Saturday, August 1, 2009

Parents or Peers? Who Plays a Greater Role?

Who would you think has greater influence on teens as they develop religiously: their parents or their peers? Most people would say that peers have the greatest influence on religious choices. Not true, says a noted Israeli educator.
In a recently published study by Dr. Shraga Fisherman of the Orot College of Education (full disclosure: I work at Orot, and know Dr. Fisherman. ) addressed the issue of religious influence on children.
In the end, parents have the greatest influence on their children's spiritual choices. In his survey of teenager boys he found that children in grade seven very much value their parents' wishes. As the kids got older, that level of importance declined, reaching a low at eleventh grade. But then, as the teens got even older, they once again gave greater weight to their parents' values, and by age twenty valued their parents' opinions almost as much as they had in seventh grade.
What did he take away from this survey? Dr. Fisherman concluded,
ולכן חשוב לא להתייאש ולהמשיך ולתת את הדעת על חינוך לזהות דתית גם בשלהי גיל ההתבגרות
Therefore, it's important not to give up, and to continue to express [parental] opinions in order to educate towards religious identity, even during the teenage years.
I have heard so many parents tell me that they're afraid of coming down too hard and driving their children away. This study carries great importance because it tells us that no matter what we do or say, our children naturally gravitate away from us during the middle high school years. As they search for a sense of inner guidance, they feel a need to rebel on some level, and find their own spiritual path. But they're still listening. And while during the difficult years of high school they may not always do what we say, they do want to know how we feel. So when they grow a little older and more self-confident, they have solid guidance on a direction to turn.
While our children may recoil from our opinions, it's probably what they most need - and even want to hear. If so, the worst thing parents can do is not say anything at all.