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Should Teenagers Contribute to Their Expenses?
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Publication: Chicago Community Kollel

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Note: This same question appeared last week. This is part II of my response.

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

You mentioned in your previous column that, “Your primary responsibility is to provide for the needs (and wants) of your children." Do you feel that this applies to grown children as well? When a child is over 20 and capable of earning a few hundred dollars a month, but it will take up much of his spare time, should the parents still be expected to fund the "wants"?

Our at-risk son is resentful because we aren't funding his wants. He is clothed, fed, and has all his medical needs taken care of. If he needs to see a doctor, my wife or I drop everything and run for him. He drops off his dry cleaning and gets it back all nice and paid for. But there are some things I just won't fund. (And I can't.) In the two years he was in Israel, we spent more than we can afford on his schooling, planes, health insurance, and monthly spending stipend of $120 – plus $50 towards his phone. (We are in debt about $10,000 right now.)

He feels resentful that we aren't paying for his wants and therefore he must spend leisure time to work to provide for his other leisure time. (He's said hurtful things such as why did you have me if weren't going to pay for me?) Therefore when he does come home for Shabbos, he will hardly lift a finger to help in the house.

I think that since we are broke, we should let him grow up and learn some restraint. Perhaps I should just tell him to drop the program he's in and work full time and do night school. But in the meantime, I also think he is wrong not to offer assistance when he is home.

Y'lamdeinu Rabbeinu...

Question edited slightly. Click here for full text.

Click here for part one of my response to this question.

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

Rabbeinu’s first suggestion is that you take the time to read three sequential columns that I published on adolescence Letter to a Parent, Transition I, and Transition II – and other publications on raising teens. If you only have time to read one of those articles, I recommend that you read Transition II. There, I present the two opposing schools of thought regarding adolescence:

1) Teen years are an inevitably stormy period in the lives of children and there is precious little that can be done to avoid it, and

2) It is the transition that causes stress and therefore one can compress the stormy adolescent phase by helping their children along to adulthood more quickly.

If you are a regular reader of these lines, you know by now that I am squarely in the camp of the second school of thought. Allow me to offer an analogy.

Imagine taking a long, grueling airplane trip to a beautiful vacation resort. Hopefully, you enjoy your current home life and you most certainly are looking forward to arriving at your destination. But since the hassles associated with traveling make the trip rather annoying, many even-tempered people tend to get irritable while in transit. Anyone who tells you, “Getting there is half the fun,” hasn’t flown on a long plane flight recently – or can afford to fly first class!

When you think about it, your twenty-year-old son is on the last leg of the journey from childhood to adolescence and eventually adulthood. Once you begin thinking of things in these terms, it becomes almost inevitable that his parent (that’s you) will find it difficult to raise and guide this part-child-part-adult young man. This is due to the fact that much of his moodiness is an understandable byproduct of the stress that comes with sorting out one’s life.

Therefore, as you problem-solve and explore options to lessen the tension level with your son, you keep in mind that you can shorten this transitional – and stressful – phase by having him assume more and more adult responsibilities as time goes on. Frankly, I think that many parents nowadays unwisely take the route of least resistance and avoid some of the strain of their children’s teenage years by keeping their young adults in a state of financial dependence – as quasi-children – for too long. In my opinion, they are merely postponing the inevitable time of reckoning for their children, leaving them poorly prepared for adult life and all its responsibilities. (I suggest that you read the second post here carefully. I do not agree completely will all she writes, but it is very meaningful advice.)

Having said that, your relationship with your son seems to be quite strained now, so you need to tread carefully as you reduce your financial support to your son. You are also dealing with the reality that your son’s friends may be fully supported by their parents, which will lead your son to believe that your lack of financial assistance reflects diminished love for him. I would suggest that you sit down with him – perhaps in a neutral setting such as a coffee shop – and discuss a variety of options for your financial arrangements with him. Keep in mind that the more choices that you explore, the more likely it is that you will find some common ground. He will also feel empowered – and adult-like. One way to go would be to calculate how much money you are currently spending on his needs and wants. Then ask him what he would consider to be most important. For example, he may say that he will do his own shirts if he can have financial assistance for his cell phone. Keep exploring options with him. Then tell him to think things over and get back to you. the more you discuss things rationally and maturely, the more your relationship will hopefully improve.

As for the work/yeshiva decision, I would recommend that you seek the guidance of your Rav or a mechanech who knows your son well. It may be a good idea for the two of you to visit with the Rav together to discuss this matter. I will tell you, however, that if your son is ‘in a holding pattern’ in yeshiva, meaning that he is not accomplishing much there, you should very strongly consider advising him to get a full-time job and attend a shiur at night. Especially if he has already been in several school settings with the same result. There is nothing more harmful to a child’s life – materially and spiritually – to have him in an unproductive setting. Sure, there are spiritual risks with sending him to work, but they pale in comparison to having him feel that he is wasting his life.

I will close this column, the final thought and plea that I left you with last week. Please, please ignore your neighbors and societal pressure and l’maan Hashem do what is right for your child. I have seen far too many children sacrificed on the altar of “what will the neighbors say?” Keep your eye on doing what is right for your child. That’s all that really matters.

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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