Teenagers and Shabbat

Building Shabbat with Your Teenager

The theme of the first annual Oseh Shalom Retreat was livnot u-l’hibanot–to build and to be built. We explored how we might build Shabbat into our lives. This is a report on what a group of parents with teenagers learned by sharing their thoughts and experiences.


The biggest obstacle is time. Parents with teens found it especially difficult to carve out Shabbat time. After the intensity of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, kids may feel they have done what was expected of them. If the teen is in Jewish day school, the family Shabbat issue may be harder, not easier. Teens may be unwilling to spend weekends at services if they have been in a Jewish school all week. The weekend is a time for a change in rhythm, not just more of the same, thus Shabbat may not seem a special event.

What are the obstacles to celebrating a family Shabbat? It’s not just the teenagers that are the impediment, parents, teachers, friends, even our secular society is said to be at fault. We identified a number of obstacles:

  • Parent’s work–jobs intrude even on weekends.
  • Household responsibilities–everyone is busy with housework, errands.
  • Kid’s work–teens have homework and outside jobs.
  • Extracurricular school activities–Sport activities tend to be scheduled for Saturday morning, school dances are often held on Friday nights. School schedules recognize Sunday as the day of rest.
  • Social life–kids get together with school friends on Friday evenings, and this often includes sleepovers. If friends aren’t Jewish or aren’t observant, they don’t recognize family claims on Friday evenings.
  • Peer pressure means that if your friends don’t go to services, you won’t want to either.
  • The automobile–many kids have lets them escape.
  • Rebellion–sometimes kids don’t want to go to Shabbat services simply because their parents promote it.
  • Community–we live in a secular society, not a Jewish one. Stores are always open. Shabbat isn’t inherent in that rhythm.


Shabbat isn’t just a list of actions to take, of things to do. First, a special mind set is needed, a way for adults to relate to teenagers. For parents and their teens to succeed at making Shabbat together, a few strategies are essential:

  • Teach by example–if parents value Shabbat more than work, so will kids.
  • Allow your teenager to live in two civilizations. Compromise. If you get them to services or to a family Shabbat dinner, don’t worry if they wander off later in the evening to be with their friends.
  • Let them know it’s okay to be different from their friends. It’s okay to be Jewish and in shul rather than at a party of Friday night.
  • Keep communication open so they talk about how they feel, about Synagogue as well as other things in their lives.
  • Don’t make Shabbat and religious observance oppressive – focus on what you CAN do on Shabbat, not on what you can’t do.
  • Don’t start expecting them to celebrate family Shabbat as teens if it hasn’t been a pattern during their upbringing (but, of course, it’s never too late to start).
  • Don’t expect them to behave differently than you did. Empathize with your kids, try to remember how you felt when you were their age, understand it isn’t easy making choices.
  • Don’t threaten, you’ll lose.


What tools can you use to make Shabbat a family time? How can we make the Shabbat experience at Oseh Shalom one that teens will enjoy?

  • Sponsor a teen Shabbat–Oseh Shalom should sponsor a Teen Shabbat, publicize it, BBYO could sponsor the Oneg, or there could be a special teen oneg or teen event after services.
  • Make Shabbat dinne the number one priority. The most beautiful of Jewish celebrations is Shabbat, make it special, make it fun. Put out a white table cloth and flowers, light candles, make the soup, cook the chicken, serve challah, eat in the dining room, sing songs, make it memorable.
  • Invite a friend–let your teen bring a friend to services or a retreat or Friday night sleep over. The friend can be Jewish or not. Non-Jewish friends can learn about Shabbat and perhaps understand why it is so special or important. If your teen brings a friend to Shabbat dinner, they can’t help but appreciate the wonderful evening and experience a”WOW” moment. It’s a way to bring understanding, celebrate differences, and educate.
  • Send your teen to summer camp–they will see what fun it is to celebrate Shabbat with their friends and learn that it’s cool to be Jewish.
  • Do it in small doses–on Saturday morning, don’t insist they go to services for two hours. Let them just come from 11 to 12, then go out to lunch afterwards, or have family or teen or group activity, do something special to get them to services.


It’s difficult making time for Shabbat when the society we live in does so many things to discourage our participation. But there are things that we can do to make the experience rewarding – and fun for teenagers. It may take some extra work and changes may come gradually, but it’s worth it. May the light of Shabbat shine in your family.

Shabbat Shalom, by Mina Hilsenrath

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