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All Grown Up and No Place to Go

Teenagers in Crisis
By David Elkind

Elana Glatt
Dr. Moshe Sokolow
Foundations of Jewish Education
Final Paper
Fall 2015

Times are changing. Teenagers are growing up faster than ever before. Although
adolescence has always been marked as a difficult stage in the development of a child, the
challenges and stresses facing todays teens has only exacerbated the difficulties, leaving them
even more confused and alone than ever before. David Elkind (1998), author of All Grown Up
and No Place to Go suggests that todays society has left little or no place for adolescents not
in our homes, not in our schools and not in society at large (3). We have nearly eliminated the
stage of adolescence altogether, treating teenagers as adults, and leaving them to fend for their
own through the challenges and changes that life inevitably throws their way. It is only through
understanding and taking a proactive role in the development of adolescents, that we can
successfully guide teenagers through this time in their lives, ensuring they develop into
successful adults.
Just a short while back, in the beginning of the twentieth century, children experienced
what was termed the golden age of adolescence. Adolescents were given the chance to be
devoted students and were viewed as the next generation leaders. Their intellectual, social and
moral development was seen as important, and was therefore nurtured and protected (5). The
nuclear family was a stronghold in adolescents lives, and they served as a safe haven for the
immature young before they ventured into the cruel, harsh and competitive outside world (4).
Society at large recognized that the transition to adulthood was a difficult one, and adolescents
were therefore given the time and adult support necessary to supervise them along the way.
With the emergence of the civil rights and womens liberation movements in the early
1960s, this all began to change. The depiction of adolescents as immature was judged to be
demeaningand portrayals of adolescence as a period of immaturity were seen as an
underestimation of the knowledge and abilities of young people (5). This coupled with the

sexual revolution and a newfound easy access to drugs and x-rated materials, left the previous
perception of teenagers as immature as one which had to be abandoned. Additionally, the new
economic realities facing parents has forced them to work longer and harder hours to maintain a
reasonable standard of life for them and their children. It has been estimated that young people
have lost about twelve hours of parental interaction each week (Fuchs, 1998, pg. 7). Adolescents
therefore have had adulthood prematurely thrust upon them, and are now required to face life and
its challenges with the maturity once only expected of fully grown adults (7).
In order for parents and educators to combat these difficult realities facing teenagers
today and to help them successfully steer through the choppy waters of adolescence, Elkind
believes that it is imperative to understand the developmental stage of adolescence. In line with
leading experts in cognitive psychology, Erik Erikson and Jean Piaget, Elkind suggests that more
troubling than the myriad of physical and physiological transformations that teenagers are
undergoing is their change in mental abilities. Teenagers now see the world through a new lens,
focusing in on lifes events from an abstract point of view, as opposed to the simplistic childhood
view they used to have. Erikson describes the period of adolescence as a stage of constructing a
sense of personal identity (15). In psychological terms, teenagers are going through Identity vs.
Role Confusion, struggling to figure out who they are as individuals apart from their parents
and family. Teenagers need the freedom to realize their own abilities and talents and to choose
their own orientations and preferences. This is precisely why many teenagers will choose to
dress and act differently than they did as young children; since its imperative for them to
differentiate themselves as individuals, and to grab the attention of their peers in this new light.
Furthermore, Adolescents need to bring together all of the various, sometimes conflicting,
facets of self into a working whole that at once provides continuity with the past and a focus and

