How to Deal With the Stress of High School

My college friends did not believe me when I told them that I thought high school was harder than university for me. High school in the Bay Area is notoriously stressful and high-pressure. A consequence of growing up in Silicon Valley and surrounded by constant world-changing innovation is that high schools easily turn into overwhelming environments.

When I was in high school, I was convinced that I needed to not only get into college, but get into a good one. There were only thirty “good ones” in my mind: the top thirty colleges in the United States (according to U.S. news). The pressure of getting into college combined with the pressure of succeeding in school and living up to the incredible standard set by the amazing individuals in the Bay Area can feel like far too much for many high schoolers to bear. It’s hard to remember sometimes, but there are so many reasons to value ourselves outside of the rigid expectations for success that permeate Silicon Valley. Being a good person is just as important, if not more important, as being a smart one. Here are some tips on how to deal with the stress of high school.

Your Grades Do Not Define You

In high school, my self-worth was, for at least the first two and a half years, linked to my grades. When I did well on a test, I felt like I was worthwhile. When I did poorly on a test, I felt like I had failed down to my very bones.

The environment of many Bay Area high schools almost encourages this kind of thinking. In my high school, teens were always comparing their scores on exams with one another. As soon as I got a test back, half a dozen kids were crowding around my desk asking, “What did you get?” Cheating was rampant. When you feel like your grades are a measure of your worth, the desire to do well becomes overwhelming and the anxiety of doing less well than expected can become suffocating.

Though it is one of the hardest things to do, recognizing that your grades are not in fact linked to your worth, intelligence, or potential future is one of the best ways to mitigate the stress of high school. One of the mantras I started telling myself in high school was that, “even if I do badly on this test, I’m still a good sister.” Having one thing that you can feel good about in yourself consistently can help to remind you that you exist independently from your test scores.

Grades are not the end-all-be-all of the world and the more you can start to separate your life from your grades, the less stress will affect you. 

Take Breaks When You Need Them

I have one vivid memory of my sophomore year in high school. I woke up feeling like a pile of flaming garbage. I took my temperature: 103˚F. I stared down at the thermometer in disgust. I had trigonometry, chemistry, and contemporary world history that day: I was quite certain I could not miss school. If I did, my fever-ridden mind assured me, the world would end. 

My parents saw me stumble out of my bedroom, backpack slung over one shoulder, face pale as I made my way to the front closet to put on some shoes. 

“Are you feeling alright?” My dad asked. 

“Fine,” I said, rather unconvincingly. 

“Hmm,” he replied. 

My parents made me take my temperature. They made me stay home despite my impassioned pleas to let me go to school. “You don’t understand,” I wailed, “Everything will be over if I don’t make it to Mr. O’Connell’s chemistry class.”

The world did not end. I drank soup. 

Taking breaks in high school can feel like the last thing you want or need. Even so, we all need to take breaks sometimes. When you feel sick, stay home. The world will go on, and so will you. 

I have a few memories of trying to study late into the night far past the point of exhaustion. I always did better when I decided to go to sleep versus when I tried to push through the fatigue. Taking breaks does not make you weak, it is a sign of understanding your own needs. Everyone has limits, and respecting your own boundaries is a way to lower stress. 

Mental health days — days where you stay home from school to either study for upcoming exams or catch up on much needed sleep — really do help lower stress levels. Being honest with your parents about your needs can help them see when you would benefit from a break. 

Bay Area teens have a tendency to overcommit to a variety of activities, and to avoid burn-out, it is necessary to sometimes take a bit of time away from your busy schedule to recharge. 

Going to an Ivy League College/Stanford is Not the Only Path to Success

Getting into a good college seemed to be the focus of everyone in my high school. We worked ourselves harder than was healthy and participated in clubs, extracurriculars, jobs, and internships, and enrolled in numerous AP courses, all for the goal of getting into a “good college.”

