Jewish Parents: How to Get Teens To Keep Engaged After 13

Did my social life peak in the 7th grade?   Sometimes I look at the blindingly blank weekend days in my Treo calendar and reminisce.  There was a time, I had one, sometimes two or three parties every weekend, I had more cocktail dresses than I could count, a constant excuse to buy new heels and many, many opportunities to meet and flirt with cute new Jewish ‘men’.  I was 13, and felt like Ivanka Trump must have when she discovered she had lots of money and nothing to do.

Then, it all ended, now at 22, I plan and look forward to Jewish Federation Social events more than I would my own birthday.  When I sauntered into my 8th grade Sunday School class with my mind set on a new eggplant colored halter dress, I realized my weekends would soon be as empty as Britney Spear’s concert schedule after she got pregnant.  All of my friends had un-enrolled under the excuses of weekend track meets and college prep sessions.  I shamelessly called friends, semi-pals I had played Limbo with at the Shutters Ballroom during a luau themed Bar Mitzvah and even a guy who I danced with just because his great-aunt asked me for him.  Unfortunately, they gave me the same reasons I hear teens I mentor give me when I talk to them about leaving temple: the “I-need-the-sleep” “My-parents-don’t-want-to-drive-me” “I-made-it-through-my-Bat-Mitzvah-now-I-am-done” excuses.

At this devastating juncture I had two thoughts.  One, “these people are all lame-O” (with a capital L—it was the 90’s what can I say) and two, “Should I quit too?”  I got out my white board and color coded pens and made a pro-con list (even then I was sickeningly organized).  Because of the reasons de-lineated below, I decided to stay…and it was so worth it.

I decided to re-list my reasons because I think that teens grappling to trade in sleep for the Torah might still be convinced. Parents might also use this ‘teen-goal-oriented’ logic as new and fresh bartering tools to keep kids going to Temple.

1) “I only promised my parents I would stay until my Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and now I am done.”

Hello! You are 13, a full 5 more years ’til freedom rings in the halls of college and fraternities will let you in to drink their root beer. The teen years are going to get rough.  You are going to want to stay out late, get a car, borrow your dad’s to take out a hot girl and get more allowance. I don’t know about you, but I cannot think of a better way to please my parents than voluntarily going to strengthen my relationship with God and our ancestors at Synagogue.

A conversation like this might work wonders on your curfew time:

“Mom, Dad, I know I only promised you that I would stay at Sunday School until I got Bar/Bat Mitzvahed, but I was really thinking and would like to try going this year to see if I can make more Jewish friends and maybe even learn something beyond the aleph bet, I know that this will be important to you as well, and want to show you that I am taking your wishes for me into consideration.”    Can you say Bagels-and-loxs-a-new-car-when-I-turn-16-rocks?  This earns major latke points, I can hear car keys jingling now.

2) “Sunday School is so boring.”

Okay, so yes, reviewing the sedar plate and writing Hebrew letters on the blackboard is not that fun, but I swear, it does get better.  First of all, Sunday school teachers know that after your Bar/Bat Mitzvah teens are usually coming on their own free will and might leave at any point (and if you leave, so do their salaries).  Therefore they are going to try to make it more interesting.  I distinctly remember my teachers letting us have awesome debates about what Judaism says about piercing, tattoos and Jewish Dating.  The ‘curriculum’ gets way better and they treat you like you are choosing to be there. (plus you can bring up these fascinating topics at the dinner table with parents…2 latke points for you.)

Second, how could Sunday school be boring when you can flirt?  Okay, I am just kidding, but seriously there are lots of other teen boys/girls there and when it comes time for Prom, Semi-formals and dances, you will have a whole new pool of people to ask!  Trust me, I know that in seventh grade the boys are usually 5’2, pimply, and scrawny and that girls are usually just one big, moving, giggling, hair-flipping mass of cooties, but they do get better looking.

Girls learn to go to the bathroom by themselves, discover tweezers, and how to carry on a normal conversation without two friends on either arm and boys, well boys eventually go through puberty—and you can be right there when they do!  Temple is a way better place to meet people because it is not as academic as school, and way more laid back.

3) “I want to go out on Saturday with my friends, Sunday school is way too early.”

You will have more friends if you go to Sunday School, talk about being the cool kid who has friends outside of school and more people to hang-out with.

4) More Pro’s

  • Cool for-Jews-only holiday parties with jelly donuts, gelt and bagels.
  • More inspirational stories for your college applications.
  • Youth Group President? Synagogue Play Lead Role? Latke Points with the Grandparents and the resume.

Overall, my Sunday School experience was a great one, I had moments of almost-quitting, but I got a lot out of my days at Wilshire Blvd Temple with Richard Weintraub (the best teacher ever) and the members of my Sunday School Class who stayed for the long haul (my Prom date, first crush and High School best-friend included).

Vanessa writes many articles for her Jewish readers. Please check out the Young and Jewish Series to see her articles. To see her speaking engagements, workshops and groups for Jewish Parents around the world, please contact her manager at manager@radicalincorporated.com. Coming soon: How to build your teen’s Jewish Identity, How to Encourage Hebrew School Without Complaint and What to Do When Your Teen Is Dating A Non-Jew.

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