direction for the future (15). Erikson suggests that this task is an extremely difficult and
complex one to accomplish, and specifically takes place in the period of adolescence because
youth are lacking the necessary experiential ingredients and the mental abilities to succeed in this
undertaking (16). Furthermore, according to Piaget, adolescents are undergoing the last of four
distinct stages of development, namely the formal operational stage. It is specifically in this
phase of development that adolescents gain the mental abilities to construct their own theories
and create their own identities. This is why, according to Erikson, teenagers make for themselves
a moratorium or relatively unburdened period of time, since they need the time and space to
engage in identity formation all on their own (16).
Nevertheless, although adolescents need both the time and space to develop through these
critical stages of growth; post-modern society ignores this period altogether and views teenagers
as sophisticated adults. Instead of having a moratorium period for teenagers to discover
themselves and grow under the supervision of their parents and schools, young people have
adulthood prematurely thrust upon them and are forced to face lifes challenges virtually on their
own (7). Elkind expresses clearly that adolescents need time and adult supervision and guidance
to properly adapt to the remarkable transformations their bodies, their minds, and their emotions
are undergoing (5). By rushing our adolescents and forcing premature adulthood upon them, we
dont allow our teenagers unpressured time to deal with these changes and to put them together
in some meaningful way (9). We therefore need to treat our adolescents according to where they
are developmentally, and to give them the room to grow and discover themselves with proper
adult guidance throughout.
Interestingly, the issue of adolescence and their role in society is something which has
been discussed since as early as the medieval period. In a fascinating essay written by Dr.

Kanarfogel (1992), he highlights the book Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family
Life, and raises many of the same issues in childhood development in the Medieval period that
Elkind bemoans today. In Medieval society, once a child reached the post-enfances stage and
didnt require as much care, he immediately became part of the adult world (34). Education at
the time was therefore geared towards little adults instead of towards children. The educational
system at the time did not realize that there were differences among children in terms of
development, and therefore when children did begin their schooling, there was no attempt made
to separate students or different ages and abilities (34). Additionally, these children often left
their homes at young ages to go study with teachers and tutors in other locations. This loosened
the bonds between parents and children and left many students rowdy and unkempt, far away
from their homes. Much like post-modern society today, Elkind would strongly disapprove of the
lack of recognition given towards adolescence as a key stage in childrens development.
Adolescents specifically need adult guidance and supervision during this stage in their life, and
leaving home at such a pivotal stage is detrimental to their development. Additionally, teaching
students as little adults instead of reaching them at an age and stage appropriate level fails to
guide them through this stage successfully and ultimately ushered them prematurely into
adulthood.
In contrast to Kanarfogel, Miriam Frenkel (2001) depicts medieval adolescence in line
with Elkind, as a transitional passage into adulthood. Youth was viewed as a dangerous stage in
medieval times, one filled with intoxication and corruption. Therefore, young men needed to
educate themselves to carefully pass through this stage and enter on into the stage of adulthood.
Adolescents at the time were encouraged to partake in commerce, marriage, apprenticeship and
studying in the Beit Midrash. These activities would help cultivate them into the adults who

society desired them to become. Although Frenkels depiction is in line with Elkinds view
towards adolescence, Elkind would be opposed to the idea of rushing teenagers through this
dangerous stage in order to become sound and reasonable adults. Elkind believes that these
transitional years are essential years for adolescents to make mistakes and form their own
identities through the process. Adolescents need to be given the time to discover themselves and
to grow within the guidance of adult supervision. Rushing teenagers through this pivotal stage
will thrust adulthood upon them too early, leaving them on their own before they are fully
equipped and developmentally ready to handle it properly.
One challenge which Elkind finds with his key argument that children are being forced to
grow up too quickly though, is that adolescents today are actually very different from those in
the past. He raises the thought that perhaps society today is reacting in response to adolescents
who indeed are more mature and grown up than ever before. The post-modern world has
transformed the nuclear family into the permeable family, opening adolescents up to any and
all social influences (Elkind, 1998, 13). Additionally, todays teenagers are exposed to more
open sexuality and dangers at younger ages than ever. Over my lifetime Ive seen the variance in
the content displayed on childrens television shows, whereby exposing our children to greater
sophistication at younger ages. Therefore, maybe todays society is not really rushing our youth
into adulthood; rather theyre keeping up with todays adolescents who are indeed more
sophisticated than ever before.
Despite this challenge, Elkind believes that there are fundamental elements of a childs
development that cannot be changed regardless of the environment he finds himself in.
Irrespective of any external societal changes which todays adolescents are facing, teenagers still

