After returning from a year of studying in seminary in Eretz Yisrael, Feigi was ready to join the “real world.” Seminary had been a wonderful, spiritually uplifting experience, but now it was time to settle down, find a job, and think about what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. Feigi started job hunting. She had excellent credentials and was perfectly qualified to start a career in any of a variety of fields. Yet despite her intelligence and willingness to work, she was unable to focus on a clear sense of direction. She felt uneasy in the “real world,” with its unique pressures and expectations. Feige was obviously bright and personable. Yet she was lacking some of the basic life skills she would need to cope with unfamiliar social situations.
Feigi is not alone. Like many other young adults who are just beginning to enter the “real world,” she is at a loss. The dramatic transition from the protective cocoon of Bais Yaakov schools to independence can be overwhelming. Feigi and others like her may have underlying self-esteem issues. They may be overly dependent. Or they may simply be fearful of the unknown. Either way, chances are good that they can be helped. It’s never too late to begin coaching life skills and training our young people to meet the challenges that may come their way.
An extensive study conducted by the World Health Organization cites several aspects of behavior crucial for young people to master in order to face adult life. Decision-making and problem solving are of the most important of these is. As strange as it may seem, members of this coming-of-age generation are ill equipped to deal with this basic coping skill. After all, their well-meaning parents (and teachers/rebbeim) have been guiding them and making decisions for them all of their lives. It’s wonderful to be so loved, cared for and protected during childhood and adolescence. The problem is that when it’s time to cut the apron strings, some of our young adults are simply at a loss. It has nothing to do with how bright, intelligent or popular they have been until now. At this point, they’re being confronted with a new set of rules and for many, navigating these choppy seas can be confusing and frightening.
According to the WHO study, creative thinking is another coping skill that is essential for success in life. “Creative thinking,” it states, “enables youngsters to explore the available alternatives and various consequences of their actions and non-actions. Creative thinking helps them to respond adaptively and with flexibility to the evolving circumstances of their daily lives.” In other words, when you’re in a jam or when life throws you a curve ball, creative thinking is the essential tool you need to solve the problem and overcome the crisis.
Most important of all, according to the study, is effective communication. People who can successfully convey their feelings both verbally and non-verbally, have an excellent chance of fostering good relationships with others. When young people are trained to communicate properly, they are able to articulate their opinions, their desires, their needs, and their feelings. These skills are, of course, important in developing friendships as well as in the workplace. When it comes to marriage, they are absolutely essential.
A good therapist or social skills coach can make a dramatic difference in the lives of young people. They can be empowered to achieve the skills outlined above as well as other valuable life skills. They can be trained to recognize the differences between passive, aggressive and assertive behavior. They can learn the practical applications of maintaining eye contact, giving appropriate responses, and recognizing various verbal and non-verbal communication cues. They can practice essential behaviors such as introducing one’s self to others, keeping one’s conversation interesting, and thanking others whenever appropriate.
To some of us, this may all seem elementary. We picked up these skills as we were growing up. And if there are those who didn’t, then isn’t it possible that they missed the boat? I get this question from worried parents all the time. Is my child destined to live like this forever? The answer is no. With proper guidance and regular sessions, these valuable skills can certainly be learned and internalized. I’ve seen tremendous improvement in so many of my young adult clients.
Like Feigi, a significant number of young adults lack a certain self-awareness. They are not in touch with their strengths and weaknesses, with their character and personality, with their likes and dislikes. Development of self-awareness makes a big difference in the life of a young person, especially when coping with the challenges of the shidduch world. If you know where you’re coming from, you’ll be better able to pinpoint your needs and expectations from a spouse. How many of our young men and women are having difficulties with dating simply because they haven’t a clue of who they really are?
The transition from adolescence to adulthood is not an easy process, even though some of our teens do seem to have it easier than others. If someone you know seems to be “stuck” or is having a hard time making that leap there’s nothing wrong with taking them for help. We’re all so eager to send our school age children to therapists and counselors in order to help them achieve their personal best. Why aren’t we just as eager to send them when they’re about to embark on the journey that will shape the rest of their lives?
Don’t let your daughter or son struggle through this stage of life needlessly. Stay on top of the situation and recognize the signals of a young person reaching out for help. Suggest to your child that it might be a good idea to schedule a meeting or a session with someone who can help them cope with the challenges of adulthood and who will give them the tools to acquire essential skills that will accompany them throughout their adult life. Chances are that they will readily agree and will be relieved to know that somebody out there can actually help.
As for Feigi, she has certainly come a long way. After a series of sessions, it was easy to see a marked improvement in her behavior and social skills. Her self-confidence and self-esteem grew, her thinking became more focused, and she was better able to communicate her emotions and feelings to others. Best of all, Feigi is really beginning to get to know herself. She understands who she is and is better equipped than ever to begin searching for her life’s partner.
Can we really teach “social skills”? Absolutely. Does it make a difference? It certainly does. It’s a big world out there and nobody knows what challenges or obstacles tomorrow may bring. But one thing’s for sure. Those who have the tools to cope with life have a better chance at achieving success and happiness in all their endeavors. Just ask Feigi.Rifka Schonfeld