If you're planning Aliyah with a teenager, here are some ideas and suggestions to keep in mind:
- Your child may or may not want to make Aliyah.
Some parents make the decision to make Aliyah without speaking to their teens. Research proves that teens integrate into Israeli teen culture better when they know well in advance that they will be moving. Teens appreciate when their parents involve them in this important decision-making process. In particular, teens who are involved in the process of searching for their new Israeli high school from the beginning often feel more positive towards overcoming this challenging transition.
- Making new friends and "fitting in" in a foreign country.
Sports, clothing, slang, and accents are some of the significant details teenagers internalize in order to integrate. Peers give the adolescent security and courage to get through difficult developmental experiences. Some teens may become angry, and withdraw from their parents until they have the space to deal with their emotions. Parents play a crucial role in supporting and being sensitive towards their teens through this process.
- Religious Hashkafa and its influence on Israeli high schools.
It is important for Olim to recognize the overt and subtle cultural and religious differences between the country they are leaving, and Israel. Coming from Jewish communities abroad, many Olim are accustomed to mixing and matching their religious Hashkafa; but in Israel, religious society tends to be more labelled and categorized. In addition, the school system includes a wide variety of separate tracks. For example, most charedi schools in Israel do not accommodate for Bagrut tracks and eligibility for University. Olim coming with a Charedi background may be interested either in an Israeli Charedi system, or the Chardal system. Chabad has its own track, but someone who is “Chasidi Leumi”, a more open charedi family would want to look at other Charedi options. Olim with a Dati Leumi background may want to look at both Chardal and Dati Leumi tracks. Dati leumi schools are broken down into either Dati leumi or Dati Leumi Torani tracks.
Parents should research and explain to their teens the various religious/ educational choices as they investigate their options, so that there is the proper religious matching of family and school Hashkafa. Keep in mind that in some cases, schools may have one particular religious philosophy while some of the teachers may freely express their individual Hashkafot when instructing their students.
- Switching to Hebrew
A student who learns Limudei Kodesh in an Ivrit b'Ivrit setting has an increased chance of a quick and smooth integration into the school system. Many day school students are limited in spoken Hebrew because of their sole familiarity with Hebrew is from religious texts and literature. Teens learn early on that spoken and textual Hebrew is very different. Some teens understand Hebrew better than they can speak it. It is wise to understand that in Israel, all school instruction will be in Hebrew except for English classes. Students who are used to achieving high grades in Limudei Kodesh classes in the U.S., Canada or England may be frustrated when they are not able to keep up with their Israeli classmates. Parents and teens need to properly evaluate their teen's Hebrew efficiency level and investigate independent and school ulpan programs.
- Succeeding in schools that emphasize academics, social integration or individual development.
Research on Olim teens shows that Olim who enter school, and have at least one or two friends by the end of the first week of school, integrate more smoothly than teens that make new friends over a longer period of time. While parents may want to assume that their high-achieving teenagers will continue to do well (academically) after making Aliyah, keep in mind that some teens find the first and/or the second year in high school especially challenging because of the language and curriculum differences. Teens may feel depressed or isolated if finding friends proves difficult for them. It is a good idea to discuss with teens their criteria for a new high school, as this will narrow down the options and help you identify schools that satisfy both the parent’s and the teen's expectations.
Parents and teens need to discuss these challenges and decide on priority criteria when searching for the right high schools. Factors to consider and prioritize may include religious Hashkafa, social /student body type, personal needs, academics, support systems and parental involvement. Parents and teens must investigate schools and ask school administration and friends already living in Israel about schools and what they have to offer. It is important for parents to remember when discussing school options with their friends that their teen's needs may differ from the needs of other teens.
- Size of the school and fostering student-teacher relationships.
Teens who normally feel comfortable in large social circles, and schools with hundreds of other students, may feel differently about the number of students in their new school in Israel. They will begin to feel the cultural and language differences the first day of classes. Teachers may or may not support teen Olim through their transition process. Parents and teens need to discuss the school environment, school Oleh support systems, teacher-student ratios and Oleh-native Israeli ratios. Knowing this information before starting school will prepare teens and lessen their fears.
- Distance of the school from home.
In researching the priorities of Olim, the school's convenience and location were an important factor for parents, but did not always matter to teens. Travelling is something to consider when looking for your teen's high school. The amount of time a teen has studied in Israel, independence, unique needs, self-confidence, and individual goals may motivate a student to attend a school far from his or her home.
- Financial means to provide the necessary support for teens to succeed in school.
Parents of teens must consider how they can be involved and support their teens through their acclimation process. In many cases extra Hebrew and other subject lessons are needed to supplement their teen's formal schooling. The pressure of Bagrut examinations increases the need to search for extra support. Many parents go through their own transition process and find it difficult to provide support for their teens when they need it. Providing teens with someone objective before and after making Aliyah, such as a support coach or a health care professional, may help your teen deal with these challenges.
- Teens with learning and language differences.
Parents of teens with learning differences must not hide their teen's issues. Language, social, and emotional problems may escalate when teens fear and do not know how to deal with the sudden changes in their environment. Research the educational programs that best match the current school your child is learning in, before moving to Israel. Be aware that it is not always possible to find a program fitting for a teen with learning differences. Researching and working together with a school guidance counsellor or an educational consultant in Israel may open up options and provide valuable information to help you decide.
- Teens that may be too old to make Aliyah.
Some teens even in the 10th or 11th grade can and do integrate in Israel without any major problems. However, research proves that the younger your children are when they make Aliyah, the smoother the integration process. Research also proves that many teens have difficulties socializing, succeeding academically, and functioning because of their fear of failure, isolation, or frustration of not being able to express themselves. Teens in Israel deal with the extra pressure of taking Bagrut exams in the 10th, 11th, and 12th grades. Many teens are not prepared academically for the Bagrut exams, and parents should research leniencies and modifications of the Bagrut exams for Olim and teens with learning differences.
Parents of teens must be prepared to consider difficult situations, such as teens competing in Israeli high schools in a Hebrew environment, Bagrut exams, sending their teens to high schools in Israel earlier than themselves, teens repeating a grade in an Israeli high school, or teens completing high school abroad while living with a relative or friend. Researching additional options in Israel, such as teens completing a GED and SATs rather than Bagrut exams, is also worth looking into.
Teens who are making Aliyah have their own set of interests, needs and specific Aliyah challenges. To help your teen learn about available Oleh resources and ease his or her adjustment to life in Israel, please take advantage of the Teen Oleh Survival Guide, on the AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel) website. The guide covers some of the areas that are particularly important to teens in Israel such as youth movements, music, English-language libraries, sports, educational options, and preparing for the army or Sherut Leumi.