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Friendship: When to Pass the Torch

Devora Zheutlin, MA, CAS

Both the person in crisis and the helping friend have to take care of themselves

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

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C haya was stuck in that familiar place — playing the listening ear for someone else’s struggle. Throughout high school she often found herself feeling like a go-between, like the time two of her friends each discussed with her their annoyances with each other and challenged her ability to think straight. With her brain feeling overloaded, and wondering what she was even allowed to say, she came home one day after school, grateful to find her mother dicing a salad and ready to hear her out.

Very often the adults in our lives are wiser than we are. This is based on two givens: they are older than we are and have lived life a bit, and they are objective. They are simply one step outside a teenager’s day-to-day life and can therefore provide a reality check and assistance from the sidelines. This sounding board can be invaluable to growing young people. But sometimes the issues that today’s teens need to confer about far outpace simple politics. What does one do when a classmate is in crisis? How can one young friend adequately “be there” for another when the problems she may be sharing are quite serious?

The problem: High expectations, Low self-control

For starters, there are a few factors that make this teenage stage of life complicated. We might refer to these challenges as emotional growing pains. At this age, teens have neshamos and reasoning powers that are adult-like. They “get” situations from the inside and can pick up on people’s feelings at a very sensitive level. However, the steely backbone to live by those principles may not be totally developed yet.

Sarit often listened to the rav’s drashah in shul on Shabbos morning and felt so inspired. She left feeling lofty and wanting to do the right thing. It was only later in the afternoon, as she and her friends sat around and the conversation turned to making fun of teachers, peers, and the principal, that her conscience bit her. How hard to live up to the commitment she had made in her heart that same morning!

Teens describe feeling stuck or “flooded” (like waters overwhelming someone) by the self-imposed pressure to be great. Following through on that is rough and may lead to bad feelings about not meeting one’s own expectations.

Risky Behaviors

Teens and young adults take more risks than at any other stage of life. Although they may know that some actions are dangerous, they believe they’ll beat the odds (a notion called unrealistic optimism). To impress friends, teens might also engage in more daring and risky behaviors and thus put themselves in danger.

16-year-old Rina had her permit but not her license, and had no permission to drive others without an adult in the car. Even she knew that she was very early on in her lessons and wasn’t yet safe on the road. Strangely, however, when she had friends over for Shabbos and a late-night Motzaei Shabbos craving for a Slurpee took hold, Rina found herself offering to just “jump in the car and run to the 7–Eleven on the corner for a second and then come right back” with only her two teenage friends for company, and half wishing they would say no to the offer. (Excerpted from Teen Pages, Issue 699)

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