go through a myriad of internal changes which need to be addressed and developed properly
before they can be propelled into the stage of adulthood.
Along with the physical and hormonal changes which teenagers are experiencing, major
changes in their mental abilities are troubling to them as well. Getting comfortable with new
ways of thinking is one of the most difficult tasks confronting young adolescents (25). The way
they respond to their changing bodies and emotions is very much affected by the fresh way in
which they see themselves and the world (26). With the newfound acquisition of formal
operational thinking, teenagers can now think about what others are thinking. They envision an
invisible audience which cares about their appearance and watches their actions. Therefore, when
a teenager is not as developed physically as his friends he will begin to worry about how others
will view him, and he will become self conscious and anxious because of it. Teenagers
consequently spend hours in front of the mirror, choosing just the perfect outfit and accessories,
which their invisible audience will approve of, and which will reflect their individuality to the
world. Formal operations also usher in a period of idealism and criticalness in teenagers, which
causes young adolescents to turn a critical spotlight on their parents (33). Even teenagers who
have a great relationship with their parents feel the need to critique and argue on anything and
everything in order to reassure themselves that they can handle adult roles and responsibilities.
Since this ability to think on a higher level is new to adolescents, and differentiates them from
their younger pre-teen selves, they need the time and space to practice their new thinking and
processing skills just as they need time to get adjusted to the newfound changes in their anatomy.
Another challenge which faces adolescents even more so today is exposure to sexuality
and violence. Teens today have easy access to mature content and almost every school has
classes and programs for sexual education and substance abuse. High schools which were once

safe havens for adolescents have become brewing zones for the loss of student naivety. With new
care towards peer approval and acceptance, adolescents crave to be included, and will do
whatever they can to fit in and be accepted. Oftentimes adolescents will turn to drugs and sexual
encounters primarily to be a part of the crowd and not stand out. Schools have also increased in
size, creating bigger classes which are not conducive environments for students struggling to find
a sense of self and identity. Forming relationships with mentors, is an extremely necessary
condition for constructing a healthy sense of identity, and with the advent in class size and higher
rates of teacher burnout, students are losing essential guidance through this turbulent stage.
Additionally, with parents working longer and harder hours outside of the home, media and
television have filled in the gap where essential role models should be, and have become central
in solidifying these warped messages in the minds of adolescents. All of these external factors
compounded with the loss of adult supervision have made this time period all the more difficult
for teenagers to successfully navigate their ways.
An additional challenge which Elkind suggests adolescents face during this time period is
the struggle with their religious identity. Adolescents abilities to construct ideals not only affect
their attitudes towards their parents, but it affects their attitudes towards religion as well (51).
Adolescents now differentiate between institutional religion which is social and public and
personal religion which is unique and private (51). As teenagers discover that their thoughts
are private and only theirs, they learn that God is the ultimate confidant for these thoughts, as He
is always available to listen but will not reveal that which they share. According to Elkind,
teenagers dont appreciate being treated like children and being told they have to go to religious
classes or Sunday school. He suggests that religious programs for youth should be more social
or intellectual than Bible studies (52). Although it may appear that young people are against

