Dear Dr. Yael,
Our high school son is a good learner, but he is not happy with his progress – he feels he is not reaching his potential. While we do not put any pressure on him, he is not happy. In fact, he has become very moody and is making himself crazy. He is a good student and even his rabbeim are telling him to let up on the pressure. He is generally a self-confident boy who used to have a lot of simchas hachaim. Do you have any suggestions for us?
It sounds like your son is in a transitional stage, where he is working to bring himself to a higher level, but he doesn’t feel like he is there yet, which can be very frustrating. Learning Torah is a very difficult task and goal setting for teenagers can be very daunting. They tend to have big dreams and big ideas, but do not always have the experience or knowledge of how to break their goals down into achievable steps. This pattern of behavior often results in disappointment or abandonment.
Goals need to be clearly defined and include a support plan. Additionally, structured and effective goal setting can be very beneficial to teenagers in many other ways. For instance, it can help them organize their time and tasks as well as boost motivation, self-efficacy, and sense of achievement.
In order to help him reach his goal in learning, he needs to identify what exactly he is looking to do. Does he want to spend more time learning? Does he want to become more proficient at what he already learns? Does he want to learn more substantial material? What will make him feel like he is reaching his potential?
Once he has a clear idea of what his goal actually is – and explains it to you – you can help him identify the skills he needs to accomplish it. For example, if he defines reaching his potential as being able to spend more time learning, then he would want to create a schedule for himself where he increases his learning by 5 minutes every week. With time, he will find it easier to continue increasing that amount. If becoming a better learner by improving his understanding of the Gemara is his goal, then he may want to create a schedule where he learns five new words a day, so that he gains a better handle on the vocabulary.
These are just examples of how to help him make his larger goal attainable, so he stops feeling unaccomplished and begins to feel successful. It is also very motivating to see results right away, so smaller goals will help him see a quicker progress.
Hatzlocha and please let us know how things go.