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A few months ago, two concerned parents entered my office to discuss the possibility of their daughter joining my school. They were worried that we aren’t a Bais Yaakov, as that was where she was coming from. On the flip side, I was worried that she was involved in behaviors that go against our policies. At our school, it’s very important to us to have parent partnership, and I asked the parents about the rules they had at home. Did their daughter have a curfew? Smartphone filters? The parents – who were absolutely lovely by the way – looked at me with laughing confusion. “She’s 15,” they said. “We can’t tell her what to do.”

I was surprised – but not that surprised. Over the past few years, I’ve heard many such comments at interviews. I can’t tell my daughter to go to school on time, that’s up to her. Or I can’t make her go to school if she doesn’t want to go. I’ve even been told by several parents during interviews (often from girls applying from a Bais Yaakov!), “I can’t tell my daughter not to smoke or drink. She’s already 14!”


Parents have become afraid to say no. And parents have become afraid to parent.

While these may seem like extreme examples, the following will likely resonate with many.

After working in several educational institutions this year and seeing the negative effects of smartphones on students, I recently shared in some community forums the pitfalls I have observed and cautioned against buying kids a smartphone at a young age. My reason for posting this had less to do with religion (although the exposure can certainly lead to a negative effect in that area) and more connected to unhealthy behaviors.

You walk into a bat mitzvah and girls are so busy on their phones that they don’t talk to each other. At seminaries, girls walk in and out of class or shiur to check their phones, with the result that learning has less of an impact than it used to. The number of kids with depression and anxiety is skyrocketing, and studies are showing that smartphones and access to social media are a factor, with kids feeling left out or “less than” when they see their friends’ social media accounts. They also have weaker social skills due to the decrease in normal socialization.

Kids are also sleeping less due to being on their phones more. It is more difficult for kids to learn because their attention spans are far shorter due to the fast pace of WhatsApp, Instagram and TikTok. And their sense of entitlement has grown – for a variety of reasons, but in part due to the instant gratification and attention-grabbing environment of social media. Kids don’t know how to make themselves busy because they need constant stimulation, and they need everything now!

We as parents did not grow up with cellphones and certainly not with social media, and so we don’t have role models for what to do regarding the next generation. This is the trial generation of kids growing up with phones, and as an educator for the past 20 years, watching kids get phones with more and more capabilities at younger and younger ages, I am watching a disaster in the making.

As adults, this all rings true, not only when we look at kids on their phones but seeing ourselves as well. We find ourselves trying to fight the addictive nature of the cellphones and to give full attention to our families and proper face-to-face time to our friends. I’ve heard of some who do it well, but for many others, it’s a constant struggle – and we are losing.

The best way I get to my students when we speak about managing cell phone time is when I bring up watching their parents on their phones and, all of a sudden, they start to nod along with everything I’m saying. Our kids want our attention and we are on our phones. I can hardly judge. My own kids can relate to my students in this, and on Yom Kippur, I will certainly strike my chest hard for the sin of telling my kids, “One minute,” when I am on my phone doing something that isn’t pressing but is more compelling than whatever it is that my kids want from me at that minute.

As parents, it’s difficult, because often for business reasons we need our phones. And aside from work needs, phones aren’t all evil; they allow us to listen to shiurim and podcasts, to do chesed more effectively, to be a listening ear to those in need, and to be more efficient. But find a person who doesn’t admit that the balancing act is hard, and it’s likely you’re speaking to someone who is either not in tune with technology or isn’t very honest with themselves.

And so I asked on these forums: Why are we introducing cellphones to our young kids and teens, before they even need a phone, and have them enter this struggle?

I received many responses to my posts. Parents by and large agreed that getting their kids a smartphone had proven to be a bad choice. Kids lost their innocence the second they had access, and it was something many parents lamented. But, as many wrote, they had no choice. What were they to do? Their kids wanted a smartphone. Everyone else has a phone. It would be socially isolating not to have one. And even though some of the schools in the area have asked kids not to get a smartphone in 7th grade, many parents are giving in to their kids’ requests and giving their daughters smartphones as a bat mitzvah gift. Just the thought of that breaks my heart. Mazal tov on entering the age of mitzvot, here, take a gateway to the world (yes, some do get filters and that helps but doesn’t completely solve the problem).

Why are we willfully spending a lot of money on handing our young teens (and younger!) a device that will likely affect their mental health, learning ability, social skills and possibly religious connection “just because everyone else has one?”

I realize that we can’t hold back forever and that it’s better to introduce kids to this device smartly and in a way that teaches moderation, but when kids are too developmentally young to make smart choices and exercise proper restraint, isn’t it something we should consider before putting a phone in their hands just because they want one? Aren’t there other ways to manage this challenge – like getting kids a WhatsApp account on a computer, or a “dumb phone” with or without WhatsApp, depending on needs?

In essence, by handing our kids these phones at age 12 or younger because “they want one” and “everyone else has one,” are we that different from the parent who says, “I can’t tell my kid what to do at age 15 even though I know the choice they are making isn’t healthy?”

Yes, helicopter parenting is a challenge, but laissez-faire parenting is an equally dangerous challenge, and we are seeing the effects.

As we enter the High Holiday season, perhaps just as important as it is to focus on the sins we commit outside of our home, we need to look at ourselves, and we need to look at our children. We need to look at the gadgets in our hands and commit to being better role models in how we use them. We need to look at our kids and realize that it’s OK to say “no” with a proper discussion when we are upholding our values for our children’s good. And to be confident that sometimes we do know what’s better for them than they do (especially when they are young). We need to be courageous in not giving into what “everyone else” does and to advocate for our values in our home and in our community.

We were gifted children and they were gifted parents. Our children need us to offer guidance, to make clear what our values are, and to set rules (with give and take) to help our children. May we all have the courage, the strength and the siyata d’shmaya to know how to lead and help our children in the best way.

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Ariela Davis is a passionate Jewish educator/writer and also served as a Rebbetzin before her aliyah in 2020. She is the Menahelet of Ulpanat Orly in Bet Shemesh.