How to Understand and Support Jewish Preteens

May 2024

Middle school is tough. It’s always been tough to navigate the transition from childhood to teenager, but today’s preteens face challenges their parents didn’t. Cell phones and social media have fundamentally changed how preteens and teens interact. Academic pressure, social anxiety, and depression are at all-time highs. New ideas about gender and sexuality, Instagram envy, hyper-sexualized content, and achievement culture are all new phenomena that today’s preteens are navigating – often on their own.

Synagogues and Jewish communities have always sought to help Jewish youth and their families embrace Jewish values to face life’s challenges. Shalom Learning’s mission is to support synagogues and Jewish communities with content and curriculum that helps them achieve those goals.

Preteens need our support

The b-mitzvah provides a unique opportunity for the Jewish community to help preteens with the social-emotional development that they need during this stage of their lives. Rabbis and congregation leaders know that for the two years leading up to the b-mitzvah, families tend to be very engaged and connected with their synagogues and clergy. 

Research dating back to the early 1990s demonstrates that family education during the b-mitzvah preparation can help with “intergenerational dialogue,” but more recent research from Moving Traditions demonstrates that the vast majority of rabbis prioritize the religious rituals of the b-mitzvah rather than parent-pre-tween relationship and Jewish values.

Social-emotional support is more important than ever for tweens. Between 2011 and 2019, clinical depression doubled for kids aged 12-17. Self-harm rates tripled. Risk-averse parents and the social isolation of COVID-19 have further impacted pre-teens’ ability to navigate the “real world.”

Family education makes sense

The research is clear. Synagogues have an opportunity to have a much greater influence on the lives of preteens and their families during the b-mitzvah preparation years beyond learning Hebrew prayers. Jewish values can help preteens make sense of the changes they are dealing with while bringing their families together.

Research shows family education can be very impactful at this age because:

  1. Today’s Jewish teens are less likely to rebel against their parents and more open to learning from their parents.
  2. Jewish families that engage in active social-emotional conversations with other Jewish families feel more connected to their Jewish community.
  3. Family education can help parents provide a safe space for their preteens to discuss how they would handle risky situations before they actually have to face them.

Jewish values can help preteens thrive

Jewish values can be the foundation for meaningful dialogue that brings preteens and their parents together. Families can explore topics that are relevant to today’s preteens like sexuality, fitting in, social media, Jewish identity, and antisemitism in the context of Jewish values like Hevruta. Today’s teens need social-emotional guidance and Jewish values provide a great framework to do that. 

ShalomLearning can help

ShalomLearning is proud to partner with Moving Traditions to provide Family Education for pre-teens, teens, and their families through the B-Mitzah Family Education ProgramContact us to learn more about how you can support your families through this challenging life stage with meaningful content and intergenerational dialogue rooted in Jewish values.

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