Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On teenagehood, toddlers and extended childhood

I have been mulling these ideas over for a bit. Particularly, because the Torah view is so different from the contemporary attitude of the western world. What is the Torah attitude towards teenagehood? I think from the halachic point of view and from psychological make up of a teenager it is clear that teenage years are meant as a passageway from childhood to adulthood. When a child reaches bar/ bat mitzva age, Judaism treats him/her as a full fledged adult. Until the age 20 the Torah cuts the kid some slack and gives him a chance to get used to his adult status, so he is not subject to Divine punishment until that age. But even from the very way teenagers behave, it's evident that the way Hashem made them, even as they are morphing from a child into an adult, the big emphasis is on forging an identity and being able to stand on one's own. Most teenagers feel that the know it all and better than anyone else, that the world is full of opportunities. This larger than life feeling propels them forward, unshackled by adult inhibitions and due to the lack of life experience, unafraid and unaware of all possible consequences. They say there are a lot of parallels between teenagehood and toddlerhood. Again one finds this push for individuality, independence and expanded venues. Parental support is vital during both those stages in a child's development. But in general the Torah stresses that everything is good in it's own time. There is a time to be a child, certain stages one has to traverse in one's educational journey (when to teach what), certain skills that have to be acquired (such as swimming and a profession) but there is certainly a time to grow up, stand up and be counted. It's detrimental to a person's development to extend childhood beyonds it's natural boundaries, to continue to play and lead a carefree existence when duties and restrictions are in order. The lack of obligations cripples an individual. A person is supposed to learn, grow, acquire more responsibilities, learn how to deal with other people outside his immediate family, get married, make a living, raise children, etc, etc, etc. Hashem put it into the person's nature to want all these adult things when he reaches teenage years and following the Torah prescription rather than the dysfunctional model of the western society today, facilitates this important transition and helps insure the well-being of both the parents and the children. I think if we make an effort to treat our children as competent adults rather than foolish children, expect them to act responsibly and take on new challenges as they mature, it will provide the room and proper environment for them to grow into the kind of people we would like them to be.


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