I know how badly parents want to find the magic pill to cure their teenager's at-risk behavior and make their problems somehow go away. We live in a pill-oriented society where there are endless, over-the-counter brands of medicines for you name it, and we have begun to expect the same quick fix for all areas of our lives -- including parenting.
Just last week, a parent came to talk to me about the trouble her daughter was having in school. This 15-year-old teenager was flunking in two key subjects, getting into trouble with her teachers and hanging out with the wrong crowd. Desperate for a solution, her mother wanted to know if I could give her a pill that would cure her daughter's at-risk behavior. I told her, "The pill you're looking for is to start working on your relationship with your daughter."
From time immemorial we have been the People of the Book and the people who knew how to shmooze. Jewish life was always filled with discussion, dialogue and interaction between young and old. Today things seem to have changed and instead of choosing to shmooze with our kids, most people are opting to shnooze. And, I don't mean that parents are spending more time sleeping. Rather, parents have lost the relationship edge with their children and sharing good times has gone into a state of dormancy. With the deterioration of the relationship between parent and child, the at-risk phenomenon is now affecting traditional Jewish society as well.
Our grandparents' generation knew about the power of the gift-of-the-gab. Our grandparents had something timeless; they knew how to have a good time and that true happiness begins by nurturing our relationships with our children and friends. Somehow we have become accustomed to believing that sitting around on Shabbos or on Sunday afternoon and shmoozing about life is in some way old-fashioned and out of place. Over the last 50 years, the pace of life has sped up so much that family time has lost its joie de vivre.
Making your children feel that they are the most important people in the entire world is the most powerful way of ameliorating at-risk behavior.
Think about the relationship with your teenager. How many hours do your children spend on the computer, Internet, TV, cell phone, Palm etc. every day? How can parents possibly compete with Hollywood, runescape, major league baseball, the latest bands and everything else including the latest reality TV shows? The answer has always existed in the power to connect to another human being in the simplest way possible -- shmoozing about life. Give it a try. Invite your child out on a date. Unplug the iPod, turn off the monitor, shut off your cell phone and just go for a walk.
Spending quality time relating to another human being is one of the most pleasurable experiences you can have. Despite what the big media giants want you to believe, you are more meaningful to your children than Donald Duck, Kermit the Frog and yes, even Teen Idol. Parents need to realize that just talking with their kids and making them feel that they are the most important people in the entire world is the most powerful way of ameliorating at-risk behavior.
As a father of a big family I know that spending time with each child is not an easy thing to do. A great rabbi once said that a parent should spend at least 20 minutes a day thinking about their child's education. I say spend 20 minutes thinking and 20 minutes talking. And I'm even willing to bargain. If 20 is too much, try ten -- or even five.
Take my advice. If you want to break through to that teenager who you feel you're losing, here's my prescription:
2 minutes a day thinking about your child's special qualities
5 minutes a day just talking with them
1 cup of coffee (something to slow down the conversation)
1 minute to reflect on the fact that you did something great
The most important thing about this pill is that you start taking it every day. And, unlike certain medicines that can't promises results, I promise that this "medicine" will make a difference in your child's life.
Click here to find out more about Rabbi Schonbuch's new book, At Risk – Never Beyond Reach: Three Principles Every Parent and Educator Should Know.