Jewish Education Pointer for Parents of Teenagers

    June 2011          
Search the Jewish Magazine Site: Google


Search our Archives:

» Home
» History
» Holidays
» Humor
» Places
» Thought
» Opinion & Society
» Writings
» Customs
» Misc.


Jewish Parents: Four Things I Wish You Didn’t Say To Your Teenager

By Ruth Schapira

Making decisions about continuing Jewish Education past the age of Bar/Bat Mitzvah is often a challenge, though I’m not sure why.

The comments below are ones I’ve heard directly, usually on the phone when asked whether their child will continue in our program, or sign up for the first time.

Every year, unlike with other educational venues and opportunities, the conversation about Jewish education is reopened. (Let’s see…do you want to continue high school next year? Do you really want to put that effort into the advanced calc club?).

Parents would never question other identity-building, intellectually engaging, social-emotional experiences and leadership opportunities, but in this case they do.

So, this article is my way of assembling the most common things I’ve heard, and my responses. Here is my brief list:

“It’s your decision”

Why? Why is furthering education a child’s decision? Parents make decisions about other forms of education, why abdicate here? Generally, teens are not wired for more school, they’re wired for less, so this becomes no decision at all. Would parents ask if their child wants to ‘go on’ in Math or English? Of course not. Because in order to be an educated person you need a modicum of education. Putting Jewish education in an optional category makes more of a statement about its relevance for the parents, which speaks volumes. Say no more, your child has already figured out your priorities.

“Your school work is more important”

Ditto, plus is school work always more important? More important than identity-building? Personal development? Creating a network of like-minded peers? Students will often need to juggle responsibilities between numerous commitments. You’ve just told them there is no choice. But is this really true? Won’t they have to make decisions about these commitments and sometimes choose the non-secular choice? Like whether to attend class on a Jewish holiday? Like whether to speak up and challenge a professor when tests are given on those holidays?

“Are you having fun?”

Ask any student involved in athletics if they’ve had fun at practice. Yet, everyone knows that the end result: inner satisfaction with an accomplishment trumps ‘fun’. Also, teens love learning and grappling with issues. Why do we underestimate them in this way? You might ask what they’ve learned, what questions they’ve asked, what new issues they’ve explored. This is our hope for the substance of their experience.

“You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”

Really? If they’re part of the Jewish-people team, than isn’t showing up part of the obligation? Should they miss marching band? Practice? The reasoning used there is that they’ve made a commitment to be part of a group, and that holds responsibilities. Each person is depended upon to hold his/her own weight. Why should our language be any different here? They’re part of a team….why not transmit that message early on?

We might know the value of a Jewish education, but we need to show that we do.

Ruth Schapira is a Jewish Educator of Teens in a pluralistic supplementary high school

Article originally published at


from the June 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

Please let us know if you see something unsavory on the Google Ads and we will have them removed. Email us with the offensive URL (