Long gone are the days when adolescents gathered at the corner drugstore for malts and an order of fries. Indeed, according to a recent conference, teenagers are maturing faster than ever before in recent history. And such an extreme change in maturation means that it's important for educators and parents alike to treat adolescents "as growing adults, instead of as children."
So proclaimed Joshua Yarden, event coordinator for the third annual Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education conference called "Sh'ma! Listening to Our Jewish Teens," held two weeks ago at Adath Israel of the Main Line.
'Place in the Community'
The conference stated as a goal the bringing together of educators, youth workers and Jewish teenagers from around the area "because there was a sense in the teaching community," according to Yarden, who also happens to be the ACAJE consultant for adolescent education, "that we weren't in tune with the issues teens should be focused on.
"A lot of the education is focused on children's programming," he continued, "and not on the confirmation students. So we wanted to recognize that they also have their own important place in the community."
The evening followed a basic structure of interactive dialogue.
Young people and adults initially broke off into 14 different discussion groups. The first hour consisted of a session appropriately called "Word on the Street," during which the younger participants expressed their minds on any number of topics concerning their Jewish and age-appropriate identities.
For example, in one session, a 10th-grade girl fretted about her inability to find ample opportunities to interact socially with large numbers of Jews.
In turn, the adults were given time to respond with their own inquiries and concerns.
The last hour or so consisted of 14 workshops, each with its own theme. One, for example, focused on helping adults deal with the issue of bullying, while another aimed to discover both the pros and cons of the ever-increasing role of online social networking in teenage lives.
Sharon Oser, 16, a junior at Lower Merion High School and president of Adath Israel USY, summed up the conference in this way: "It gives us kids a voice. It gives us a chance to let our teachers, mentors and elders know what we're thinking.
"It's an opportunity," she said, "to be in an environment where we can express our opinions, as opposed to being in a more formal classroom setting."