By Daniel Brenner, Jewish Educational Leadership Journal
November 2, 2020
What role should a parent play in the months of preparation that lead up to a coming of age celebration for a child?
I first started taking this question seriously after I stood on the Bimah, uttered the traditional parental blessing that freed me from “personal liability” (shepetarani mei’onsho shel zeh) for my newly dubbed “teenager” and tried my best to connect to the blessing on an emotional level. It was not easy. As much as I felt a release in that moment; the parental part of me was actually sensing a growing set of legal and moral responsibilities that I would carry for the actions of the pimpled, brace-faced teen who stood before me in his new suit and tie. I remembered my own random acts of teen recklessness and I wondered, on a karmic level, what my payback would be as a parent of a teen. So, while, yes, maybe on a spiritual plane the blessings’ words were still valid, I had internally concluded that relations between parents and teens have fundamentally changed. This blessing would be better fit to be said when a child reaches the age of eighteen and takes on the legal status of adult, not at thirteen.
I had these thoughts, yet the Jewish educator in me continued to ask: Shouldn’t we expect a thirteen-year-old to have a basic sense of responsibility for personal decisions and actions? And isn’t that what this blessing conveys? And might this blessing be speaking to a need to re-think the parent/teen relationship between ages thirteen and eighteen?