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Recently I met a 13-year-old who simply has no interest in Davening (praying). What would be a way of motivating such a kid to Daven?

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If you add more information about the specifics of the situation I can recommend more specific resources, texts and/or programs to better suit this particular teen. If you want to discuss the teen privately let me know and I can find some time to talk. –  Adam Simon Aug 2 '11 at 12:00
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Adam - what are your qualifications? –  Gershon Gold Aug 2 '11 at 17:20

5 Answers 5

It all depends on the teen and his/her background. Generally, with teens the issues fall into 1 of 3 categories and sometimes a mixture of the 3:

  1. No understanding of the depth/basic meaning of the liturgy (ie. no issues with the concept of talking to God or praying, but an issue with the codified liturgy)
  2. Deeper emunah issues (eg. an issue with the concept of a personal God, God in general or God caring about them)
  3. Lack of inspiration

Once you have an understanding of which issue (or mixture thereof) is affecting the particular teen you are dealing with you can begin to craft a plan to counter it. Usually the most effective methods involve one-on-one learning and conversations with the teen to address and go through the issues, but don't expect them to understand what issues are actually at the core of their lack of interest, you need to extrapolate this from the conversations.

Finally, NCSY runs Tefilla (and many other Jewish learning) programs for teens in various cities across the US and Canada which have proven successful with many different teen demographics. I would recommend trying to connect the teen with their local chapter of NCSY.

For teens living in areas with no active NCSY chapter or for teens who are not matim for NCSY's programs, I would recommend employing the methods listed above and finding a positive peer group with whom the teen can associate who are actively involved in improving their tefillah.

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How would you deel with a teen that has grown up in a Charedi area where NCSY is not present? –  Gershon Gold Aug 2 '11 at 19:00

Motivating an entire populace is one thing; starting a movement. Usually that requires a number of hands, somewhat selflessly dedicated to the cause. But a one-on-one lesson almost always proves fruitful, as the apprentice who learns from the master. How so?

In my personal experience, as a teacher and spiritual leader for young teens, examples/parable/metaphor works best. Living or historical, showing a youth how it's "done by the pros" kind of thing. Want him/her to be interested in Davening? First yield respect for it, and the culture surrounding (Adam's #1). Show him an old-school cat who practices faithfully and selflessly. If you can physically do this, awesome. If it takes a video, just as powerful. Our kids are more and more becoming visual learners. They're inspired (Adam's #3) by those around them. And yes, sometimes jaded by the overabundance of creativity or amount of people as well, but it will happen in time. May not take a day, may not take a week. But you sow seeds if you want something to grow. Don't just cast it on him/her. Why do you do it? Where did you learn? What was the process you took to get there, with grace and understanding?

And yes, I agree with Adam. NCSY, or youth organizations in general, channel the group dynamic that could support his/her growth, as opposed to feeling like he/she is having to practice alone, be devoted alone (which I think we eventually come to discover and cherish), instead of in community.

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welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for sharing your perspectives. I've deleted the final paragraph of your answer, relating particularly to beliefs from other religions, which are out of scope on this site. –  Isaac Moses Aug 2 '11 at 21:14

Talk to them.

As an ex Teen who once had no interest in Davening, I can speak from experience here. Most attempts to get me to Daven backfired.

  1. Find out why they aren't davening.
  2. Find out what they think davening is. Is it different than what you understand it to be? What do they think it is, what do they wish it was?
  3. I suggest getting a copy of "Call to the Infinite" its an unfished book by R. Kaplan. What I find great about it, is that its a huge collection about all the sources regarding why we pray, and different ways of davening. It has no 'narration' or 'explanation' just sources in english. It's a great spring board to help the teen figure out what they do and do not like about Davening.
  4. Allow for self exploration. If the motivation doesn't come from within, it just builds resentment.
  5. Start them slow. See if they are willing to try to do the bare minimum in davening. Perhaps all they need is more focused concentration on what they are saying, which can be hard to achieve if you are rushing to say every single word.
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+1 for "talk to them". If you don't understand what's motivating the teen, you're just guessing and might make things worse rather than better. (My qualification for saying that? I walked away from religion at around that age because nobody took my questions and doubts seriously, chiding me instead of helping me, and it took me 20 years to come back.) –  Monica Cellio May 5 '13 at 17:35

Invite him over, show them through joyful song bit by bit how davening is precious. And most of all be a living example as teens look for hypocrisy with a magnifying glass.

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By Example! If he sees you davenning with all your 'koichos' he will most likely follow.

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