institutional religion though, many are indeed extremely religious in a deeply personal sense.
What adolescents need, Elkind recommends, is a moratorium from institutional religion (53).
Parents and youth ministry should use this time for discussing social and moral issues, as
opposed to religious instruction. It is specifically this sabbatical which Elkind believes will best
guarantee that young people will later return and integrate their personal religion with that of the
institutional religion.
Elkinds suggestion, based on the developmental research of adolescence, of allowing
teenagers to have a sabbatical is one which carries tremendous weight in Jewish community.
Teenagers are often the most difficult segment of the Jewish population to connect to and to
convince to go to Shul or Yeshiva, and parents often become extremely disheartened by them.
However, after reading Elkind its clear why this is the case. Teenagers are not inherently
rebelling against religion; rather they are going through the process of developing their own
personal connection with religion, one which requires space and independence, and will later be
integrated back into the Jewish community at large.
Therefore, it is up to us, the future parents and educators of adolescents to understand this
developmental stage, and to amend our teaching styles accordingly. Teenagers should still be
required to pray every day and learn in Yeshiva. Discontinuing these essential elements of
Jewish life for teenagers would exclude them from the larger community and would
communicate the message that prayer and Torah study are a choice and not so integral to Jewish
life. However, we do need to make sure to include social opportunities for our children and
students, and to present topics like tefillah and Chumash in cool and exciting packages for them.
Having smaller individualized groups for tefillah where students can discuss their thoughts and
questions which bother them before beginning the actual tefillah is one way which we can allow

for social interaction and flexibility for our adolescents. Creating exciting programs and clubs
(for example a Shmirat Halashon student led group or an Israel action committee) for students to
participate in and express their personal religious passions towards is another way we can guide
them on a proper Jewish path, while still giving them the space and freedom to come to it on
their own. When I was in High School, a beloved teacher in our school created a small club
called MACS the Modesty Awareness Committee for Students. Although on the surface it
seems like a completely nerdy club to be part of, by the time I graduated high school over ninety
students had become active members of the club. Each program we ran was specifically designed
to connect to the personal and social side of students, as opposed to the Halachic or
institutionalized side of religion. I remember one program where we spoke about modesty and
Privacy, and our school brought in Mattisyahus wife to discuss her experience raising a family
in a private way while her husband was a public celebrity. After her speech which had the entire
school body enthralled, students were broken up into small groups run by other students, to allow
for real and honest discussions without feeling the pressure of authority guiding what they were
supposed to say. Programs like this one are extremely important for teenagers to experience, far
more important than any Chumash class lesson theyll be taught, since teenagers thrive when
theyre given the personal attention and opportunity to connect with religion.
An additional step we can take as educators to ensure that our students are given the
freedom to grow within the structure of our system is to have teachers create office hours
where they are available to meet with students when the students want to reach out. Students
often want to form connections and to discuss their private thoughts in a safe place, and building
time into the schedule for such meetings and interactions between students and teachers would
prove extremely beneficial for them. Also, allowing students the opportunity to meet with these

teachers on occasion in place of Chumash class or some other Judaic period would give them the
freedom to have a pass on a day when they dont feel the desire to learn in a formal environment.
Although these are a few small fixes to the specific challenge of religion which
adolescents face, were still left with an overarching question; what we can do to help teenagers
regain their rightful place in society? What can we as adults and educators do to help teenagers
successfully navigate their ways through the challenges and struggles inherent in this stage of
development?
Elkind offers profound and practical advice to both parents and educators. He first asserts
that parents can make a difference in childrens lives (241). Research data shows that parents
are the single most powerful, non biological influence on their childrens lives, and Elkind
strongly encourages parents to take the proactive role in positively affecting their children.
Elkind further advises that knowing about childrens growth and development is the all
important step toward helping young people grow by differentiation and integration. Knowing
the aspects of adolescent development also helps remind parents that although certain times are
extremely difficult, just like all other stages in child development, this too will pass. Acting as
adults in the lives of our children and providing them necessary guidance is another way we can
help our children become socialized and successfully grow through the period of adolescence. As
adults, we need to teach our children morals, to say please and thank you, to respect the
privacy of others, etc. In todays post-modern world, many parents are reluctant to assert their
adultness and to teach morals and manners. Whether its because they are home fewer hours and
only want their short interactions with their kids to be positive, or because they want their
children to like them, adults have to realize that children specifically need them to set boundaries
and limits and to teach them how to acclimate socially. A further thing we as parents can do to

