Dear Dr. Yael,
I am writing to you about the frightening situation that I am seeing in my home. We are a “modern Orthodox Machmir” family and we have a television, internet, iPads, cell phones, etc. My husband seems to make fun of the Charedi community that has all these “asifas” and all the rabbis that are against the internet, texting, and all the technology devices. Well guess what I think – these rabbis are totally correct. My kids each have their own iPad. They are totally focused on their various games, texting their friends, etc. The older ones have cell phones with internet access. I have no idea what they can do or see, since I must give them their privacy.
My husband is a total technology junkie. He has every gadget under the sun and Baruch Hashem for Shabbat since it’s the only time that we actually eat and talk as a family. I know my kids have friends who text on Shabbat, but I insist on taking all their devices before Shabbat and locking everything in a closet. My husband locks his stuff as well as my stuff away. Right after Shabbat we run to retrieve our devices and the rest of the week it seems like we hardly spend time together as a family.
I think it may be too late for my family to do anything, but I am writing to you so that others can learn from my mistake. My children are teenagers and I no longer feel that I can do anything to curtail this problem. Their father himself is addicted and has more devices than anyone in the family. Dr. Respler, what can we do at this point?
Dear A Fan,
I did some research on your question and found that all these screens and technology are making our children wired, tired, and aggressive. Some claim that technology is considered “Digital Heroin” and that battling a technology addiction is just as hard or maybe even harder than battling drugs.
Apparently most tech-cautious parents are tech designers. After doing some research I found that Silicon Valley tech executives and engineers enroll their kids in no-tech Waldorf schools. Steve Jobs was known to be a notorious low-tech parent with tech-free dinners with his children. Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page went to no-tech Montessori schools as did Amazon creator Jeff Bezos and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.
These are all non-Jewish or non-religious people who intrinsically understand how technology affects our brains. Guess what? They clearly agree with our dear Rabbonim.
If you sat in my seat as a therapist you would understand that I truly believe that technology is killing our community. It leads to inappropriate addictions, divorce, and no family time.
Baruch Hashem we have Shabbos. But unfortunately we have an epidemic of teenagers from very frum homes who are texting and involved in technology even on Shabbos. They can’t seem to disconnect.
I think the first thing you must do is reach your own husband. How can you expect your children to change if he is heavily addicted to technology? Would he agree to limit his own technology? If he can’t do it on his own, would he agree to go for help to do so? I love your idea of the Shabbos closet, which is locked for the whole Shabbos with all the gadgets.
It would also be helpful to try to get your children involved in activities that are unrelated to technology, such as playing sports, physical activity, swimming, yoga, dance or exercise classes where their endorphins will be raised and they will feel great physically as well. Learning Gemara and classes to raise themselves in their Yiddishkeit can also help them. Getting involved in chessed will help them be busy with more productive activities. This will help distract them somewhat from technology and will help them disconnect at times.
Do you know that they studied which schools rated number one in people passing their CPA exam the first time? Cornell University came in number one in New York, and BMG (Bais Medrash Gavoha Lakewood Yeshiva) came in number one in New Jersey. Do you know that Harvard University accepts boys who never went to college into their law school if they score very high on their LSATs? Most of these boys learned for years in yeshiva, got a BTL (Bachelors in Talmudic law) and got into Harvard. These learners are going straight from Yeshiva to Harvard Law School.
I agree with you in your assertions. The rehabilitation of your family must begin with your husband and yourself. Children learn more from our behavior than from what we tell them to do. If you want your children to even consider cutting down their screen time, the parents must initiate by cutting down their own screen time. For me, I think it is best to just cut it out entirely. However, I know this sounds extreme and probably unrealistic. Perhaps you and your husband can come up with a schedule for you and him, so that you can begin to limit your own screen time. Maybe use your Shabbos closet for weekdays as well during certain hours (ex. 6-9 is device free time and all the devices get locked away during those times. Maybe the kids’ devices get locked away for the night at a certain point as well). Whatever you decide, it must be done together because if you don’t have a united front, you won’t get anywhere with the kids!
Additionally, it’s imperative to install filters on all of your devices, and at the minimum, on all of the children’s devices. It’s not true that you need to give your children their privacy, so you don’t have any idea what they do on their phone. This is a very dangerous mindset. Unfiltered and unmonitored phones are extremely dangerous and your children should NEVER have that kind of access. Even before you put limits on their technology use, you need to put some kind of filter and monitor their phones to ensure there isn’t anything dangerous going on. I await my reader’s responses to this critical issue. Hatzlocha!