The students in my high school who did not want to take so many APs or didn’t participate in all of the extracurriculars often felt like they were invisible to the school and their peers. Existing outside the mold of perfection can feel just as isolating as trying to fit into it. 

It is important to remember that college is not the only path to success. Some teens don’t like classrooms, and that’s okay. There are many jobs someone can hold without a college degree. Many in-demand jobs, like electrician technicians, gaming managers, MRI technologists, beauticians, chefs, and agricultural managers do not require a bachelor’s degree. If going to college and sitting through four more years of school does not seem like the right fit, you don’t have to do it. 

Additionally, organizations in every field hire individuals who did not attend one of the “top 30” schools in the US. Recruiters increasingly like students from state schools because they tend to be hard-workers with a good head on their shoulders. Going to community college for two years before finishing at a four year institution can be a great option, and it does not impact job outcomes. Even the FAANG companies (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google) hire people from schools all over the country, not just the “elite” ones. 

If I had known earlier in my high school experience just how little your college impacts your future, I would have been a lot happier. The truth is that by the time you apply for a second job, your employer cares far more about your work experience than your degree. Work and internship experience also play a role when employers look at job applicants. And most of the time, employers just care that you got a degree, it doesn’t matter if it is from an elite private school, a small liberal arts college, or a huge state school. 

College is not the end-all-be all. It’s just college. It feels much bigger than it is.

Maytal Booth is the 2021 Teen Initiative Intern and a current undergraduate student at Vanderbilt University. Maytal sang the Shema before she learned the alphabet song and spent most of her childhood running around congregation Kol Emeth. As the author of “Dear the Man Upstairs” and a lover of history, Maytal believes that Judaism’s written and oral traditions are key to the continuing success of the religion, and that story-telling and debates are how teens, families, and adults build community.

Unplugging From the World, Reconnecting With the Planet

Nature as Medicine for Teens

By Emma Silver

In a world that necessitates connection via screens, phones, and social media, teens are plugged in now more than ever. While society tends to tout this connectivity as a positive, one of the tradeoffs is a disconnect from the planet and a distancing from the natural world. 

On average, today’s kids spend up to 44 hours per week in front of a screen, and less than 10 minutes a day playing outdoors. This has been exacerbated by the pandemic, and we’re seeing more and more the ways in which this has impacted children’s growth, mental health, and many other aspects of their lives. 

Nature has so much to offer our kids in terms of nourishment, growth, and fun, and can serve as an antidote for the negative effects of so much screen time. But what does it mean for teens to be connected with the natural world, and why does it matter? 

Time Spent in Nature Builds Important Skills 

The natural world has so many important life lessons and skills to offer our teens, and the more time they spend in nature, the more opportunities they have to learn. Studies have shown that time spent outdoors, in community with other kids, enhances a child’s ability to communicate effectively. Effective communication better equips teens to navigate relationships, express how they feel, and function on a team. 

Adventures outdoors also hold space for teens to take calculated risks, in an environment that promotes growth and learning and often with the support of adult mentors and guides along the way. At Eden Village West, we know that growth occurs at the edges, and healthy risk taking in the right environment can be empowering and transformative for teens. 

Nature Invokes Awe, Which Leads to Gratitude 

Awe is defined as “an emotional response to perceptually vast stimuli that transcend current frames of reference” – in other words, things that cause one to say, “Wow!” Time in nature helps to cultivate a sense of awe, curiosity, and appreciation for the natural world and for our lives. It also can help teens in particular to think beyond the scope of their own lives and engage in behaviors that benefit more than just themselves. 

At Eden Village West, we work to cultivate awe & gratitude through Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s idea of radical amazement- if we approach our lives with curiosity and wonder, often we’ll find that the ordinary is actually extraordinary. Radical amazement is a great catalyst for gratitude, and can lead to teens finding purpose and fulfillment in each and every moment of their lives. 

