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October 14, 2015 / 1 Heshvan, 5776
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Responding To Problems With Prayer, School, Secular Music *


The principles of Relationship Theory (where the greater the relationship, the greater the ability parents have to connect to their teenager) can help address some of the key issues facing teenagers today including: problems concentrating during prayers, difficulty in school, listening to secular music, smoking, rude behavior and alcohol and drug abuse.

It is important to note, however, that the suggested solutions do not offer black and white answers for these problems; rather, they provide an overall strategy for parenting that focuses on some of the inner issues that often hide below the surface and may be the underlying cause of a teenager’s at-risk behavior.


Problems with Prayer

Scenario: Your teenager doesn’t like to pray and won’t go to synagogue.

Possible inner issues: Control, meaning, learning disabilities, individuality

Difficulty in prayer may be rooted in several underlying issues. One common cause is that praying in synagogue can become an issue of control, especially when teenagers feel forced to go pray with their parents and siblings. Prayer can be viewed by teenagers as another obligation or chore they have to perform to make their parents happy.

When teenagers find it difficult to pray, it may also point to an underlying attention disorder. Some teenagers simply have trouble concentrating for long periods and may say, “I hate shul.” or “It’s boring!” What they really mean is “I can’t sit for a long time” or “I’m crawling out of my skin because I don’t like being in group settings for a long time.”

Some teenagers stop praying because they don’t find prayer meaningful. And this may not be their fault. Unfortunately our schools often neglect to teach the “whys” of prayer. Many teenagers have grown up learning only about the obligations of communal prayer and have not developed an appreciation for the beauty, structure and meaning behind the words.

As alternatives to confronting teenagers on the issue of prayer, possible relationship-based strategies include:

· Having your teenager assessed for attention difficulties. · Studying with your teenager the meaning and symbolism behind prayer. · Empowering your teenager by offering him or her choices about where and when to pray. For instance, a different minyan may be more enjoyable. · Spending quality time alone with your teenager instead of relating to one another only during synagogue services and at family meals.


Difficulty In School

Scenario: A teenager is having trouble in school and is failing in one or more subjects.

Possible inner issues: Learning disabilities, control, individuality.

Few challenges are as frustrating and difficult to deal with as a teenager who is having trouble in school. Often parents become agitated when they receive a disheartening report card or a call from their teenager’s principal to discuss the teen’s behavior. The most important strategy parents can try to adopt in this situation is to resist the temptation to blame teachers, the school or their teenager but rather seek out the cause of their teenager’s difficulties in learning.

One possible cause for failure in school is an undetected learning disability. Teenagers who struggle with learning are especially vulnerable to feelings of depression and despair. Many experience the embarrassment, confusion and humiliation that go hand in hand with falling behind their peers in school. Behavioral and adjustment difficulties – from isolation or withdrawal to clowning or acting out – can mask less visible signs of learning difficulties. The following signs may also be clues that an individual is experiencing difficulties with learning:

· Having difficulty paying attention · Hiding, losing or avoiding schoolwork or homework · Being especially sensitive to criticism, mistakes or poor grades · Giving up easily or appearing poorly motivated · Showing anger and frustration when engaged in schoolwork, homework or similar settings · Having attendance problems or developing school-induced sickness · Avoiding schoolwork through over involvement in other activities

Parents, however, can become catalysts for change when they begin to address the key issues that are affecting their teenager’s performance. Relationship-based strategies include:

· Having your teenager evaluated for possible learning disabilities · Hiring tutors to supplement your teenager’s learning · Highlighting your teenager’s positive qualities · Working with your teenager’s teachers to utilize his or her unique interests and abilities · Empowering your teenager with healthy levels of control


Listening To Secular Music

Scenario: Your teenager likes listening to popular music on an mp3 player.

Possible inner issues: Control, individuality, lack of satisfying relationships.

Music is one of the most inspirational forms of fine art. In its rhythm, melody and its variety of sounds, music transmits many exciting feelings and sensations. Its power is in its ability to penetrate straight into a person’s soul and to manipulate a person’s feelings. Depending on its content, music can evoke the most elevated and noble feelings or produce quite the opposite by arousing self-destructive or impulsive feelings.

Since music provides a high level of enjoyment, changing a person’s listening habits is a significant challenge for parents who prefer their teenagers to listen exclusively to Jewish music. It’s important for these parents not to directly confront their teenagers on this issue. Rather, the first step is to understand why their teenagers choose to listen to secular music and then to address their inner needs.

Possible issues behind religious teenagers listening to secular music include a desire to control and a need to express their individuality. The underlying message is that they can “listen to whatever they want, whenever they want it.” Also many teenagers use music to escape from painful family relationships and they tend to turn the volume up to overwhelming levels to drown out feelings of anger, depression and resentment.

Entering into an area as private as musical taste is difficult but it is possible to influence what teenagers listen to. Possible relationship-based strategies include:

· Improving your relationship with your teenager and increasing the number of shared pleasurable experiences together. Going to Jewish concerts together is a great place to start.

· Encouraging your teenager’s talents in music, art, or athletics and helping your teen find other ways to express his or her individuality · Empowering your teenager with healthy levels of control · Giving your teenager a monthly allowance for buying Jewish music at a local Judaica store · Becoming conversant in the latest trends in Jewish music and talking to your teenager about popular CDs

*This is part 19 in a series of articles dealing with At Risk Behavior in Teens.

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is the Executive Director of Shalom Task Force. He is the author of “At Risk – Never Beyond Reach” and “First Aid for Jewish Marriages.” To order a copy, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com. For an appointment call 646-428-4723 or email rabbischonbuch@yahoo.com.

About the Author: Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He is an expert in marriage counseling, pre-marital education, treating Anxiety and Depression, and helping teens in crisis with offices in Brooklyn. To watch his free videos on marriage and parenting and for appointments visit: www.JewishMarriageSupport.com, email rabbischonbuch@yahoo.com or call 646-428-4723.

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