It’s probably not surprising when our teens turn away from us or leave us out of what they’re doing. For many parents, we’re no longer the hero or the go-to—at least not for now. That’s fine. However, it’s imperative that when they’re blocking us out, they’re letting someone else in to help them.
In Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine Daniel J. Siegel explains that “Adolescents pushing away from others is natural; shutting others out is not helpful…it is vital to keep the lines of connection and communication open and to remember that we all—adolescents and adults—need to be members of a connected community.”
We just have to accept that those adults may not always be us.
Our teens are surrounded by caring teachers and coaches, however, these relationships may not be ideal either. They tie back to expected measures of achievement or performance. Plus, due to policies or bandwidth, these adults may not be able to enter the space where our teens need them.
Siegel suggests having “a way in which adolescents are connected to new adults who can help support them in risk-taking and novelty-creating experiences that minimize danger yet optimize the essence of adolescence.”
Teens who participate in summer programs do benefit from relationships with new adults—individuals who are old enough to have authority over them and experience they can learn from, but young enough to feel relevant and relatable to teens. Beyond making friends, trying new experiences, and exploring their Jewish identity, teens reap the emotional and developmental rewards of connections with new adults they can lean on and learn from.
Close enough to be an option
Some of us may only be one generation away from a time when extended families lived nearby. When our moms and dads were teens, many had other relatives to turn to when they pushed away from their parents. Unfortunately, most of our kids don’t have the same access to or relationships with these non-parental adults. Today, a few weeks in a summer program where teens are immersed in “camp life” and dependent on madrichim (counselors) is plenty of time for our kids to form beneficial relationships.
Young enough to be relevant
Among the key learnings of the Jim Joseph Foundation’s study on educating and engaging teens is the importance of teen programs having a young staff. Post-college young adults appear more relatable to teens—even if just in the words they use and the clothes they wear, or the music, shows, and games they enjoy. Simple connections provide an important backdrop to interactions that might not exist with adults who are 20 or 30 years older than them.
Old enough to have experience
New adults pass the relevance test for teens, a shortcut to earning respect for their authority as madrichim in a summer program. It’s easier to respect rules when they’re enforced by “one of us,” than a regular old adult. Plus, new adults are so, well, new, that they’re a credible resource for what they’ve done since high school. Picking a college, taking a gap year in Israel, finding internships, and struggling with the challenges of adolescence are still in their very recent history, so they are a trove of relevant experience in topics teens care about.