Bar- and batmitzvah celebrations happen to coincide with the onset of adolescence for many youngsters. Inevitably they will be experiencing a series of dramatic psychological changes and social occasions during this time can feel like an emotional obstacle course. The self-esteem of early adolescents can be fragile, and little is more important than the feeling of being accepted by their peers.
The barmitzvah party environment can act as a spotlight shining down on insecurities. Look beneath the surface of even the most outgoing of young guests at a simchah and there will be an excruciating mix of vulnerability and confidence. Throw in an atmosphere in which there may be minimal parental supervision as the adults are busy partying themselves, and it is a recipe for potential trouble. Parents need to be clear about rules - youngsters cannot be expected to put their own boundaries in place in this unique atmosphere. Here are some tips to help your teenagers cope with this social whirlwind:
● If these occasions really are too much for your child, sense when they have had enough and take them home, or arrange for a grandparent or friend to pick them up early.
● Do not worry if your child struggles with this level of socialising - shyness can increase dramatically with adolescence, but with time and increased maturity most kids will grow out of it. Encourage friendships and social arrangements but do not push teenagers into uncomfortable situations - it may lead to a loss of confidence.
● Do not ever let your child feel they are letting you down if they do not enjoy themselves. Their brains are a maelstrom of insecurities at this time, and though they may appear to push you away, they need to know that their parents love and accept them unconditionally. Make it clear that you enjoy their company, compliment them and involve them in your conversation, helping them to build up their self-esteem.
● Even if you know your child is completely comfortable in this environment, keep an eye on them or, if you will not be present, ask a friend to keep a discreet watch. Offer to do the same for their children. Let your young teens know what you consider to be appropriate behaviour.
● Early adolescence is prime time for risk-taking behaviour. Make sure there is no access to alcohol and make it clear that alcohol consumption will not be tolerated. State your expectations clearly and be consistent - it may not seem like it, but teenagers not only need, but actually want boundaries. If they do not listen, make sure there are consequences. The more illicit freedom an early adolescent gets away with, the less respect they will have for social rules later on.
● Social networking adds a whole new dimension. Inappropriate photos can be posted which may seem hilarious at the time but may cause great embarrassment later on. Make it absolutely clear to your teenagers what you consider acceptable. Lay down a zero-tolerance policy on social network bullying.
● All the late nights can take their toll. It is not unusual for a child in a Jewish school to attend a function almost every week. Be realistic and expect tiredness and the accompanying short temper as they struggle to wake up for school after a hectic weekend, just at a time when their bodies are craving more sleep
● Whether your child seems overly shy or ridiculously confident, keep talking. Though teenagers can be infuriatingly monosyllabic and secretive, they will still absorb what you say to them. If they do open up, listen, empathise, make suggestions and offer choices. Let them know that it is OK to feel hurt, confused or pressurised. Use encouraging and supportive words, making sure not to be overly critical or judgemental.