Wendy Mogel’s new book, “The Blessings of a B Minus, Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Resilient Teenagers,” is a must-read for parents of any religious stripe — from agnostic to Zoroastrian. Parents may already be hip to Mogel’s Old Testament, Talmudic and Yiddish references from her excellent first book, “The Blessings of A Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children.” Mogel again applies the timeless wisdom of the ages with a contemporary voice laced with humor. She writes with the experience of a mother who lived through her two daughters’ teenage years and the authority of a clinical psychologist (Ph.D.) who has treated teens and their parents over decades of practice.
The overriding message of Mogel’s new book is that parents should allow teens to be teens in all their vibrant, passionate, messy glory.
“Teens need to experience life,” Mogel says. “Knowledge and wisdom come from making mistakes and using bad judgment.”
She urges parents to be “alert but not alarmed” when dealing with their teens. The perils of adolescence — bad grades, emotional outbursts, rudeness, rule breaking, late nights and experimentation with intoxicants — do not spell absolute disaster. Rather Mogel urges us to consider them normal and necessary — blessings that represent healthy growth and awkward adolescent steps to independence.
This doesn’t mean parents should let their teens run wild. Teens want and need their parents to set consistent limits and offer guidance. When teens behave badly, Mogel advises parents to impose and enforce appropriate consequences.
Mogel analogizes teens’ journeys to adulthood to the Israelites wandering through the desert on the way to the Promised Land. Like Moses, parents must assume the role of wise and compassionate yet detached leaders to help their children navigate the road to adulthood. Like the Israelites, our teens must be prepared to survive in a new land without parental oversight.
Of particular concern to Mogel are parents panicked about their teens’ chances of being admitted to the “right” college in our ultra-competitive world. These well-intentioned but anxious parents put an intimidating amount of pressure on their teens to be perfect kids who excel in academics, sports and the arts. What about kids who don’t fit this narrow definition of success?
“We must cherish our quirky kids who don’t fit the mold without worrying that they’re not gregarious-athletic-musical scholars,” Mogel says.
To avoid comparing our teens, Mogel advises parents, “Don’t hang out with a bad crowd — for example, a friend who asks ‘How was Josh’s report card?’ or ‘I found a great tutor who raised Jake’s SAT math score.’ It may seem like everyone has swallowed the college competition Kool-Aid, but you don’t have to.”
Mogel also exposes the hazards of parents becoming too enmeshed in their teens’ lives. “When parents over schedule and over indulge their teens in the quest for perfection, the kids aren’t expected to do much other than shine academically,” she says. Mogel believes this tunnel-like focus on academics doesn’t adequately prepare teens for real life. “These kids, with all their good fortune, are actually neglected because they are not cherished for who they are and are not taught necessary life skills,” Mogel says.
In “The Blessings of a B Minus,” Mogel emphasizes the importance of teens learning to take care of themselves.
“When parents behave like sherpas, butlers, concierges and human ATMs, their teens are not going to learn to do things for themselves,” she says. Her ultimate wisdom: “We must raise them to leave us.” Mogel’s “Blessings of a B Minus” leaves readers counting their blessings that she managed to pack so much sage advice into one slim, 182-page volume.