Time in Nature Reconnects Us to Land & One Another 

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and founder of the New Nature Movement, recently coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder”– the assertion that despite advances in technology, our world is inherently more disconnected. Over and over again, Jewish tradition explicitly names our connection to the earth, reminding us throughout sacred texts of the interconnectedness of all living things. 

For teens, making direct connections between the relationship that land, food, and people have to each other is so important. Putting these pieces together increases teens’ capacity for empathy and empowers them to go out and make the world a better place, deepening their relationships with the land and the communities around them. 

In this time of immense disconnect and isolation, time in nature has the power to bring teens back into deep, transformative relationship with the world around them, and hopefully even closer to the best versions of themselves. One of the greatest things you can do for your teen (and for yourself!) is to encourage them to spend time outside, reconnecting with nature as a means for recharge, learning, and growth. This sacred time hopefully leads them to an important conclusion– that the many facets of our world are much more connected than we tend to think. 

Emma Silver is the Assistant Director of Eden Village West, the Jewish organic farm camp in Sonoma County, CA. An experiential educator and lifelong camper, Emma believes that camp is a microcosm of the world that could be, in addition to being an essential space for campers and staff to wrestle with their Judaism, develop meaningful interpersonal and land-based connections, and be a part of a sacred community that sees each and every member as important. 

Tapping Into Your Family & Community’s Multicultural Heritage this Passover

By Gen Slosberg

Passover is coming up and I could not be more excited. As someone who grew up without Jewish community, Passover was one of the meaningful access points that brought me deeper into my Judaism. Passover invites us to reflect on our story of exodus from Egypt, and how the themes of liberation and justice relate to our own lives. 

This year, I’m overjoyed to be celebrating with the youth I work with in Jewish Youth for Community Action’s program for Jews of Color, Sephardi, Mizrahi (JOCSM) youth, Jews Against Marginalization (JAM). In JAM, we are always exploring how to uplift and celebrate our JOCSM identities. Passover is a great time for not just JOCSM folks to come together and bring our full selves to the (seder) table, but for multicultural Jewish families to celebrate all of their identities.

Below are four ways I personally find meaningful to adapt Passover plans and invite in my full identity. 

  1. Add a fusion twist to traditional eats. One of the best things about Passover is always the giant feast! Passover foods are incredibly flexible to fusion adaptation. For example, check out these recipes for a beautiful meld of Asian and Jewish foods – Japanese BBQ brisket by Kristin Eriko Posner and matzo ball soup dumplings by Justin Cucci. Also consider incorporating foods from Sephardi and Mizrahi cultures, such as this Sephardi take on charoset or this Persian stew.

  2. Incorporate your multicultural staples onto the seder plate. A few years ago, I attended a Jews of Color seder which used wasabi instead of horseradish as the maror (bitter herb). Even though that choice was largely due to what was available around us, it still made me feel deeply seen as an Asian Jew. It gave me permission to incorporate my heritage into the ways I connect with Judaism. You could even consider using staple sweet ingredients in other cuisines as part of your charoset!

  3. Spend some time exploring what’s behind the traditional four questionsWhy do we ask ourselves these questions, other than to highlight how Passover is different from other times in the Jewish calendar? What do the practices we highlight in those questions represent to our history, and what do they teach us about our present? Reflect on whether the themes of the four questions come up in your other identities. For example, remembering our suffering through bitter herbs resonates with my Asian American identity — I’ve continued to honor the historic and ongoing exclusion and discrimination Asian Americans have faced despite our perceived present success as a group.

  4. Incorporate writings by Jewish Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) creatives into your Haggadah. Passover is about exodus and the ability to be free at last. But in 2021/5781, marginalized communities, including Jews, are not free. Explore artwork that uplifts the meaning of freedom and hope to BIPOC Jews. You can read this poem by Sara Greenhalgh, this poem by Aaron Samuels, or the writings and voices of Black Jews in Jews for Racial and Economic Justice’s Black Lives Matter Haggadah. Name why it’s important to incorporate these voices – not just to celebrate multiculturalism, but to recognize that we all must commit to fight for true liberation for BIPOC in our community.

