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March 25, 2011 2:14 pm

Israeli Parenting Versus American Parenting

avatar by Vanessa Van Petten

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Somehow Israeli parents raise kids that I like. Three of my best friends have at least one Israeli parent, but grew up with me in the States. When I used to go over to their house or visit my friends and family in Israel, I couldn’t help but notice how Israeli parenting practices are totally different that their American counterparts. Namely, Israeli parents don’t think about ‘parenting,’ they just parent.

As a parenting writer, I share advice on child communication techniques, parenting styles and family tips, but many Israeli parents who read and comment on the blog share the best advice of all:

“I like these tips, but sometimes I think we do not have time to think about them when we are actually parenting. In fact, when I am being ‘Aba’ (I am Israeli) I don’t think about how to be the best Aba I just think about what to do in the moment!”

-Eli, comment on Radical Parenting

Parenting in the moment is perhaps the best advice there is, and might be one of the reasons I so love my half Israeli friends. I decided to create three scenarios and ask one American and one Israeli parent how they would respond to each:

1. Your child goes to study abroad and has not been calling home much. What do you do when you want to communicate with them?

American Parent: “I know how important it is to give kids independence. I would set-up a system with some times and days I know we can talk so they are getting their space, but I can still check in and know they are safe.”

Israeli Parent: “I call when I feel like it. And if they do not call within a few days, I call them again, and again. I have their friends numbers, maybe I call them too.”

2. Your child’s doctor says that they are entering into the overweight category and for health reasons they should lose a few pounds. What do you do?

American Parent: This is a delicate one. You have to be so careful not to create eating disorders or make them paranoid. I would probably put the whole family on a diet—we could all stand to eat better. And slowly teach them to make better snack choices. Maybe get them on a sports team or tennis coach.”

Israeli Parent: “Well, then they should lose weight! I would tell them to stop eating junk and stop spending so much time in front of the computer.”

3. Your kid comes home with a very bad report card. What do you do?

American Parent: I would talk to them about why they think they did poorly. Then I would schedule a meeting with the teacher to talk about it. Then maybe hire a tutor or get them on a schedule for after school homework time.

Israeli Parent: “I would tell them: ‘If you do not get decent grades I am not paying for school. You live in my house and doing well is your only requirement.’ Then I would probably take away the cell phone and computer until grades get better.”

These responses are totally different! Of course, every parent and family is different. These are just similarities overarching two distinct parenting types. Israeli parents described themselves as direct, in the moment and very loving. American parents described themselves as fair, caring and loving. As it should be, love—the most important quality of a parent, is what both types of parents can agree on. Have you seen any differences between Israeli and American parents?

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  • Abc123

    Americans are often misunderstood in two opposing ways, especially with Asians, which I would group Israelis with. Asians misunderstand Americans because we are so direct with each other so the non-westerners get offended. Also, there is a minority seeing American parents in particular as PC. That’s a big misunderstanding because yes, we are direct, but we don’t want to be so direct that we act on spontaneity like Israeli parents or act animalistic. (Don’t get me wrong here, Israeli parents have their own ways of parenting, so let’s let them be.) We do try to have a healthy relationship with our kids because it’s a good skill to teach them. We may act “friendly,” but Americans are direct and we don’t have the saving face culture.

    American families: Honest, friendly (for real), funny, open, etc.

  • Abc123

    Well, this article was indeed interesting. I personally would say that those Israeli parents don’t do a whole lot of thinking, which isn’t always a good or bad thing. I would agree that tough love is needed, but at times, we need to stop yelling, calm down, and teach kids in a way with a tone of positivity. The previous person is apparently trying to make one parenting method the “correct” way and the other the “wrong way.”

    Parenting cultures vary around the world and also between individuals. Let me say this: They are ALL correct. They are ALL wrong. They are ALL good. They are ALL bad. They are ALL different.

  • I’m writing a short story about a young girl growing up in America with Israeli parents, but have yet to decide as to what her (the main character’s) name will be. Could anyone give me some ideas for pretty hebrew names Israeli parents might use for a daughter? Would be greatly appreciated!

  • Rina Shapira

    I am an Israeli as is my husband, and together we raised 3 American boys, directly, with limits, responsibilities, accountabilities and much love. Sometimes, you have to use tough love. You know it is coming of love, your child feels misunderstood. Eventually, as time goes on, and they mature, they recognize they were loved all along. American parents worry about being ‘rejected’ by their kids, as if they are trying at all times to be their children’s best friend. The kids are left to their own devices, given too much freedom to make decisions that are not theirs to make, and end up confused about their boundaries, and encumbered with a huge sense of entitlement.