Mark Twain once quipped, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. However, when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in just seven years.”
In a similar vein, at my older brother’s graduation from Yeshiva Shaarei Torah, our Rosh Yeshivah, Rabbi Berel Wein, told the graduates, “When you entered the yeshivah four years ago, you were shorter and smarter than me. Now you’re a little taller and I’m a little smarter.”
One of the vital messages that Rabbi Wein sought to convey to us – his teenage yeshivah students – was that one isn’t as all-knowing as he thinks he is during his adolescent years.
Rabbi Wein would caution us to remember every word we tell our parents as 16-year-olds, because we will hear it repeated, verbatim, 25 years down the pike. Rabbi Wein would also warn us that “G-d pays back all children by making them parents.”
One of the challenges of parenting adolescents – aside from raging hormones and extreme moodiness – is that it’s hard to parent people who are confident that they know everything and feel they have surpassed their parents and teachers in life experience and wisdom.
The period of adolescence is, by definition, one of confusion. No longer a child, not yet an adult, the teen lingers in a world of in-between. He struggles to forge his own identity, which entails breaking out of the mold of his nuclear family. Yet, secretly, he still desperately needs the support of his family and acknowledges that he is still accepted as part of the family.
Interestingly, the Torah does not speak about a period called adolescence. One day, a 12-year-old child is a katan – a minor – and a day later he turns 13 and becomes a bar mitzvah, a halachic adult. The bar mitzvah can complete a minyan and is obligated in all mitzvos, no less than a 90-year-old rabbi.
(It should be noted that the Gemara (Shabbos 89b) states that one is not held accountable in the celestial courts until he is 20 years old. However, regarding matters of responsibility pertaining to physical life, one is accountable when becoming bar mitzvah.)
In Alei Shur I (p. 40), Rav Shlomo Wolbe offers a Torah perspective regarding teenage years that should be required reading for every child coming of age. He notes that around the beginning of adolescence, a child begins to show signs of physical maturity. Those noticeable physical changes demonstrate that he/she is no longer a child, physically or emotionally. As the child’s body begins to change into that of an adult, he/she now has the physical ability to become a parent.
“It is incumbent upon a person to realize that from the moment he has the ability to bear children he is no longer living only for himself. The changes in his body are preparing him to be a father of children and to bring forth the next generation.”
Rav Wolbe stressed that the physical changes occurring are to demonstrate to the adolescent that he must prepare for the most noble and important task he will have in life: that of raising the next generation.
The Mishnah B’rurah (47:10) writes that one should constantly daven that his children study Torah, be righteous and have noble character. He adds that one should particularly concentrate on this at three junctures of Shacharis each morning: when reciting Birchos HaTorah, when saying Ahavah Rabbah (before Sh’ma), and in U’Va L’Tziyon when reciting the words, “in order that we not toil for nothing or bring forth (lit. give birth to) confusion.”
Based on Rav Wolbe’s message that from the time one reaches adolescence, he should be thinking about his future role as a parent, it seems proper to teach teenagers that they should begin davening that they one day merit having children, and that those children be spiritually and physically healthy. Though it may sound outlandish, it’s quite appropriate.
The added benefit is that it will remind the teen that the decisions he makes today will affect him tomorrow. It will help him think twice before engaging in certain behaviors that he would not want his future children’s parent to do. In addition, there is never a limit to how much one can or should pray. It’s never too early to start praying for any future need one anticipates will arise.
We all want the best for our children, and there is no greater tool we have that would help that occur than prayer.
It’s been said that in his later years, the Steipler Gaon treated that a day didn’t go by when he didn’t daven for his son Chaim. Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l was already a known and respected scholar by that time. Yet his father never stopped davening for him. Why should we not begin davening for our progeny as early as possible, as well?
May Hashem bless all our children that they merit healthy children and their children after them, forever.