Moving to Israel with teens is not for the faint of heart. The earlier they come the better; after the age of 11 the social and linguistic challenges mount. Community is key (same as for adults), and for teens moving into a school that has many English speakers, life will be much easier.
As the Nefesh b’Nefesh (NBN) website recognizes, “many teens have difficulties socializing, succeeding academically, and functioning because of fear of failure, isolation, depression, and frustration of not being able to express themselves…. Some teens become depressed, angry, and defiant or withdraw from their parents….”
Teens can become so miserable, and make their parents so miserable, that the entire family makes yerida or sends the teen back to school in their native country. Unhappy teen olim who stay in Israel can end up on the streets or involved with drugs or destructive peers, limiting their futures and tearing their families apart.
Careful planning by parents can significantly improve a teen’s chances of having a successful absorption into Israeli society.
Belonging to a healthy peer group of teens who speak the same language and have common interests may be the most significant aliyah success factor for teens. NBN says, “Peers give the adolescent security and courage to get through difficult developmental experiences.”
Forming this peer group can start well before you load the first box into a shipping container. Even before you know where you’re moving to, you can help your teen use the NBN teen-to-teen matching service and social networking tools (like Facebook) to find potential new friends. If possible, bring your teen along on a pilot trip and visit schools so your child can meet other teens face-to-face, and then stay in touch with them online.
Putting your teen directly into a regular all-Hebrew high school may or may not be the best choice, depending on his or her Hebrew skills and confidence level. Teens with weak Hebrew may need to spend several months in ulpan. Tutors are widely available, very helpful, and less expensive than in America. The school councilor can recommend ones, who know not only the material, but the exact why it is presented and tested in that school.
Sports, theater, and youth groups can also help teens make friends, have fun, and find a supportive environment. Although many such activities are conducted in Hebrew, some sports programs (especially those involving American sports like baseball and football) attract large numbers of English speakers, and a handful of English-speaking theater groups involve teens. The greatest concentration of English-language programs for teens is in the greater Jerusalem area, including Gush Etzion and Beit Shemesh.
More information about ulpans, schools, and recreational activities is available at the sites listed below. Several schools at the link listed below offer English-language or bilingual education.
NBN Teen Page
AACI Teen Oleh Survival Guide
High Schools for English Speakers
Ulpan for Teenage Olim,14 Gideon St., Baka, Jerusalem
Director: Yael Shalom