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Teen Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress)
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

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11/22/06

There is a longstanding and ongoing debate among social scientists on the subject of “nature versus nurture” – whether our personalities, actions and life choices are impacted more by “nature” (our genes) or “nurture” (the way we are raised and the life experiences we have).

It stands to reason, therefore, that these two schools of thought would weigh in on the subject of teenagers. This vigorous debate has significant ramifications for how we view – and raise – our adolescent children.

TWO SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT

The “Sturm und Drang' theory of adolescence basically maintains that adolescence is an unavoidable, stormy period in the life of young adults – along the lines of the “temporary insanity” concept to which I made reference in my previous column.

According to this line of reasoning, teenagers are unpredictable time bombs; moody, anxious and troubled - driven by raging hormones. (“Sturm und Drang' is German for “storm and stress.” The term was coined in the 1700’s in matters unrelated to teen years, but became popular in the early 20th Century by some psychologists to describe the teenage phase.)

The downside to this view is that there seems to be little that parents and society can do to rein in teenagers other than to exercise damage control.

AN ALTERNATE VIEW

In 1925, Margaret Mead journeyed to the South Pacific territory of American Samoa. She sought to discover whether adolescence was a universally traumatic and stressful time due to biological factors or whether the experience of adolescence depended on one's cultural upbringing. She observed that adolescence was not a stressful time at all for girls in Samoa.

After spending about nine months observing and interviewing Samoans, as well as administering psychological tests, Mead concluded that Samoans did not have adolescent stress since their cultural patterns were very different from those in the United States. Her findings were published in Coming of Age in Samoa (1928), a vivid, descriptive account of Samoan adolescent life that became tremendously popular.

She argued that, living in a more primitive culture, Samoan adolescent girls had little in the way of transition between childhood years and adult life and its responsibilities. Teenage girls (and boys) immediately and seamlessly assumed adult chores and shared responsibilities. They enjoyed the fulfillment of hunting/gathering and contributing to help put food on the tables of their families. She claimed that this level of teenage participation and responsibility was a direct factor in the successful acclimation of adolescents in Samoan society. According to this second view, adolescence is a painful reality that comes into play only when there is significant discontinuity.

HEY, MAYBE OUR PARENTS WERE RIGHT!!

We all remember hearing from our parents and grandparents how, “When we were growing up, teenagers were more respectful, and helped more at home.”

Well, aside from the fact that there has been a significant breakdown in the social fabric of society over the past few decades, it would seem that there has been enormous erosion in the level of responsibility that teens have towards their families over the past three generations.

In pre-war European life, there was very little discontinuity. The vast majority of boys, even in charedi homes, began to work and contribute to their impoverished families almost immediately after bar mitzvah. They joined the work force and worked alongside adults, and were probably better suited for strenuous physical labor than their older co-workers. Only a small percentage of mitzuyanim (outstanding talmidim) continued in full time learning. Girls worked alongside their mothers in the never-ending chores needed to maintain their homes.

So, when our parents told us that:

• Teenagers were more respectful, and

• Helped more at home

They not only were right, but there may be a significant correlation between these two comments.

While I am certainly not recommending sending thirteen-year-olds to work, it would stand to reason that giving our kids more responsibility and participation in our home life will lead to greater respect and less teenage “Sturm und Drang.'

© 2005 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved



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1. Torah?     9/12/07 - 11:38 AM
M

Anything in Torah or Torah sources about this?

There's the bar/bas mitzva - all become responsible for mitzvos at 12-13.

Anything else?


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2.     9/12/07 - 12:18 PM
yoni

it should be noted that they were also permited to make many more of their own decisions (although not all) regarding their lives in these times, as not only did they inherit responsibility for their obligatins, but responsibility for their own decisions (about many things), and that those people excercised those decisions (which apperantly lessened grief).

and, as it turns out, most teens give you exactly what you expect of them, if you expect them to be troublesome and immature, they will be. If you expect them to be mature, put together, and to make good decisions, they will, and if they cannot, you may be suprised that they come to you asking for help in making a decision.


