Suspended From School

Q: Our 16-year-old daughter has been exhibiting troublesome behavior in recent weeks, and my husband and I don’t know how to respond. She shows a lack of interest in schoolwork and wants to create a spirit of Purim every day in class. She has been non-compliant with certain school rules, and has actually been temporarily suspended because of this. We’re not sure how long she will be out. She speaks of changing schools if the administration continues to “pick on her.” She claims she has acquaintances who have gone to this other school that she is considering, and it’s not as bad as we make it out to be.

On a practical level, suspending a teenager includes “imprisoning” her parents. I can’t leave her alone all day, and I also can’t reward her non-compliant behavior by going out with her on an outing somewhere.

My daughter has one Hebrew teacher she is fond of. This teacher tries to be of help, but there is a limit to what she can do.

How can I be most helpful in this present situation, when she is at home?

A: Since you speak about your daughter in a general fashion, I am not getting enough of a sense of her personality to suggest how to respond specifically to her situation.

A parent can mean to be helpful and then be perceived by the teenager as overbearing. Children instinctively want to please their parents, so motivational methods need to be more creative.

Does your daughter have an idea of what she might like to do when she gets older? Did you speak to her about this subject? To better understand and improve communication, you, the parents, need to listen to a child’s aspirations (even if you do not feel comfortable with them). Teenagers tend to idealize whatever reality is not the one they presently inhabit.

The idea of being compliant with authority needs to be discussed with your daughter. All functioning systems and societies — including schools — have rules, and no authority wants to be ignored or taken lightly. The rationale of “annoying” rules being created to form a sense of consistency and structure can also be discussed. This reality can help take away your daughter’s sense of being singled out in school and help her understand that adults who create structure want it adhered to.

On a practical level, it is most important to help organize your daughter’s day during this time she is missing school. Every day home only increases the possibility of her becoming angry and frustrated. You can arrange to get notes from classes she is missing to help her prepare for upcoming tests. If she likes her Hebrew teacher, you can request that she mentor her and speak to her on a daily basis to stay connected. Depending on the nature and quality of the relationship, they could learn something together that your daughter finds interesting.

It is also essential to know the school’s specific expectations for your daughter. In this way, the parameters of her behavior are clearly defined, and the year can end on a more upbeat note.

Perhaps this school may not be the best choice for your daughter, but that is not the question you are asking right now. Parents need to speak to daas Torah and experienced mechanchim and mechanchos to get a realistic vision of appropriate and helpful choices for their children.