.

The problem is, our teens are Jewish all year-long, not just in summer. Otherwise we’re perpetuating our own pathetic version of the well-worn campaign “What happens in Jewish summer camp, stays in Jewish summer camp”.

Somewhere, between exposure and 10,000 lies a reachable goal. We need to get there.

Related Posts:

Judging Jewish Education by Fun

One Comment I Never Hear as a Jewish Educator

Jewish Parents: Choose your teen’s activities wisely


What 7 of today’s top headlines tell you about teens today

Where's the good news?

Where’s the good news?

When it comes to teens, it seems that “Headlines” are usually “Dead Lines”….yes….news about deaths, teenage thugs, bullying, and more.

I’m tired of reading all this bad news about teens.

You might ask: “So, just look for the good news, what are you complaining about?”

It’s not that easy.

I get news alerts from Google and Yahoo sent to my Inbox, and generally what comes up, almost on a daily basis, is what you see below.

News

Tired teenagers may need a new mattressFree Malaysia Today  – 20 hours
The researchers found that teenagers’ mattresses were often too small to accommodate their rapid growth. Moreover, they were often worn out …

Teenage thugs locked up after brutally attacking cyclist for being ‘ginger’Manchester Evening News  – 25 minutes
Court is told that the four teenagers launched an ‘unprovoked attack’ on the cyclist as he stopped at lights in the city centre.

New wearable tech Ringblingz to help teenagers stay connectedNew Kerala  – 16 hours
Washington, Feb. 09 : A new wearable technology has been reportedly launched that helps teenagers stay connected based on the social media …

Teenagers held over car theftsThe Herald  – 2 hours
TWO teenagers have been apprehended by police and three stolen vehicles recovered after residents raised the alarm about suspicious activity.

Two Tucson teens arrested in murder plotFOX 10 Phoenix  – 11 hours
Two Tucson teenagers are facing charges of conspiracy to commit murder after Pima County deputies say they were plotting to kill an …

Cincinnati Police arrest four teens in weekend aggravated robberiesFOX 19 Cincinnati  – 14 hours
Cincinnati Police have arrested four teenagers in connection with two aggravated robbery offenses during the past weekend in Northside.

Russian teen project charged with “gay propaganda”Scoop.co.nz  – 9 hours
“The Children-404 project is being prosecuted for “gay propaganda” because it provides sympathetic, supportive advice to isolated, bullied, …

dam nearly finished

I’m not saying that teens are not often a troubled lot, or that teenage rebellion is something we should be surprised about.

After all, James Dean, Catcher in the Rye, and all that…..we’ve all been sensitized to the plight of the adolescent.

However, it is worse now with bullying occupying a virtual limitless space and even bigger social platforms where often teens feel unwanted, unloved, and ostracized.

I’m just saying that I need a break.

So please, to all of you out there working with teenagers or reporting about them…..just write more of the good stuff, if only so it takes up more space in my Inbox.

 

 


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?