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3. Rising above - Issue 165     9/16/07 - 4:27 AM
Ak

Hi, This issue has been widely discussed in Rising Above - Issue 165. Both views are right , but it has been shown that nurture can change nature

Here is part of what I wrote

Hi, All kids to today have to rise above the way the adult world relate to them. Robert Epstein - see his web site , aricles , interviews, has written an interesting book - Abolish Adolescence. For me this is particulary interesting because there is no adolescence in Torah law , a kid is a gadol from the age of 13 , and has all legal rights and responsibilities. When it comes b'yedai shamayim there is the age of 20 , but essentially a kid at 13 is one of us. By treating these adults like kids , not being involved with them as fellow adults we are a creating a youth culture , peer pressure , reinforcing and perpetuating teen culture. The educational system which prolongs kids full time study is also to blame. In the past , kids would start work earlier , learning is a life long experience while you work , the outstanding students would go to yeshivah , by the age of 17 they were outsatnding Talmidei Chachomim and could marry already. Mentors, young adult involvement with kids counter acts peer culture. Part time real job , allows teenagers to be involved with adults not in a top down controlling dynamic but respecting competence and responsibility. Epstein in an article on Teen brains claims that kids brains are equal or better than adult brains , this maybe true in academic testing , but in real life kid's limbic brains get in the way of their frontal lobes. However the perpetuation of childhood by creating teen -peer culture reinforces limbic brain thinking, enjoying the moment instead of delaying gratification and thinking responsibly how one's actions effect others and one's future. We cannot expect teenagers to act responsibily when they are not allowed to make decisions that effect their lives , we don't give them a voice. I want adult involvement and participation , not a top down dynamic , but one of cooperation and learning. According to the Torah , a kid of 13 is an adult , if we want them to act responsibly like adults we need to treat them like adult. For sure , we would need to make sure the particular kid is competent , but we generally underestimate kids and they then behave that way.

Teenagers -Buying/ selling real estate 7/6/07 - Epstein proposes a competency test. The Rambam says when it comes to selling property we check the competency of the teenager. So there is some sort of a transition into adulthood , but essentially when a kid reaches 13 , he is an adult. Are we the obstacles in the way of our kids to ' rise above ' adolescence into adulthood ? Epstein talks about transactional rights, the right to marry etc not about punishments or deterents. In any case my parenting and educational philosophy is to avoid punishments and give people the opportunity to express honest remorse ,make amends , restitution, come up with a plan up, give them a vision for the future , do teshuva. So when it comes to punishments I am very much in the spirit of the b'yidei shamayim.In any case Beis Din today doesn't have the power to punish, no deterents , so the dynamic is essentially encouraging people to do teshuva by reaching out to them. Epstein's article is provocative , challenging our convential thinking , but when we look at the rights conferred on kids above 13 by Jewish law, that a kid above 13 is called a gadol , it makes one think. Yakov Avinu called his children , my brothers ,' one of us' , at the meeting with Lavan. I have shared this article around , interestly parents who are more controlling and less respectful to kids found the article ridiculous. . Socializing with adults Hi ' today teens are trapped in their frivolous world of peer culture ( this is why I am against youth movements) they learn virtually everything they need to know from one another rather than people they are about to become. isolated from adults and wrongly treated like children , it is no wonder that some teens behave , by adult standards recklessly , without responsibility.We need to replace the myth of the immature brain with a frank lok at capable and savvy teens in history at teens in othe cultures at the truly extraordinary potential of our own young people today ' - Epstein I think teens should have adult friends , mix with adults , go to the same shiurim , say tehilim together , socialize together , this will be a great learning and growing stage ,and improve relationships parents not enough 7/8/07 -Hi, A supportive, open, unconditional relationship goes a long way , but does not combat peer pressure and teen culture. Kids need their parents and an alternative social structure where they are involved with adults , have relationships with adults. Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro suggests that a parent who goes to visit a Gadol of his Rov , should take his kid with him, so a relationship can develop with them. With parents often ther is also a lot of emotional baggage , it is not an easy relationship , it usually the teacher or Ram , mentors , where the relationship is more democratic that can reach out to kids , inspire them etc 16. interesting 7/8/07 - 5:09 PMtb AK and M, I think you're both right. 17. does or doesn't combat 7/8/07 - 6:43 PMM Ak, you say, "A supportive, open, unconditional relationship goes a long way , but does not combat peer pressure and teen culture". Why do you think it does not combat peer pressure and teen culture? In my experience, it does. Maybe we have different ideas of what this relationship is about. Teens are striving for independence, creating their own identities which are formed using peers as a ' mirror ' to reflect back on themselves. Teens operate as a social unit often forging together a unified spirit. There is a lot of learning going on, both from peers and the adults they encounter. When adults act very ' top- down ' to their students , students will unify and rebel , often in very unresponsible ways. There are school(s) - I am talking about Chareidi high schools in Israel- which will do the most create an anti-social environment , malshinim, divide and rule to deal with the situation and there is what Epstein and Kohn talk about ' empowering students, treating them like adults, giving them a voice, inviting them to join the adult world. I have spoken a lot with teachers and principals about this issue , the herd mentality, how friends, the school , the classroom have so much influence on a kid's personality and behavior , even more so in the teen years whch can easily undermine parental influence. There is more to a kid's life than the home, whether kids will be involved in an adult world , learning fom adults, socializing with adults, feeling part of the adult world , a relationship with the Rav of a Shul , as an adult member in his own right and not as someone's kid. Negative peer influence is more subtle in the frum world and where kids follow expectations we may not be aware of the lack of maturity , initiative or how we are stifling growth , iniative and maturity. As far as schools I recommend Alfie Kohn's - Beyond Discipline - From Compliance to community. Reb Shimon Skop in his introduction to Sha'arei Yoshar defines Kedusha as doing everything with the benefit of the community in mind. Check his web site http://alfiekohn.org - books , there is an interview also the articles on schools.


