Parental Authority in Adolescence

פרשת תרומה – זכור

ז' אדר – תשפ"א

February 19, 2021

Parental authority in adolescence

Adolescence is a challenging age, characterized by rebellion, personal introspection by the adolescent and at times also great heartache for the parents. We need a lot of prayers, prayers and more prayers, for them, and also for ourselves, the parents, so that we may receive strength and wisdom to treat them in a way that will allow them to flourish. Beyond the spiritual endeavor, it is also worth trying to understand what exactly the adolescents are going through, in order for them (or us) to succeed in making the right choices at this challenging stage.

There is a famous saying that goes like this: "When the only tool you have in the toolbox is a hammer, the whole world looks to you like nails." A toolbox for parents of young children does at times require a hammer, and this causes parents to develop and refine techniques to knock hard and authoritatively, anything that seems like “chutzpah” or rebellion. In truth when trying to authoritatively educate adolescents using the hammer technique usually does not work. Naturally we try to use a stronger hammer, and knock harder, but this will not help either. Have you ever tried to screw a screw with a hammer? It will only break it. So too the adolescents souls, despite the way they insist on behaving, are actually quite fragile, the usual tools no longer help.

The most effective tools when dealing with adolescents, especially struggling ones, are not authority and discipline. Although they may be necessary to some extent, educating adolescents is best achieved by using completely different tools. If for some reason the adolescent is experiencing emotional difficulty and is unable to stay connected, attracted to bad devices and bad friends, we need to know that the hammer will not help here. Like by the plague of frogs, one is beaten and two pop up instead. The main thing is to believe that their heart is pure, especially now when it seems less noticeable.

This week we read Parsht Terumah. When Hashem tells Moshe to build the Aron we can ask two questions. The first question is that Hashem uses the word "ועשו",, “and they shall make”, whereas by the rest of the Mishkan and utensils the word "ועשית", “and you shall make”, is used. The second question is in Pasuk 11 where Hashem tells Moshe to cover the wood in gold twice. “You shall cover it with pure gold, from within and from without shall you cover it…” Why?

The Ramban brings Rabbi Yehuda Ben Shalom, who says that the plural form, “and they shall make” is used, so everyone should feel as they can have an attachment to the Torah. The Klei Yakar expands upon this by saying that not everyone is ready to sit and learn Torah all day, but in this way they can still have a part in Torah learning like Yissaschar and Zevulun. The reason for using wood as the basis of the Aron, is that each person is likened to a tree that can bear fruit.

As for the second question of covering the Aron in gold twice, we can learn two lessons. The first part of the pasuk is teaching us, that we as individuals need to purify ourselves both inside and out. Walk the walk and talk the talk. The second part of the pasuk is teaching us the following: Just like we each have a part in the Torah, it is incumbent upon each of us individually to cover the next person in gold. We need to build up their self esteem with positivity and love. Another thing to keep in mind is that in building the Mishkan and Beit Hamikdash, no hammers or iron tools were allowed to be used. (Rashi, Shemos chpt 20 verse 22.)

The Baal Haturim, says that the adolescents soul must be connected to something, and the possibilities are either to be connected to folly, which is said (Proverbs 22:15): "And folly is in the soul of the youth." Or they can bond with their parents as it says in Beraishit 44:30; ונפשו קשורה בנפשו "since his (Yaakov) soul is so bound up with his (Binyamin) soul". These are the possibilities. The positive substitute is a warm bond with the parents. Parents can be the vaccine and cure against all troubles.

The practice of discipline today only causes adolescents to hide and deceive, or to develop a sophisticated mask and develop evasion skills. But empowerment, which begins in an atmosphere of trust and love, is what actually causes education, promotion, and less need for enforcement and strictness when dealing with struggling adolescents.

May we all succeed in observing with a warm Jewish heart and finding the positive ways of influence to harness the adolescent in a warm and loving bond, which will make him seek his personal connection with God.

Written By: Rav Dan Tiomkin and Kol Haneshamot

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