Parenting Podcast – Redefining Success for Teens: We Need a Movement

Parenting Podcast by Dana Sheanin

Suddenly everywhere I go; people are talking about the challenges of parenting. In today’s high stress, high stakes, race-to-the-top world, who do I encourage my child to be?  How do I counter the messages he or she is getting from school, their peers and the media about what is important? What core values does our family want to live by? My rabbi spoke about this on Rosh Hashanah, the New York Times recently featured a story bemoaning the rise of the “Super People” (10/1/2011), my friends are reading Wendy Mogel’s new book The Blessing of B Minus, and last month Challenge Success sold out their annual conference on the topic at Stanford. Could it be that a movement is finally developing to support parents? In spite of the Jewish community’s abiding commitment to learning and advancement, might this movement offer parents permission to give equal weight to Judaism’s counter-cultural message about what “success” entails?

Our tradition provides countless rich commentaries on what it means to be a good person — and none of them have to do with what Challenge Success founder Dr. Denise Pope calls “external [measures of success]: grades and test scores and where you go to college.” Pirkei Avot 2:9 lists five possible definitions of success: ayin tovah (generosity), chaver tov (being a good friend), shachen tov (being a good neighbor), ro’eh et hanolad (insight) and lev tov (empathy). As a parent and an educator, I would prize these five over admission to an Ivy League college any day.

I’m worried that our children are not hearing these messages, but I also believe that our synagogues are the best possible place to begin the conversation. You can get yourselves and your friends thinking about this by listening to Dr. Pope and Rabbi Karlin-Neumann of Challenge Success in this week’s Jewish Parenting Podcast. How does your congregation encourage dialogue among parents about parenting through a Jewish lens? What messages are your teens hearing at temple about what really matters? What can you do yourself to get your friends talking about this? Our children live by our example. What will we teach them to value?

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Dana Sheanin, MSW, MAJCS is a youth specialist who has worked with adolescents in the Reform Movement for seven years. She is also a parent and chair of the Education Committee at Temple Sinai in Oakland, California.

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