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4. AK     9/17/07 - 11:07 AM
Anonymous

a suggestion: if you break up your paragraphs and have shorter comments, I think more people will read them

I find your previous too daunting to tackle.


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5. Thanks     9/18/07 - 5:59 AM
Ak

Your comments are appreciated. I essentially copied and pasted from a previous thread. It would be nice if we could edit

Hi, All kids to today have to rise above the way the adult world relate to them. Robert Epstein - see his web site , aricles , interviews, has written an interesting book - Abolish Adolescence. For me this is particulary interesting because there is no adolescence in Torah law , a kid is a gadol from the age of 13 , and has all legal rights and responsibilities. When it comes b'yedai shamayim there is the age of 20 , but essentially a kid at 13 is one of us. By treating these adults like kids , not being involved with them as fellow adults we are a creating a youth culture , peer pressure , reinforcing and perpetuating teen culture. The educational system which prolongs kids full time study is also to blame. In the past , kids would start work earlier , learning is a life long experience while you work , the outstanding students would go to yeshivah , by the age of 17 they were outsatnding Talmidei Chachomim and could marry already. Mentors, young adult involvement with kids counter acts peer culture. Part time real job , allows teenagers to be involved with adults not in a top down controlling dynamic but respecting competence and responsibility. Epstein in an article on Teen brains claims that kids brains are equal or better than adult brains , this maybe true in academic testing , but in real life kid's limbic brains get in the way of their frontal lobes. However the perpetuation of childhood by creating teen -peer culture reinforces limbic brain thinking, enjoying the moment instead of delaying gratification and thinking responsibly how one's actions effect others and one's future. We cannot expect teenagers to act responsibily when they are not allowed to make decisions that effect their lives , we don't give them a voice. I want adult involvement and participation , not a top down dynamic , but one of cooperation and learning. According to the Torah , a kid of 13 is an adult , if we want them to act responsibly like adults we need to treat them like adult. For sure , we would need to make sure the particular kid is competent , but we generally underestimate kids and they then behave that way.

Teenagers -Buying/ selling real estate 7/6/07 - Epstein proposes a competency test. The Rambam says when it comes to selling property we check the competency of the teenager. So there is some sort of a transition into adulthood , but essentially when a kid reaches 13 , he is an adult. Are we the obstacles in the way of our kids to ' rise above ' adolescence into adulthood ? Epstein talks about transactional rights, the right to marry

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