Communicating with adolescents (Part 2 of Adolescents and Peer Pressure)

I recently farewelled 17 Year 10 students participating in the Na’aleh program in Jerusalem. They will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in Jewish learning for two weeks before heading off to Poland to meet the rest of the IST group.

Just before departing, I noticed there were parents telling their children to make the most of every experience, others were explaining how to store their passports and wallets while travelling and I noticed one parent still trying to fit two jumpers, a jacket and a sandwich into what looked like a very full backpack.

Observing the students and parents in the few minutes before departure made me reflect on the important role parents have in teaching, disciplining and communicating effectively with their children and the challenges involved in doing so.

Discipline through a Jewish lens

A brief look at Jewish sources provides us with some ethical and moral guidelines which emphasise that disciplinary measures should always convey that the parent or teacher has the child’s welfare and wellbeing in mind. There are numerous sources that insist that discipline must be accompanied by expressions of warmth and love. The Talmud (Sotah 47a) tells us, “Discipline him/her with the left hand and draw him/her closer with the right hand”.

This same idea is repeated in Sefer Mishle (Book of Proverbs 3:12) which reminds us that if we must correct our children’s behaviour, we should also invest the time to encourage them when they do, or make an effort to do, the right thing.

The crucial role of disciplining children is brought to light in the story of King David and his son Avshallom, who tries desperately to dethrone his father and overthrow the kingdom. Commentaries suggest that the reason for Avshallom’s behaviour is because, as a young boy, David did not discipline him and allowed him to get away with immoral conduct. Consequently, as an older man, Avshallom causes David, “severe trouble” (Exodus Rabbah 1:1).

From a Torah perspective, when applied properly, discipline benefits both the parent and the child. Parents will delight in their children, and children will grow to be wise and respectful. King Solomon says it best: “Discipline your child and they will give you peace and be a pleasure upon your soul.”

Communication Strategies

Dr Michael Carr-Greg, one of Australia’s leading psychologists and parenting specialists, states that 75 percent of psychological problems start before the age of 25, making parental guidance and influence critically important to our children’s futures. More importantly, he believes that too many parents dismiss adolescents’ poor behaviour as teenagers simply “being teens,” failing to intervene when their children begin to misbehave.

The challenge of disciplining children and students is closely related to effective communication. While we, as adults, may think we are effective communicators, very often what we say is not what they hear. Dr Carr-Gregg provides some useful and practical communication strategies:

  • Listen to and focus on your child, make eye contact and communicate with sincerity.
  • Give feedback. The structure of an adolescent brain uses the amygdala (set of neurons) which thrives on feedback. Giving feedback shows children that they have been heard and allows them to clarify what they are saying or doing in their own minds.
  • Young people are looking for positive reinforcement, give it where you can.
  • Keep calm.
  • Set limits and boundaries for your child, not with confrontation or by providing an ultimatum. Compromise and negotiate, but always know where to draw the line.
  • Don’t constantly remind your child of their past mistakes.

We are very fortunate to have Dr Carr-Gregg addressing Moriah College students, parents and alumni in May 2019. Look out for further details next year.

Part of our responsibility as parents or teachers is to ensure we communicate effectively, not only in conversation with our children but by our personal example. The Talmud (Sukkah 56b) states; “What the child says out in the street comes from his mother or father,” explaining that it is incumbent upon each of us to take responsibility for our own behaviour in influencing the next generation.

Whilst child rearing is a constant challenge and an art, we at Moriah College are fortunate to have a palette coloured by Jewish wisdom and modern thought with which to develop happy, healthy and grounded children.


About the author

Ronnen Grauman is the Acting Dean of Jewish Life and Learning at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW

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