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Teens and Saturday Nights: A Parenting Approach

By: Dov Wilkes, LCSW

Published in Building Blocks, August 28th, 2013

While the havdalah candle is still being dipped into the wine and has yet to burn out, several family members start to scramble in various directions. 19-year-old Moshe is rummaging through the house drawers, mumbling something to the effect of the car keys never being in the same spot, 16-year-old Shlomo is trying to dribble a basketball on the living room carpet while reminding everyone in his vicinity that he can’t be late to the game, and 14-year-old Sara is running to get her camera and phone while hollering that she needs to leave soon to go out with her friends.

After the candle actually burns out and you, the parents of these teenagers, take a brief moment to sigh that your Shabbos rest has officially ended, you remember that you did tell Moshe that he can drive locally to his camp reunion and that Shlomo has a league game to go to. You manage to quickly get Sara’s attention and ask her where she is running off. While she does loudly say that she is getting together with a bunch of friends, she gives no indication as to where that might be and for how long she is going. The conversation has a familiar confrontational tone to it, as it seems to coincide every week with the end of the havdalah ceremony. You remind Sara of every store and avenue that she is not allowed to go to, and Sara reminds you that she is entitled to a normal social life, which includes hanging out with friends on Saturday nights. Each side tries to stand firm, and usually, the confrontation ends up in one of two ways: Either you relent to Sara going out but then regret allowing that to happen, or you stand firm in not allowing her to leave and then regret that decision when she storms into her room and is not seen or heard for the rest of the night.

While some of the details may vary, this scene is still a typical Saturday night for many Orthodox families with teenage children. The only good thing about the fact that the same fight occurs week after week is that it is predictable. A predictable problem allows us to use a proactive approach rather than a reactive one, which means that parents should approach someone like Sara to discuss the Saturday night challenge earlier on in the week. This is advantageous to both parents and teenager, for most of us tend to not show our best side in the heat of the moment.

Before starting the dialogue with your teenager, some self-awareness is appropriate. Yes, we wish we can maintain the sense of control that we had when our teens were younger. Yes, some of the stories we hear about teens roaming the streets until the wee hours of the night are scary. Yes, there is the phenomenon of teens at-risk, and we want to feel secure that our teen will not become one of them. These powerful feelings are valid, and they need to be recognized.

But while it’s true that parents have less direct control as their children grow into young adults and it is uncertain which path they will choose, a close connection with the child and his/her needs is essential for parenting children of all ages. As a general rule, playing catch-up with teens doesn’t work. The fast pace at which they find ways to meet their social needs (especially through social media) will result in parents faced with having to express disapproval of what their teen is already doing. A more effective approach for parents is to develop a relationship with their teenage children, which includes learning about their individual needs. In addition, parents can and should utilize other sources to learn more about their teens –such as staying in touch with the parents of their children’s friends, school staff, and other adults who have a relationship with their teens.

Before beginning the dialogue with your teenager, it’s important for parents to know with certainty what is and what is not on the table for discussion. Based on concerns for safety, the hashkafos of the family and the rules of a particular school (and hopefully the latter two are both in sync), there are places and venues that are simply not an option for our teenagers. It is not fair for the teenager to initially be allowed to go, and then after the parents learn about the harmful environment, they decide to renege. All the necessary information about a particular option should be explored by the parents before they reach a decision.

That being said, be prepared to listen to all of their suggestions as to how they would like to spend their Saturday nights –even the ones with which you are not comfortable. By doing so, you are setting the tone for respect, and at the same time you’re learning more about how your child would like to satisfy his/her needs. If an objection is warranted, you can simply tell him/her that based on safety concerns and/or the harmful environment, it isn’t an option with which you are comfortable.

Besides being ready to identify that which is not an option, it is equally important to suggest what can be an option. Again, it would be beneficial to speak with parents of friends and school staff to find out what is available. Some parents might be interested in forming a rotation of hosting a group of teens in their home. Some schools might host extra-curricular activities/production practice on certain Saturday nights. In some communities, organized sports leagues have become a popular option for boys.

Even after parents explored options on their own, it will probably still be necessary for them to brainstorm together with their teenager for viable and mutually agreeable solutions. Parents should be cognizant of not only reaching the goal of finding their teenager what to do on Saturday nights, but they should also formulate the actual process involved in accomplishing this goal. These efforts will allow their teen the opportunity of learning the important skills of problem-solving. In addition, the collaboration of the teen and his/her parents trying to problem solve together can help strengthen their relationship.

The truth is that from the parents’ perspective, the struggle has little to do with Saturday nights. Chances are that if parents don’t know how their teen is satisfying his/her needs on Saturday night, then they probably don’t know how they are satisfying their needs during the other nights as well. The struggle really reflects the disconnect between the parents and the teenager’s needs. Respectful dialogue and expressing an interest in what the other has to say can repair this disconnect.

Hopefully, next Saturday night when the havdalah candle starts to sizzle out and “Sara” once again starts to scramble in some direction, you can feel more prepared for what’s to come.

Dov Wilkes is the Assistant Clinical Coordinator for Tikvah at Ohel. In addition, he provides psychotherapy to children and adolescents in private practice. He can be reached at 347-263-3533 or email dov_wilkes@ohelfamily.org.

Since 1969, OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services has served as a dependable haven of individual and family support, helping people of all ages surmount everyday challenges, heal from trauma, and manage with strength and dignity during times of crises. Driven by service excellence, OHEL’s professional staff meet the myriad social service needs of the general community, while at the same time providing culturally-sensitive services to the Jewish community, including Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian speakers. Through highly-rated foster care, developmental disability, mental health, and other programs and services, OHEL provides supportive housing, treatment, care coordination, education, outreach and much more to elevate lives and strengthen individuals and communities in New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, Florida, California and worldwide on the web. David Mandel is the CEO of OHEL.

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