Teen missteps pave way for success, Blessing author says

In the prevailing pressure-cooker society, in which parents and educators are creating enormous stress in adolescents by pushing them to succeed socially and academically, Dr. Wendy Mogel proudly belongs to the counterculture. She endorses the idea of kids letting off a little steam, goofing off and getting into some trouble.

Dr. Wendy Mogel

“I really want teenagers to screw up,” Mogel declared. “They have to do dopey stuff in order to grow up. It’s far better that they have the chance to mess up while they are under parental supervision than when they are away from home and on their own.”

She advocates for all kinds of teenage misbehavior —including rudeness to parents, procrastination and laziness, self-centeredness and rule breaking, and even limited experimentation with alcohol and physical intimacy.

“It’s not easy to convert your teens’ struggles into blessings. It requires both insight and cour-age,” Mogel writes in the first chapter of her new book, “The Blessing of a

B Minus: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Resilient Teenagers.” She goes on to liken the adolescent journey to that of the Israelites’ 40-year sojourn through the Sinai desert, enduring a prolonged period of “grumbling” and mistakes.

Mogel is concerned that so many college freshmen are ill-equipped to be independent. She spoke of the many still joined to their parents by “the electronic tether,” citing a study that freshmen text, e-mail or phone home 14.5 times a day on average. Others check out assigned roommates on Facebook before arriving on campus and request a switch. Some even come home for Thanksgiving visits and are unable or unwilling to return to school.

“You know what college deans call these kind of kids?” Mogel asked the audience of 1,500 at Stanford’s Memorial Auditorium Oct. 15. “They call them ‘teacups’ and ‘crispies.’ ‘Teacups’ are the ones who are so fragile they can’t handle any adversity, and ‘crispies’ are the ones who are so burned out from high school academics that they have lost all intrinsic pleasure in learning.”

Mogel, who has a private practice in Los Angeles, has spent 30 years counseling these types of teens and their parents, both in person and through her writing. Her first book, “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children,” was published a decade ago and was a New York Times bestseller. Her sequel was published last week and almost immediately sold out its first printing.

Mixing biblical and rabbinic references with her entertaining comic delivery, Mogel implored the attentive parents and educators at the Challenge Success conference not to be afraid of letting their children and students fail. “You’re not doing your kid any good if you get frantic if they come home with a B minus on a test or paper,” she said. “And, of course, we all know that with grade inflation a B minus is the new C minus,” she pointed out.

“Wendy Mogel was a huge draw when she spoke at our conference in 2006, so we were excited to be able to invite her back,” said Dr. Denise Pope, a senior lecturer

in Stanford’s School of Education and co-founder with psychologist Madeline Levine (“The Price of Privilege”) of Challenge Success, an organization that aims to reduce pressure on youth and encourage teens to define success on their own terms. “The timing of her new book was absolutely perfect,” added Pope.

Mogel’s keynote speech was her first stop on a national book tour. Her diverse audiences — she is often invited to speak to church groups — demonstrate that one does not have to be Jewish to appreciate her perspectives on successful parenting. “Christian audiences are interested and respectful, and secular and nonaffiliated audiences are interested in learning about parenting wisdom that has stood the test of time,” she explained.

“I always say something Jewish and talk about my own Jewish life and learning,” Mogel told j. “I did not grow up with a Jewish education, but I have learned a lot as an adult. I like to say that I am ‘Jew-ish.’ I’m like ‘The Daily Show’s’ Jon Stewart in that regard,” she joked.

Despite all the data she references and her many humorous impersonations of teens, Mogel said she always concludes her talks (she’s done some 350 over the last 10 years) with a reminder of the humility with which all mothers and fathers must approach their sacred task of parenting. “I always end with the rabbinic teaching that one should carry two little notes, one in each pocket. On one it should be written, ‘I am but dust and ashes,’ and the other should read, ‘The world was created for me.’ ”

Renee Ghert-Zand
Renee Ghert-Zand

Renee Ghert-Zand is a Jerusalem-based freelance journalist. She made aliyah from Palo Alto with her family in June 2014.