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I’m now on my second official ‘teen’, which doesn’t make me the world’s expert on teens, but is giving me a lot of useful insights that I thought other people could also benefit from.

The single biggest problem I notice with teens – starting at 13/14 – is that when they acquire ‘maturity’, i.e. they get to the age where they are required to keep mitzvahs in their own right – their yetzer hara pulls a huge trick on them, and this is it:

It convinces them that they don’t have a yetzer hara.

So every time they are overwhelmed with life, depressed, annoying, selfish, thoughtless, confused, irritating, aggressive, emotional etc etc etc – their yetzer is telling them over and over again that THIS IS THE REAL YOU!!!!

This annoying, somewhat icky person IS THE REAL YOU!!!

And if the parents don’t understand what is really going on with their teens, they can unwittingly play right into the yetzer’s hand by reinforcing the message that this lazy, selfish, irritating slob is THE REAL THEM!!!

But really?

Our teens are SO good.

They are so considerate, thoughtful, caring, sensitive and deep. Just modern life overwhelms them so quickly, and then their yetzer piles in with all its poisonous ‘THIS IS THE REAL YOU!!!’ stuff, and unless the parents are there to tell them otherwise, they completely believe it.

From my own experience, the single biggest kindness you can do for your teenager is to keep re-inforcing – to them – that the real them is ONLY good.

Yes, that person who keeps leaving plates full of mouldy food in their bed (!); that person who keeps losing their Rav Kav every single week, causing a family-wide panic at 6am when they have to get the bus to school; that person who out of no-where starts ranting at you that they got all your ugly / fat / hairy genes and it’s ruining their life; that person who routinely forgets that you get up much earlier than they do, most days, and therefore need to get to bed before 2am; that person who keeps stealing your deodorant – and even your toothbrush – without telling you –

THAT PERSON IS ONLY GOOD!!!!

The more you keep reminding yourself, and your teen, of this, the better it will be for everyone.

I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but now that I’m on to my second teenager, I can see that this really is the best piece of advice a parent could have, for dealing with their teens. Because we have to understand that every time we criticise them – instead of just focusing on unacceptable behaviour, and  making it clear that this bad behaviour is simply coming from their yetzers, and NOT THE REAL THEM – we are simply reinforcing all their huge feelings that they aren’t good enough, kind enough, nice enough, clever enough etc etc etc.

And if that is programmed in too much in the teenage years, it can literally take a lifetime to overcome (with an awful amount of siyatta d’shmiya).

I get a lot of miserable teens passing through my house.

So many of my kids’ peers have really awful relationships with their parents, because the parents keep piling on guilt trips, power plays, punishments and ultimatums to try and maintain the upper hand in the relationship.

It’s so sad, because I see the gap growing between these kids and their parents, and I know where that leads: to dysfunctional families, unhappy people, never-ending tension and strife, all sorts of mental health challenges and other issues, including kids going off the derech.

So do your kid – and yourself – a huge favour, and ONLY SEE THE GOOD.

I can’t do this all the time, it’s true. There are time when I’ve completely snapped at my teens and said things I really regretted. But each time that happened, I’ve apologised profusely, and I’ve re-stated my true position, i.e. you, kid, are only good, and I’m also only good.

But man, are your yetzers on the wild side.

In some ways, I’m very lucky:

My oldest daughter has been in difficult ‘teenager’ mode since the day she was born, so I’m actually used to being challenged, argued with, and forced to look at that side of myself I’d rather just ignore.

The whole thing with teenagers, and with kids generally, is that, as Rav Arush explains, they are just coming to teach us something about ourselves. The sooner we work that out, the easier they are to deal with.

Their obvious ‘bad’ is just my secret ‘bad’, and once I realise that, (and I’ve got over my urge to run away from my family), some sort of solution to the problem usually starts to present itself.

So like I was saying, this particular kid is extremely strong-willed, and extremely difficult to control, in any way, shape or form (as well as being very sweet, and a genuinely good, kind, loving person.) Now, I also have those tendencies, but I’ve always seen them as positive: I’m very principled, determined and hard to corrupt. It’s quite a shocker to realise that maybe, at least occasionally, I might also be quite annoying and even (gasp!) plain wrong about things.

Anyway, my daughter is a huge neshama, and I know for sure she’s going to set the world alight at some point, hopefully in a good way.

But in the meantime, I’m having one ‘control’ argument after another, that’s driving me bonkers.

Let’s be clear that I really do know that I’m not in control of anything, and that God is running the world. At the same time, I keep coming up against my daughter’s yetzer hara, that’s insisting on keeping her out with friends until all hours; insisting on going to Netanya for Shabbat to spend time with people I’ve never even spoken to, let alone met or know anything about; insisting that she doesn’t want to come on holiday with us, or insisting that limiting her phone time to only 18 hours a day is completely unreasonable.

On the one hand, I’m trying to nullify my ego and control-freak nature as much as possible, and on the other, she’s only 14 and is occasionally plain wrong about things.

But it’s taking me hours of prayer to work out if I’m arguing ‘my side’ of things for her, or for me. If it’s ultimately for her – then I can stick to my guns and know it’s OK. If it’s for me – then I know it’s not going to end well, and I’m risking alienating her, God forbid.

