Parenting Podcast: Relationships, Respect and Relevance: The Synagogue as a Refuge for Teens

Parenting Podcastby Craig Parks

You can imagine my shock when several of my almost 20 ninth graders told me that they had to beg their parents to let them come to pre-confirmation. The parents were worried that their kids already had too much on their plate with school and the plethora of other activities programmed into their lives. So what is it that has kids begging their parents to sit in a classroom for an additional hour and a half once a week? Why do we see an increase from six children enrolled in school to three and four times in pre-confirmation?

In Man is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion, Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that the “craving for unity and coherence is the predominant feature of a mature mind,” and that unity “is a task, not a condition.” The Sh’ma reminds us of this task. If we want to experience oneness, we must take on the task of listening. I have had great success in engaging teens here at Temple Solel where I annually get well over 100 ninth through twelfth graders actively engaged in Jewish experiences. The wisdom of the Sh’ma guides me, and with a deeper listening I have found the “Three R’s” (relationship, respect, and relevance) have transformed our youth community. I have given many talks at Biennials over the years on the subject of creating a strong youth culture and eagerly look forward to doing so again in DC. I hope you’ll join me there where we can learn and share more ideas on engaging youth at the Education Summit.

Our teens deeply crave relationships, respect and relevance, and it is when we deliver all three that we see a real tikkun (repair) happen. They need enduring and trusting relationships not just with each other but with youth professionals who can set the tone for a caring environment. Teens are so used to shutting down because they are talked to and talked at more often than listened to in a way that reflects the dignity they deserve. When our teens can feel that they will be listened to free of our judgments, and when we reflect only love and care for their well-being, they open up their hearts, souls and minds. Teens want to talk about drugs, sex, peer pressure, parents, technology, academic pressures, stress and where they belong. In this week’s parenting podcast, Dr. Denise Pope and Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann of Challenge Success discuss how the synagogue can be a refuge from the over-programmed lives of our kids, not just another activity and source of stress. Teens want to know what wisdom and guidance Judaism can offer them in respect to their everyday lives. It is quite astounding what a simple anonymous index card, a prompt and a trusting environment can elicit from a group of teens. They are practically begging us for a caring community that will give them the “Three R’s” to help them thrive in what can typically be very difficult years. When we build relationships through listening and getting to know our teens, respect them and relate to their lives, we will increase the unity and coherence of their lives and ours and witness true tikkun.

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Craig Parks is the director of Youth Programming at Temple Solel in Cardiff by the Sea, CA

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One Response to “Parenting Podcast: Relationships, Respect and Relevance: The Synagogue as a Refuge for Teens”

  1. avatar

    I believe there is something to using a different
    vocabulary re: a child’s and family’s religious
    education experience. In the podcast the phrase
    “religious community” was used instead of Sunday
    School or Hebrew School.
    Using terms such as madrichim, workshops and
    tefilah instead of teachers, classes and services
    is a step in creating a different environment.
    The more challenging step would be actually creating
    an experience which would have purpose, passion and
    a place in our families’ lives.
    David Ressler
    Member, Temple
    Avodat Shalom,
    River Edge, NJ

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