As a Jew of Color, it’s incredibly meaningful when I get to bring my multiple identities into Jewish settings, especially one as infused with tradition, ritual and culture as Passover. Cultural fusion will look different for every family and community. There’s no right or wrong way to adapt traditions, other than whatever feels right and authentic to you personally. This being said, I still urge you to bear in mind the history and context behind the traditions you’re thinking of adapting, and educate yourself on how to avoid cultural appropriation. For communities with predominantly white and Ashkenazi folks, I encourage you to adapt your Passover plans by inviting in the leadership of diverse families in your network.

So have fun, bring in your cultural identities, and most importantly, find ways to commemorate this historic moment for our people that reflect who you are.

JAM is hosting a Passover celebration for Jews of Color, Sephardi, Mizrahi youth (ages 13-18) on Sunday, March 28th at 12:30-2PM via Zoom. Youth can sign up and parents can sign youth up here. Sign up by March 26th to receive a free meal! 

Gen Xia Ye Slosberg is a writer, organizer, and community builder. She is the Program Manager at Jewish Youth for Community Action and the Co-Creator of LUNAR: The Jewish-Asian Film Project. She is passionate about increasing visibility and advancing equity for Jews of Color and mixed-race folks.

Why Finding A Mentor For Your Teen Is So Valuable

What a year it’s been, am I right? While we all anxiously wait to see what 2021 has in store, it’s hard to ignore the impact that 2020, and more specifically COVID-19, has had on our community. Bay Area teens (and teens throughout the world) were especially challenged this past year with at-home learning, isolation from friends, canceled extracurricular activities, and countless unknowns about the future. And while we at JBridge know the impact that mentorship can have on our youth, it’s essential that, now more than ever, parents and community leaders alike also understand the value of providing extra support for our youth. 

Here are a few reasons that helping teens find a quality adult mentor can transform their sense of confidence, fulfillment and focus in these difficult times. 

1. Mentors create a space centered around listening and providing support 

Mentors can provide a listening ear and a space solely focused on your teen. As life somehow feels even busier than it did before COVID, teens can benefit from uninterrupted, focused time and space to share challenges, celebrate milestones, and connect with an individual willing to validate experiences and offer guidance.  

2. Mentors provide guidance to help your teen think through next steps 

The teenage years place a lot of pressure on young people to think about the future. High schoolers spend countless hours agonizing over choosing the “right” gap year program, attending the perfect college or trade school, applying for that career-advancing job or internship, or considering their long-term professional paths. For Jewish teens of color, these decisions are further compounded by the ongoing racial injustices in our society, and how they interact with future planning. 

An adult mentor is there to talk through these important life choices,and reinforce a teen’s intuition and decision-making skills. Mentors can share experiences from their own life,  and offer perspectives reflective of the time they had during and after their own years in high school. 

3. Mentors provide an outside perspective 

Teens are hard-wired to test boundaries and pull away from their parents. While this can be a painful and challenging truth, an adult mentor who is not living day-to-day with your child is well-positioned to share truths and lessons learned.. Often, advice that would be met with resistance when supplied by a parent lands differently when suggested from a neutral party. 

4. Mentor/mentee relationships are mutually beneficial

A teen asking adults to be their mentor out of respect and appreciation for their input is one of the most flattering gifts someone can receive. And 9 times out of 10, they’ll say yes! Just as your teen will grow from working with a mentor, the mentor will learn, develop, and invest in the relationship as well. Authentic mentorship connections can span for years, and can also serve to open unexpected doors down the line for both mentor and mentee. 

