The teenage years are often a tumultuous time, even in the most stable of circumstances. When a family makes Aliyah with a teenage child, parents are often justifiably concerned about how their adolescent child will react to the dramatic transitions that are inherent in the Aliyah experience. Leaving friends, a familiar school system and social environment can interfere with a positive acclimation process. Parents can do several things to help their teenage children adjust to Israeli society in general, and to the Israeli school system in particular.
A family’s choice of community is a key element. Choosing to live in a community with other Anglos can be very beneficial. Anglo communities tend to be close knit; both children and parents take comfort in this island of familiarity. One drawback is that family members have less incentive to learn Hebrew since they are surrounded by English speakers. Hebrew is spoken in very limited contexts: in the classroom, grocery store and doctor’s office; while English is spoken in the schoolyard, at the Shabbat table, and at home.
In order to help the family learn Hebrew, parents should consider incentivizing learning Hebrew in the context of the home. One meal per day can be established as the “Hebrew meal.” In addition, children (yes, even teenagers!) are quite sensitive to their parents’ role modelling. Thus, if parents do not make learning Hebrew a priority, children will pick up on this message. On the other hand, if parents are enthusiastic about the opportunity to learn Hebrew and make it a more integral part of the life of the family, children will pick up on this cue.
Another way parents can help their teens acclimate more easily is by not focusing exclusively on academics (essential as they are). Rather, ensure that children have healthy outlets, whether these are sports, volunteering or playing a musical instrument. Belonging to a peer group plays a primary role during the adolescent years. Involvement in extracurricular activities is a great way to enable teens to develop these social relationships and to aid their integration into Israeli culture. Adolescents (as well as their parents), who once felt like competent, contributing members of society, may suddenly feel disabled and not in control. Engaging in a familiar interest brings back that old sense of competence, even if just for a short time and in a limited context. This can provide the psychological benefit of mental energy, helping kids adjust successfully to their new surroundings.
Parents may find working with the Israeli school system particularly challenging. As parents who knew how to advocate for their children in the “Old Country,” parents need to learn that the norms and rules are different in Israel. It is difficult, at times, to understand the cultural nuances.
The Bagrut certificate that a student receives, upon successful completion of all of the matriculation exams, is his or her passport to higher education. Passing these exams is often a source of stress for both students and parents. Students will learn from other students about how the Bagrut exams work, and parents should make the effort to become informed about the exam by speaking to teachers, principals, and more experienced parents. Often Oleh students do not take on the full class load during the first 1-2 years after Aliyah. It is important to choose classes that will help prepare the student for the Bagrut.
Note: NBN’s online education database includes information about the Bagrut, including articles and a Webinar.
Parents need to be proactive in advocating for their children. Don’t let problems fester; rather try to anticipate them ahead of time. Parents should be tuned in to each child’s experience and assertively ensure that the child has the proper support systems in place. Experience has shown us that Aliyah with teenagers can be extremely successful as long as parents wisely choose a community, ensure that their child has constructive outlets, and maintain an active partnership with the school.
Thank you very much to Ari Cutler for his contributions to this article.