Gaining a fresh approach to rearing teens: An opportunity for every parent

As her triplets were heading into their teen years, Cynthia Cohen thought it would be helpful to enroll in Parenting Your Teen Through a Jewish Lens. The Jewish aspect of the course attracted her. “We are not better parents than our friends who are not Jewish. We just do certain things differently. We have Shabbat dinner and lunch. We have Jewish holidays and life cycle events. We send our kids to a day school because we value Torah learning.” As a Modern Orthodox Jew, Cynthia is under no illusion that she can protect her teens from current-day influences. What parents of teens worry about—including problems related to peer pressure, stress about school, and the internet—are ubiquitous.Cynthia Cohen

The class at Newton’s Shaarei Tefillah, comprised of parents of teens of all ages, afforded Cynthia a view into what may come. For the moment, she appreciated that she was not alone in rearing three daughters who think that “almost everything [she does] is wrong.” Noting that “there were parents in the class who are incredible and accomplished,” Cynthia took comfort in knowing that “others, too, can do very little right in their teens’ eyes.” She came out of each class session with a new thought or approach, gained from texts, her sensitive instructor, and other parents.

Torah anchored each class session. Cynthia is reminded about the parents’ discussion on dreams when she reads the parashah (weekly Torah portion) about Joseph. What dreams do her daughters have for themselves? “These change over time,” she explains. “They don’t have one particular dream for the future; as they grow their ideas for themselves transform. That’s okay, that’s part of dreaming. Part of what I took away from the class is that the dreams I have for them may not be their dreams. They may have equally good or better dreams for themselves. What I find fascinating is what I learn when I STOP AND LISTEN. I am usually so busy with caring for my ailing parents, volunteer work, and running the household; the word hineini (I am here) is a reminder to me to be present for my teens.”

Beyond dreams, parents and teens may differ in their approach to regular responsibilities. Cynthia learned to accept that her daughters have their own way of studying for tests and their own views, judgments and perspectives of the world around them. “The class,” she explained, “taught me to trust that, in some respects, our kids know what is right for them.”

With triplets Cynthia has had, from the very beginning, to impose a strict schedule and to relax some standards. Never referring to them as “triplets,” she and her husband strive to help their girls see themselves as individuals. Affirming their stance are words from Mishna Sanhedrin, which state that the Holy One is not like a person who mints uniform coins. God “mints each human being with the same seal that He used for the first person and not one is similar to another.”

Cynthia believes that every Jewish parent can learn something from the class: “It is thought provoking. The content is really good. The support is really good. Every parent of a teen is dealing with some sort of issue. After Parenting Through a Jewish Lens/Ikkarim, this was the next step for me in bringing Jewish values to my parenting.”