My teenager wants to stay up all night on Shavuot, and I, his parent, do not want to, nor do I want him to. I say it’s disruptive to his sleep and our family’s schedule, and he says it’s a religious experience that sounds fun and we should be supportive of that. Who’s right, and how do we resolve this?
Either fortunately or unfortunately, you’re both right, so a simple yes or no isn’t going to move the needle on your disagreement. The problems inherent in both of your positions is more nuanced than you’re allowing for, and a solution will require creative thinking and compassionate listening from both of you, plus a healthy dose of compromise.
First, you need to let go of your teenager’s schedule a bit more. Yes, even for a holiday, and even if doing so has a negative impact on your own schedule. You can make sure he knows that you will not be available after your own bedtime and that you might not be home or available whenever he wakes up the following day. You should also set parameters to make sure he doesn’t disturb other members of the household once they’re asleep. You could require that he be awake for Shavuot lunch with the family, but I don’t recommend it, mostly because if he makes it through the night, he’ll be cranky, and it won’t be much fun for anyone.
This brings me to my next point: If no one is staying up with him and there are appropriate limits to what he’s allowed to do at 3 a.m., he probably won’t actually stay up all night. But the limiting factor will be his own sleepiness and not your rules, and that will be better for your relationship. If there’s the opportunity for a sleepover with a friend’s more willing parents, or a community Tikkun Leil Shavuot outside of your house, you could look into these options as well.
More importantly, talk to your teen about what he’s hoping to get out of staying up. If he’s excited about learning Jewish topics in honor of a Jewish holiday, doesn’t that seem worth it? If he doesn’t actually know why staying up late is a Shavuot custom, you have the opportunity to learn about it together. If he thinks it sounds cool but doesn’t know how he would fill the hours, you could recommend books and print out articles of interest and set him up for an interesting experience. And, as above, the more you sanction this, the less likely it will be to happen.
If it fits with your religious practice, there are also virtual classes from a variety of sources taking place live all night, as well as recorded classes from much of the past two years that he could access online. These options are only viable if they wouldn’t lead to your teen just watching YouTube or gaming all night in the absence of any supervision, but especially for the live classes, he may have a communal experience that could feel like a great point of connection to other people in other places who are also staying up celebrating.
This brings me to my final point. You can provide that point of connection yourself. Stay up with your kid, even if it’s just a little later than you normally would. Buy some ice cream, pick a topic of interest to both of you and learn a little bit of Torah together.
Maybe, in the end, it’s less about both of you compromising and more about you letting go, finding creative ways to say yes and encouraging a harmless and potentially meaningful experience that your teen is seeking.