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Asking the clergy: What’s the best way through faith to help a troubled teen?

Rhonda Nebel

Rhonda Nebel Credit: Temple Beth Chai

The teen years can be difficult as many know from personal experience or from raising their own children. When attempts to find out what’s wrong fail, spiritual counseling and advice may help. This week’s clergy discuss how to reach out to an adolescent via communication, understanding and religious faith.

Rabbi Rhonda Nebel

Temple Beth Chai, Hauppauge

All teenagers have one foot in adulthood and one foot in childhood. It is a daily push and pull between independence and individuality versus conformity to fit in and be accepted. All teens need to feel a sense of purpose and belonging, a part of something greater than themselves. If teens are from an observant Jewish family, it might help to point out that after their bar or bat mitzvah, they take on the rights and responsibilities of an adult. Try to get them involved in charity work, which may help draw them out as well as put their own problems in perspective.

The word for doing charitable or good works is tzedaka. It is a basic Jewish value ingrained from birth. It means righteousness. Charity implies choice, but tzedaka is not a choice, it is a commandment incumbent upon all Jews.

At the website, teens can share their grass-roots community service projects. The fundamentally critical element to helping teens survive adolescence with limited battle scars are the relationships they have with supportive, unconditionally loving and caring adults and role models who will be there to catch and guide the teen when she or he falls or makes mistakes. These relationships are the safety nets every teen needs. Successes, big and small, build self-respect and respectful relationships with others, especially when engaging in doing good for the greater good. Good works are sources of positive self-esteem, self-worth and self-validation. When teens have these uplifting, “I am making a difference in the world in my unique way,” experiences, they become inspired and motivated to continue. After all, it makes people happy to feel good when we do good. And, ultimately, isn’t happiness what we all strive for in life, and all the more so a troubled teen?

The Rev. David Anglin

Pastor, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Amityville

The most important thing is spending time and listening to them and hearing their concerns. You need to ask questions to understand those concerns. It may help to take them to neutral ground, a friendly setting where they would feel comfortable, which may not be the church or their home, but a public place such as a local diner. Ultimately, you would include prayer, but you might not want to smother them with religion in the beginning. Trying to build some kind of bond is the first task. Learning what they are interested in, what kind of music they like or what their hobbies are. Start out fairly superficially and then try to build a level of trust, to show that you are interested in them. There is no magic formula. There are no magic words. However, as a pastor I’d certainly want them to see their worth in Christ, which ultimately means going to the cross and seeing how high a price Jesus paid for them. Whenever there are questions of self-worth, that’s where you go. You were worth Jesus’ life, his blood and his suffering, and that makes your worth very high indeed.

Narinder Kapoor

Member of the board of directors of the Multi-Faith Forum of Long Island, Melville

When you have a troubled teenager in the family, it can be difficult to know what to do to help. You might try to talk and give advice, but then the teen might seem resentful. Troubled teens must be handled carefully. If you honor their independence and give them gentle guidance, you are more likely to succeed. Even if you have to lay down boundaries, making it a collaborative process can help your troubled teen buy in. Allow the troubled teen to talk to you freely. Promise that you will not get angry or upset. It might be difficult, but teens will shut down quickly if you get emotional or judgmental. Make sure you are in the right frame of mind before starting the conversation. Reflect on what the teen is saying. Repeat what he or she says, but using different words. This shows that you are paying attention.

It also gives the young person a chance to correct you if you heard something incorrectly. If you must set boundaries, seek the teen’s input rather than simply laying down the law. They’ll be more likely to agree and abide by the boundaries if they’re involved in setting them up, and think you respect them rather than being an adversary.

According to the wisdom of Srimad Bhagwad Geeta, restore the dignity and self-respect in the teen by asserting that almighty God is seated in the heart of each one of us. She or he is divine. You can take your concerns to God through prayer. Drawing on God’s word, praying the Scriptures for your teenager offers palpable help about the stormy issues your teen faces. Introduce yoga and meditation classes to reduce anger and help the teen become amiable and peaceful.

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