By Micol Zimmerman Burkeman
As I scroll through my daily social media feeds, newsletters and facebook groups, something strikes me: there are an overwhelming amount of events geared towards young families. Families with young children, of which I am a proud (and exhausted) member, have a never-ending list of opportunities for engagement and connection, for learning and support. While I am fortunate to be a member of this particular demographic, in my professional life I am a part of another group as well, and it is in this capacity that I am confronted with a darker realization. As a practitioner and consultant in Jewish teen engagement, I am struck and disturbed by the dearth of engagement and support opportunities for parents of teens and tweens.
For years, a mentor and teacher of mine, Dr. Betsy Stone, would warn us of how underserved and isolated this group of parents was. Intellectually I understood. However, it wasn’t until I was a parent of young children and saw the disparity of options that I could truly grasp the significance of this problem.
As parents of young children, our need for support is obvious. We are sleep-deprived, clueless and suddenly entrusted with this tiny life, an epic task for which we are ill-prepared. So we join parent groups and play groups. We attend classes and solicit advice from veteran parents. The options are plentiful and the support ever-present. Then our children grow up, and the problems we are faced with are less cute, less of a punchline and less comfortable to talk with other parents: issues of bullying, mental health, stress and anxiety, low self-esteem and concerns about physical harm to name a mere few. Our concern for our children is no less real and amplified, but our spaces for discussing them plummet, our opportunities to connect all but disappear and the stigma we attach to these issues grows exponentially. The parenting dilemmas that once felt so natural to discuss become suddenly taboo, filled with undeserving shame and accompanied by helplessness, guilt, and worst of all, silence.
Parents of teens and tweens are the most underserved group of parents and it makes literally no sense. According to a study by MTV in 2013 of teens aged 13-17, 68% of respondents agreed that their parent was like a best friend to them. Not just a friend, but a best friend. And this was almost seven years ago. The phenomenon has only continued. Parents and their children are closer than ever. All of which raises the ultimate question for anyone working with teens: why do we keep trying to do this by ourselves?
In the Jewish teen engagement world, many educators and teen practitioners aspire to equip their students with the values and tools to help them thrive and live lives filled with meaning and impact. We also recognize the growing mental health issues affecting today’s youth and are working from all angles to help address them with kindness, compassion, community and resilience-building. Well, all angles but one. With most of us limited to only a few hours a week with our teens, we remain incredulously committed to ignoring our most obvious partner: their parents.
Parents of tweens and teens need our help and our support – and we need theirs. At Temple Shir Tikva in Wayland, MA, where I serve as a teacher, a member of the education redesign committee, and as a proud congregant and parent, we have taken the first steps to what we believe can be a rich, supportive and trusting partnership. Last spring, we met a group of teen parents over food and drinks and did something far too rare with parents of teens: we listened. We listened to them share what they were looking for, challenges they’re facing, what they value and what they’re missing. We gathered this data and are now taking our first step in our initiative to engage, support and partner with parents of teens and tweens.
On April 1st, in partnership with Gateways and Jewish Teen Initiative of Greater Boston, Temple Shir Tikva will host a night of learning and connecting with Dr. Deborah Gilboa, commonly known as Dr. G. Dr. G is an internationally respected parenting and youth development expert, author, physician, media personality and founder of AskDoctorG.com. Dr. G will present on raising resilient kids and share why resilience is a critical skill that kids must develop in order to thrive in today’s world and how parents can help them build it. This will be the first of many opportunities for parents to learn, connect and support each other, and most importantly, to be supported. For information on the event, or to register, click here: www.shirtikva.org/drg.
We will also be hosting a related workshop for Boston-area educators on educating for resilience. For more information on that event, or to register, click here: https://bit.ly/3avK5C3
If you are interested in doing similar parent engagement and support work in your community, or have successes of your own to share, please contact us at [email protected]. We would love to form a community of practice with other organizations who share these goals.
Let’s stop trying to do alone what we can do so much better together.
Micol Zimmerman Burkeman, MAJE, has worked to elevate and reimagine Jewish education and teen engagement for the last 15 years. As a consultant, coach and designer and facilitator of professional development, she also works with educators, clergy and Jewish communal professionals to help them increase their impact and maximize their potential. She currently serves as Recruitment and Leadership Development Associate at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
First published on JewishBoston.com; reprinted with permission.