It can be a daunting process sending teens off for their first year of study in Eretz Yisroel. For most teens, this will be their first complete year away from the comfort of home and the guidance of their parents. As if that isn’t enough, they’ll be about a full day’s travel away from home.
It’s common for parents to be worried about letting go, wondering if they’ve done a good enough job teaching their teens to make healthy choices on their own. After all, peer pressure mixed with a new sense of freedom from parental rules can challenge the best of adolescents. Luckily, this year abroad can also be one of the most productive years for your budding adult child as well.
A University of Cincinnati study about teens and productivity while living by themselves was completed by Joel Milgram, a professor of education at the University of Cincinnati and Boston psychologist Nancy Britton. A number of participants reported that their grades went up while living on their own during high school. The research studied the differences among teens being forced to live on their own, choosing to live on their own and having a mutual agreement with their parents to live on their own.
Almost eighty percent of the teens in the study had their grades increase or stay the same while living on their own. The participants said they focused and preformed better without their parents around – this sense of freedom helped them get better grades in school.
So how does one prepare their children in making the right decisions while living on their own and work to better their education and develop their character? Open communication in preparation of the year. I’ve always appreciated when my parents were able to make me feel in charge of my life, with the understanding that with that autonomy came serious responsibility. If you think your teen already knows what is expected and what will happen if they don’t live up to your expectation, guess again.
Teenagers love and need goals, and parents are there to help us develop and work toward them. Have a planned time to hear each other out; I refer to it as the “goal meeting.” Use this time to show your teen two distinct roads ahead – the one where they succeed and the one where they do not. We young adults need our parents to explain how our lives change forever based on our decisions. How will the house we live in, the person we marry, the job we get be different depending on how we perform in yeshiva and all higher education?
Next, ask your teen what he or she would like to get out of the year abroad. See if everyone’s ideas are generally the same and help your teen create realistic goals. You need to make sure your suggestions are realistic as well. When your teen feels your trust, he will “own” his responsibility to make it a great year. In the same meeting, explain that it is your job as parents to step in if things do not work according to the plan.
I explain to teens that it’s like a real estate owner/tenant relationship. One can rent an apartment and claim semi-ownership of the property, but if this person seriously damages the property, he can be evicted. Parents must make it clear that they have the ability and responsibility to step into the situation if the teen is handling it poorly.
Now your teen is ready to take on the next year, feeling in control, while knowing his parents are there to support, and if need be, take charge. Also, make it clear to your teen that if he feels he isn’t making the best decisions, you’ll appreciate his reaching out to you for help. Make sure he understands it is not a “failure” if he finds himself lost in this process.
Ideally, write down the conclusions of this meeting so there is little confusion about expectations. Here are some subjects to cover in addition to the learning goals:
Finances: What’s the budget? How will money be received and spent? Make sure your teen knows that the extra $100 dollars is to create a tab at the grocery store, not to go out to dinner several times in one week.