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Confessions of a Jewish American Teenager

Confessions of a Jewish American Teenager

Parents don’t want to hear about our struggles because they're hiding from the truth themselves.


In response to the lively feedback received to American Jewish Teenager, invited a number of teens to give voice to their personal views and opinions. Rachel is 16 years old.

While I am Jewish, American, and a teenager, I don’t think words can ever define me. Every teenager has a different story, a different background—a different dream. I was raised with care, love, and a strong Jewish upbringing. Shema was sung to me every night and my Torah projects were proudly attached to the fridge. My parents invested love into me and as a child I felt safe, secure. When a bully pushed me down in kindergarten I realized for the first time that not everyone loved me. I rushed home crying and my mother soothed me. Not everyone is as fortunate as I am.

Braving the cold Brooklyn streets I saw people of all shapes, sizes, races, and religions, but I assuredly knew that I had my own people. I was not a part of these swearing, angry ones. I was the little girl in shul searching for my father’s tallis, the child playing merrily in the autumn leaves, oblivious to the drugs and sleazy affairs taking place behind the innocent red benches.

In fifth grade a teenager smacked my Beis Yaakov school bus and screamed “Dirty Jews!” We eight-year-old girls were not shocked, just morbidly fascinated.

When my family moved to the south everyone was friendly; the cashiers knew your name and smiled, and the lines got blurry. Gentile neighbors walking their dogs would say “Good Morning” and sometimes even “Good Sabbath”. Where did we belong if they also seemed right?

Related Article: Talking Teenagers

I think the reason why teenagers are branded with the “scarlet letter” of being emotional, rebellious and filled with angst is that we are sniffing for the truth. When we feel like we cannot speak, like we cannot express our longing. When we are packaged into a mold that does not fit, we want to escape. I am blessed. Many of my friends cannot talk to their parents.

If adults were more honest with us, then we would talk. Really talk. But most of them are deluding themselves.

I know I can always talk to my mother. And not just talk—really talk. If adults were more honest with us, then we would talk. Really talk. But most of them are deluding themselves. Most of them have the same Yetzer haras, the same passions and desires that we do. How can a girl struggling to seek past externals ask her mother for help when her mother is suffering with the same problem? Even more so when her mother doesn’t even admit or know about said issue?

Jealousy, anger, insincerity, stealing, gossiping – these struggles plague everyone, age one and up. It may be easier to blame these traits on “those teenagers” but wake up, America – the problems affect everyone. I am not saying that in order for a parent to communicate with his child he must be a perfect angel. But a parent has to be honest that he has flaws. Flaws are okay, flaws are imperative for human growth—embrace them! How can you expect your teen to be perfect when you are human too?

I have a lot of friends. One friend goes to a really religious school and tells me that if her principal knew she had an email address she would be kicked out. Another friend goes to public school and tells me how hard it is to be in the cafeteria and not buy the spicy fries. These girls would probably feel a lot better if they could tell their parents their struggles. But struggles sometimes are not permitted. Parents really don’t want to hear it. Because they are hiding from the truth themselves.

We are searching, searching, searching. It does not help when the adults who we assume have already found the truth shame us, undermine us, misunderstand us. It is even worse when the adults we trust are hypocrites. When we find that out, we don’t know what to believe in anymore.

Some of my friends are deep. We talk about, as she puts it, "the meaning of life." We talk about dating and marriage. We talk about real issues. We learn, we drink it in. We are seeking the truth, seeking to be good people.

And believe in us. We are, after all, the future.

Jewish teenagers are invited to send in their essays to

December 4, 2010

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 42

(41) Ronni, January 20, 2011 3:15 AM

You've Got It Wrong

One day you'll have kids of your own and realize parents are not the enemy that they seem. We understand that teenagers are questioning and thinking. We don't think they rebel for the sake of rebeling. We are also still here to protect you from your selves. Not because we enjoy ordering you around, we don't but because we want better for you especially when we see you make the same poor choices that we once made and wish we could take back. My children do speak with him about the issues that bother them but sometimes I wonder if it's enough. Secrecy and testing boundaries seems to be just part and parcel of being a teenager.

(40) Anonymous, December 22, 2010 4:34 PM

Congrats to the author for knowing herself and the teenage crew that she belongs to so well. I think that this artical was very well written! In response to number 35 I think maybe your bitterness and cynisism towards teenagers is due to being burnt out after all those years as an educator.I am not saying that teenagers dont enjoy a good time, but the search for pleasure is not only a teenage thing. Hedonism is the american gospel.

(39) Mark Abraham, December 19, 2010 1:40 AM

Almost gets to the point!

Ms. Levy is absolutely right. However, we must go one (big) step further. Parents must accept that their teenage sons and daughters may have no interest in the Frum Life at all. In addition to that, they mustn't "disown" (for lack of better) their children. They are still their children, even if they don't keep shabbos. Obviously I am talking about the "Intellectual At-Risk Teen". But don't make the mistake of thinking that there are only few of us---the internet has brought on a new age of reason that no forms indoctrination and insulation can shelter from. Whether it be the shaky theological foundations Judaism stands on or the corrupt practices of certain Rabbis we were told to honor (Ms. Levy's hypocrisy point), it can no longer be hidden.

(38) A used-to-be troubled teen, December 15, 2010 2:19 AM

Most teenagers today can relate to this. When seen, thye appear to be looking for trouble, trying to experiment, and generally as rebels. If one were to actually really get to know the teen, help them, one would find Rachel is pretty accurate. Most teens start off simply trying to understand what is being presented in them. It's the ones who are ignored, turned away, or lied to that turn to risky behavior. Not all teens could be given this description, but most can. Especially today, parents/teachers are attempting to shelter their teens. With good intentions; it's not a pretty world out there. Yet teens are not blind. They want to see, and they can sense when adults are not giving them the full picture. Rebellion comes after this stage, but behind every obstinate teen, stands a confused teen. It's easy to say that it's just a teen stage, and nothing to worry about, but with the numbers of those leaving Judiasm growing, it becomes alarming. Are our teens being given what they need? What are we missing? And most important, what can we do to help them? To start maybe we should at least hear them out?

(37) Anonymous, December 15, 2010 12:33 AM


The comments here were quite amusing. I have drawn the following conclusions: 1. Every family situation and child is different 2. It is obvious that many of the negative comments have come from a negative experience. And many of the positive comments are simply in agreement because they have gone through a tough experience. 3. There are those that are objective enough to see both sides and appreciate the talented writing of a young woman. I was blessed to be raised in a home that was open to all questions, some of us behaved and some of us partied during our teenage years, but in the end we are all good Jews and our parents are proud. I've taught and mentored many teenage girls with severe issues - drugs, alcohol, self-destructive behavior, emotional disorders, and girls without any obviously striking issues. These are the conclusions I have made based on my experience in relation to this article: 1. I am sorry to say that I have never met a girl with severe issues that came from a completely healthy home. 2. Teenagers do need to express themselves, try new things, explore, go out of the box- but this is because they are figuring themselves out. FYI - Learning and growing can include these if exposed to them in the right way. 3. As parents, educators we have an obligation to ensure that our children are receiving the mesorah in a wholesome way without our personal agendas, feelings, etc. and to portray that love that Hashem has towards all of us - Unconditional 4. Children have an obligation to respect their parents, if, and, or but......

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