Author encourages parents of Jewish teens to support each other

When Joanne Doades’ children reached adolescence, she felt like she’d been dumped — by them, and by her Jewish community.

“The synagogue helped give structure and meaning to our family’s life … until my children hit the teenage years,” she recalled. “I found the teenage years excruciatingly difficult, and I felt quite abandoned by my Jewish community.”

And so, a few years after her teenagers graduated high school, she decided to write the book she wished existed years earlier.

Doades was to speak about that book, “Parenting Jewish Teens: A Guide for the Perplexed,” on Nov. 5 and 6 at congregations Beth Am in Los Altos Hills and Beth David in Cupertino.

The mother of three is the director of curriculum dev-elopment for the Lifelong Jewish Learning department at the Union for Reform Judaism in New York.

She speaks around the country to Jewish audiences about parenting teens. And she pushes parents in the audience to

create a dialogue with one another, because “parents of teens often do not talk about it,” she said.

“There’s no forum, no ‘Mommy and Me’ class … We have to start creating ‘parenting Jewish teens’ groups in synagogues, to help parents talk to one another, advise one another and become a support group.”

Doades writes that Judaism provides helpful tools to parent teenagers. Ancient texts can provide useful suggestions for how to deal with a rebellious teenager, while Jewish rituals can supply parents with a way to foster quality family time (such as Shabbat).

And yet, those same tools and practices can cause teens to push against their parents’ boundaries.

“In this culture, Jews are different. And in order to preserve Jewish customs, practices and traditions, we have to make distinctions between who we are and who the larger culture is,” she said in an interview from her Manhattan office.

“That very conscious act is the antithesis of teenager-ness,” she added. “Teenagers want to be like everybody else.”

Doades recommends families continue to practice Jewish ritual, or even incorporate new practices into their home life.

“Teens like knowing that a meaningful life is going on,” she said. “It’s an anchor for them. They may want to sail in a different direction, but they still want to know the mothership is there.”

She also encourages parents to be flexible and creative. If a teenager tells Mom and Dad she won’t come to Shabbat dinner, Doades suggests that Mom and Dad compromise — by having Shabbat dinner extra early so their child can attend the family dinner and also go out later with friends.

Doades’ scheduled appearance at Congregation Beth Am was connected to Parent Kesher (Parent Connection), a synagogue group that seeks to network parents and build community among them.

David Crankshaw, a member of the group, said Doades’ advice resonates with him. He and his wife have two children, a 12th-grade boy and ninth-grade girl, and he said they often are “perplexed” by their teenagers’ behavior or attitudes, and how, as parents, to navigate the teenage waters.

“It’s a mentally challenging process: They need to develop on their own, but you want to support them. And you want to let them take risks, but not so many that they’re unsafe,” he said.

His children are both active in the Jewish community. Yet their involvement is something they chose — not that they were forced into by Mom or Dad.

Crankshaw feels it’s important “to help them find an expression of being Jewish that appeals to them.”

For instance, his oldest son participated in the Diller Teen Fellows program, but doesn’t do much with the synagogue or its youth group. Likewise, his daughter isn’t too interested in temple youth group, but has expressed interest in BBYO.

Said Doades, “Being a Jewish parent is about having a connection to what came before, and an obligation to what will follow.

“There’s also an aspect of holiness to Jewish family relationships — and parents are responsible for bringing it into their lives, and the lives of their children.”

“Parenting Jewish Teens: A Guide for the Perplexed” by Joanne Doades (176 pages, Jewish Lights Publishing, $16.99)

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.