M OTHER: "My brother should just know that GoMarket called Yaacov back for a second interview. This new organized, independent Yaacov really is a pleasure, so maybe I can forgive him…"

YAACOV: "I get it — I don’t have to kill my personality, just enhance it. And you know? It’s nice when things are where they’re supposed to be"

UNCLE: "Yaacov’s entire demeanor is much more put together. Which is a big relief to me, considering that I convinced GoMarket to recruit him"

Next session, I hand Yaacov a paper. In the center is a small circle, with progressively larger circles around it. In the middle, I write, “Yaacov.”

I point to the circle immediately around his name. “Who is closest to you?” He fills in his parents’ names.

In the next outer ring, we fill in the next level of relationships: his siblings, best friend, grandparents. His cousins, aunts, and uncles — including the uncle who employed him — fill the next ring. The following ring, Yaacov adds neighbors, acquaintances, and coworkers. “And your boss?” I prompt.

He points to the inner circle where he listed relatives. “Here.”

I let it go for now. “Look at this circle.” I tap the closest ring, his parents’. “These are the people you’re closest to. You behave casually with them, you can be yourself. You share personal things with them. They might know you’re in between jobs, for example.” I point to the outer ring, acquaintances and coworkers. “With these relationships, you behave more formally. You wouldn’t share very personal information.”

I move on to discuss context. “What would you wear to a wedding?”

“Uh, a suit?”

“Right.” I point to the green Crocs on his feet. “What about these?” He shakes his head. “Crocs aren’t appropriate for a wedding. Just like some situations call for more formal clothes, some situations call for more formal behavior. How do you behave at a chuppah?”

“Uh… quiet.”

“Right, a chuppah is very formal, everyone stands silently and solemnly. But what about the dancing? Then silence and solemnity are totally inappropriate. As inappropriate as lively dancing would be during the chuppah. Remember the Yenta Rule; when there’s nothing wrong with the behavior around you, try to conform.”

Yaacov scowls. “You’re putting me in a box.”

“It’s more nuanced than that.” I go back to the circles and fill in his uncle’s name in the circle with his other work relationships. “It’s about context. Sometimes he’s your uncle, and sometimes he’s your boss. It’s up to you to adjust your behavior depending on the context.”

I pull out two photos: one of a businessman in a suit and tie, the other of a guy in a faded polo and crumpled khakis. “These guys are both mega-talented marketing geniuses. Which one is your uncle, or GoMarket, more likely to hire?”

He points to the guy in the suit but looks despairing. “I can’t live like that.”

“You don’t have to look exactly like that. But if you want people to treat you a certain way, to trust you with a job, you need to behave in a way that inspires their confidence.” I know Yaacov can get this: He is, after all, a marketer. 

The farther away a relationship is from the center of the circle, the more formality is generally required. There may be exceptions, such as one’s rosh yeshivah: You may be close but the relationship will still require formality. 

At a wedding, as in life, you need to change your behavior over the course of the event. 

Take It Home

If you or your teenager struggle with time management, executive function, or social awareness, here are some ideas to build your skills:

Natural consequences

Don’t enable disordered behavior by saving your young adult child from himself. Allow your child to experience the natural consequences of his behavior. That will create the natural motivation to do the hard work needed to improve.

See the big picture

Individuals often struggle with time or execution because they’re not clear on the goal or its components. Before beginning a task or planning your day, visualize the end result. If you’re baking, study the photo accompanying the recipe. If you’re working on an art project, create a sketch of the final version. If you’re cleaning your room, visualize what a clean room looks like. Even better, take a photo of the room when it’s clean so that you have a clear image of the end result.

Think backward

Once you have a picture of the end result, think backward, planning each step that will be necessary to accomplish that end. List all the components or steps toward the goal and then plan how to get them all done. Never assume: If you’re assigned a task, review the instructions to make sure you understand all the details.

Log your time

Use a notebook to track how long tasks take. When planning backward, allot the appropriate amount of time for each step. Stop halfway through and check to see whether you’re running on schedule. If not, adjust your plan to meet your deadline.

Be a yenta

Wherever you are, observe and evaluate the people and environment around you to learn what’s expected of you. If you’re going to a new place or social environment, like camp, a new school, or starting a new job, find out the unofficial dress code and what the social environment is like. (In cases where the people around you are acting unsafely, against the law or halachah, or otherwise inappropriately, make the conscious choice not to join them.)

Make an impression

Your dress and body language communicate on your behalf without you saying a single word. Make sure they’re communicating the message you want. Do you want people paying attention to your personality quirks or your professional skills? It’s up to you.

Originally featured in Family First, Issue 579. D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist in private practice for over 15 years. She is the creator of the Link-It reading comprehension and writing curriculum for elementary school students and directs continuing education programs for speech-language pathologists and educators.