5. Having an extra adult who cares deeply about your child is a priceless gift

Above all, true mentors are invested in your teen’s growth and success. They want to know how your child is doing, are there to support them through challenges and feel genuinely excited to celebrate your teen’s triumphs. Invested mentors have a pulse on what’s happening in your teen’s life and a sixth sense as to when your teen needs additional guidance. As your teen builds their tribe, it’s wonderful to know they have the benefit of an additional devoted adult in their corner.

Every parent wants their children to thrive, to discover their unique path, and to feel confident in their choices as they move through these transformative years. And while parents are so formative in a teen’s life, it often takes a village to ensure that teens are being supported from all angles. Trust us – finding a quality mentor for your teen might be the best thing you do in this new season, whether it’s a youth group leader, a counselor, a rabbi, a coach, or just a fantastic community member you know and respect. 

Here at JBridge, you’ll find countless programs and opportunities for your teen to connect with adults who care about your children’s development and are here to help them navigate through these tumultuous times. No matter what your teens are currently experiencing, know that they are not alone, that you as a parent are not alone, and that we are here to support you every step of the way!

Jewish Summer Camp: Why It’s One Of The Best Gifts You’ll Ever Give Your Child

While we all know how hard it is to plan for the future right now, the Bay Area Jewish community is looking towards summer 2021 with optimism and excitement around the potential for our Jewish summer camps to collectively run in-person experiences once again!  After months of shelter-in-place, countless families are holding out hope for the prospect of adventurous outdoor exploration, silly evening programming, and lively Shabbat community celebrations. While there are so many reasons to consider Jewish summer camp for your child in any given year, here are a few reasons to consider a summer at camp post-pandemic:

1. Camp builds independence: Quarantine has pushed families physically closer than ever before, and many families are enjoying this newfound time together. On the flip side, the increased family interactions provide fewer opportunities for the identity exploration and independence usually synonymous with the teenage years. 

Camp challenges teens to problem-solve amongst peers, build communication and self-advocacy skills, and test out new identities. It provides opportunities for teens to make their own choices and try new activities, pushing them to expand their comfort zones and grow in the process.

2. Camp infuses Jewish values into every activity, setting the stage for ongoing activism: The current moment presents us with ample opportunity to stand up for causes we believe in and be active participants in the public space. Jewish camps are grounded in values like kehillah (community), omez lev (courage), and tikkun olam (repairing the world). By living 24-hours in a setting focused on building these values, teens can use skills gained and lessons learned as a jumping off point to challenge injustices and care for those around them upon returning.

3. Camp is steeped in tradition: The pandemic has pushed us to adapt from celebrating holidays and events in the ways we hold dear. We’ve watched many a birthday, wedding, and even High Holiday service take place over zoom or amongst a small group of people. 

Camp is built around meaningful traditions that provide a sense of consistency and group identity. Campers and staff aspire towards opportunities like serving as color war captain, taking a beloved off-site trip, or simply receiving a certain special swag item that marks a new step in the camp journey. Of course, Jewish camp is centered around meaningful Shabbat observance, and each camp provides a unique, ritual-infused experience that many consider the highlight of each week. 

4. Camp builds community: Above all, every Jewish camp is built upon opportunities for campers to build friendships and feel a sense of belonging within a larger Jewish community. In non-pandemic times, camp encourages hugs, high fives, fist bumps, and arms thrown around one another–interactions we never knew we needed until they were taken from us. Many teens leave at the end of the summer having strengthened bonds with former bunkmates and emerging with new best friends whom they previously hadn’t known just weeks earlier. These meaningful connections formed under the guidance of positive staff role models, just a few years older, supported by caring senior leadership.

In Northern California alone, there are more than 20 Jewish day and overnight camps that have collectively transformed the lives of thousands of children and young adults. Camp provides space for wrestling with values, growing confidence, and building lifelong friendships, allowing young people to carry these lessons and memories into adulthood and beyond. Give your child the gift of Jewish summer camp, it might be the best decision you ever make!