It’s such a narrow bridge, and I frequently have no idea of where it’s actually taking me.

At its root, I’m struggling with two main issues:

1) To keep seeing the abundant good in my teenager, and to not believe the yetzer’s propaganda that she’s just doing things to be awkward or rebellious.

2) And, to remember that neither she, nor I, are really in control. God’s running the show, God’s setting up all the tests, God’s making me stubborn like a mule, and making her stubborn like a mule.

 

One of us has to break the deadlock by acting like a grown-up, and as I’m 41, that job seems to be falling to me.

But it’s so flipping hard! It’s so hard to let go of some of my deepest-held principles in order to send my daughter the clear message that SHE is what’s important here. More important than what I want; more important than keeping her elbows covered in 40 degree heat; more important than my daydreams of what she should be, and say, and look like and believe.

I want her to be able to serve God as her, which means letting her discover who that ‘her’ really is.

I was hoping that ‘her’ would like to plait her hair back, wear blue shirts and black loafers, and be enamoured with davening.

But just like that could never work for me, that’s not working for her, either. She has wild hair, a huge personality and a penchant for wearing the biggest earrings I’ve ever seen in my life.

Sigh.

Until I realise, I’m not in control here, and that’s the way God made her.

For His own very good reasons. For the best. Because she’s got her own unique job to do in the world, and blue button-downs simply don’t figure in there.

And who am I to question God?

But Shabbat in Netanya is still out of the question.

 

We’re not going to get Geula with big speeches, or by sending out big, preachy emails to 4 million people telling them to dress more tznius ASAP, or else.

We going to get redeemed by treating other people with more love and consideration, and by recognising the profound truth that there is one thing ‘wrong’ with the world, currently, and that’s us, ourselves.

God showed me that very clearly a couple of days’ ago, when I ended up having a show-down on holiday with one of my teenagers.

In fairness to her, she really didn’t want to come in the first place, and I persuaded her to. Also, our air-conditioning was broken, because the car is nearly as old as our aliya, and we moved to Israel 10 years’ ago, and we were going camping, which meant no air-conditioning on arrival, either.

And lastly, we tried a shortcut through Nazareth that ended up adding an hour to our trip in the middle of a sweltering hot July heatwave day.

So we get to the camping ground, and the next thing I know is that my daughter’s in ‘short t-shirt’ sleeves and has hitched her skirt to above-knee level, to go and paddle in the stream running through the campground.

I went ballistic.

I mean, I’m a FRUM Jew, and frum Jews don’t do things like remove layers of clothes just because they’re about to pass out from heat exhaustion…

Long story short, we got into a huge row, and all these horrible words and thoughts started to bubble up in my head, and some of them even escaped out into the open.

I felt terrible. My daughter felt terrible. My husband and other kid felt terrible.

My husband suggested that we go into town, and find somewhere with air-conditioning to calm down a bit, and eat something. My daughter refused to come. While my husband was trying to change her mind, I felt another bitter volcano of angry resentment well up and rushed off to the car, before I made a bad situation even worse.

While there, I asked God for some serious help. “God, Rebbe Nachman, someone, I’m treating my daughter horribly. Please help me! Help me to see past the short sleeves, and reach out to her!” Because you know what, I used to wear far less clothes than that at her age, and she’s basically a really good kid, and not some evil baddy out to destroy all the kedusha in my home.

Suddenly, my anger started to evaporate, and I really, really just wanted to be back on the same page as my kid, even if that meant letting go of my pious standards and expectations.

My husband watched me rush out of the car, and got a bit worried I was about to do something rash. Who knows, maybe I did.

I apologised to my still hurt and misunderstood kid.

I told her I wanted her to come with us, even with her short sleeves, because SHE was what was important here, and I loved her and accepted her regardless.

She could come with short sleeves, and with her above-knee skirt, and I’d try very hard to ignore them. I’d also buy her whatever (tznius) clothes she wanted in bulk quantities, if she’d let us patch things up, and just come.

So she came.

And after I spent 500 nis (around $150) buying her some really nice stuff that was still a serious bargain, I then spent the rest of the afternoon pondering what God really wanted.

For sure, God wants my daughter to dress modestly.

For sure, He also wants me to have a good relationship with her, and to keep seeing the good and treating her compassionately, too.

I put myself in her shoes for a few minutes, and I could see that at that age, I probably would have reacted exactly the same way, if not even worse. And now look at me 😉

Point is, God has a lot of patience for our young people, and a lot of love for them. And as Rav Natan wrote, when something is true, it brings you closer to God, and it doesn’t push you further away.

Continuing to make a point about her sleeves would have only pushed my daughter away, long-term. Maybe I would win the tznius battle (and that’s a big maybe), but for sure, I’d lose the tznius war.

She’d be another kid that got a bit older, and ditched the skirts completely in favour of jeans as soon as she could actually do what she wanted. I don’t want that. I want her to serve God happily from choice, which means I need to give her some space now.

Afterwards, my husband told me that he thought my making peace with my daughter had done more to bring geula forward than anything else I’m up to at the moment.

If the reward is commensurate with the effort and the difficulty, then I think he might be right.