I recently had an opportunity to read a research study on the internalization of Jewish values in children that stresses the role parents play. The study was based on the concept of self-determination theory, which demonstrates the importance of autonomy support in promoting healthy internalization. By supporting autonomy for your children, you are not permissive; rather you provide guidance in a democratic manner that respects your child’s interests and feeling. You as parents cannot just assume that your children will adopt your values, you need to find a way to make your values relevant to your child.
By way of example, I want to show how self-determination theory might help in dealing with an issue many parents at Pressman confront; bringing your children to synagogue on Shabbat. When we as parents tell a child, “You’re going to synagogue because I said so!” we are inviting rebellion. Instead, we might consider a different approach. An autonomy-supportive approach might be to say “It’s natural to not always like going to synagogue, but our family is Jewish and going to synagogue is something we do. What parts of synagogue do you like best? How can we help you enjoy synagogue more?”
In the study I read about the internalization of Jewish values, such an autonomy-supportive approach to parenting was shown to be a significant factor in attitude toward and adoption of Jewish values by children. The study also indicated that such an approach in parenting correlated with better motivation, positive social adjustment in school, and better academic success in school.
There are many factors in insuring that our children have a strong Jewish identity and internalize the Jewish values we hope will guide their decision-making in life. In addition to giving your children a strong Jewish education, the role you play as parents and the approach you take to reinforcing Jewish identity and values is essential.