help our children integrate into todays world is to deal with our adolescents on the basis of
principle, rather than from emotion. When we deal with matters based on principle, we are
asserting our adultness in way that is helpful to the young persons struggles in identity
formation. We teach them to look at situations objectively, and to see guiding principles which
govern different areas of life, as opposed to acting out of emotion. Elkind adds one caveat, that
although parents need to exercise unilateral authority, and to show their children that they are the
adults in charge, they should make sure to give their children mutual authority when it comes to
matters of taste, style and interest. This allows adolescents the freedom to form their own
identities within the proper framework of adult supervision. Overall, parents have a tremendous
ability and responsibility to help our adolescents find their way in todays society. By learning to
understand our childrens development, respecting them and showing them love and care, and
asserting adultness in the proactive method of raising our children, we will be able to help our
children find their way through the turbulent journey of adolescence.
With regards to educators, Elkind expresses that teachers, like parents, have to be adults
and to set the expectations and limits that are appropriate for students at this age. Educators
should make sure to set limits based on principle rather than on personal preference, since
students are more willing to be governed by principle. Teachers need to communicate love and
excitement for the material they are teaching and to provide words of encouragement for their
students, in order to act as the role models our students desperately need. Teachers should help
their teenage students, even those who have a healthy sense of self identity, to develop strategies
for dealing with the major stressors that people face through life. A rather interesting and final
idea which Elkind proposes to educators is that they along with the administration should
structure schools differently in order to cater to todays sophisticated teenagers. They should turn

the last two years of high school into more of a junior college, offering classes three times a
week and allowing students to make their own schedules, in order to give them more mutual
authority and to allow them to keep up with their own sense of sophistication.
Elkinds approach towards adolescence and the strategies which he suggests to better
facilitate their growth is extremely important for my colleagues in Azrieli and me to learn from
and to apply in our interactions with this age group. As educators, we are entrusted with todays
adolescents and tomorrows future leaders, and therefore have a tremendous responsibility on
our shoulders. It is essential to act both as role models for our students and as adults setting
limits and expectations for our classes. We need to recognize that adolescence is a critical time in
the development of young adults, and to set our goals for them accordingly. To realize that just
as we wouldnt assign a first grader with calculus homework, we have to appreciate the socialdevelopment and behaviors appropriate of our students and to set reasonable expectations for
them. By appreciating the developmental intricacies of adolescence and understanding the
struggles and challenges that adolescents face, we are able relate to our students on a deeper
level and will be able to offer them the patience, space and guidance to work through these
dilemmas.
Applying these profound insights of Elkind to the study of Limudei Kodesh, it is of
paramount importance for us as educators to accommodate the developmental levels of our
students when designing our curricula. As adolescents are beginning the formal operational stage
of development, it would make sense to begin introducing Talmud only now, since the study of
Talmud requires this higher level thinking, and to help our students navigate their ways through
this new style of learning. We need to understand that students are just beginning to think on this
deeper level, and should therefore be patient in planning and teaching their lessons, allowing

students the proper time to develop and fine tune these skills. Teachers of Limudei Kodesh
should make themselves available to their students, to set up meetings with them and to be
present figures around the school, in order to give our adolescents the role models they
desperately need. Moreover, teachers of Limudei Kodesh should aim to introduce elements of
social learning into their classrooms; since adolescents crave social interaction and informal
learning, and the Limmudei Kodesh classes are extremely conducive to this type of learning. All
in all, we as educators and parents need to be mindful of Elkinds depiction of adolescence, and
have to strive towards giving our teenagers the room to grow and discover themselves while
being present and available for guidance and support along the way. Even if at times the task
ahead may seem daunting, we should keep Elkinds words in mind, even if we cant do it all,
we can do something (253).

Works Cited
Elkind, D. (1998). All grown up and no place to go: Teenagers in crisis (Revised ed.).
Cambridge, MA: De Capo Press Lifelong Books.

Frenkel, M. (2002). Adolescence in Jewish medieval society under Islam. Continuity and
change, 16, 263-281.

Kanarfogel, E. (1992). Jewish education and society in the High Middle Ages. Detroit: Wayne
State University Press.