Many parents feel pressured to purchase a smartphone or tablet for their child at a young age, especially when all their peers seem to have one. No parent wants their child to be excluded, or to be the only one in the class who doesn’t own a smart device. So strong is the pull that even parents who manage to initially resist the “everyone-has-a-phone-I-need-one-too” mantra often discover that their child saved enough to purchase a smart device on his or her own a few months later.
Michal Klerer and Nechy Eisenstadt understood that many parents were buying their young children phones only because other parents had done so too. They believed that if all the parents banded together, the peer pressure would dissipate.
They founded a grassroots organization called MUST, which stands for Mothers Unite to Stall Technology, about four years ago. MUST’s goal is for parents to work together to delay the ownership of smart devices, ensuring children remain children for as long as possible.
I spoke to Simcha Minkowitz, spokesperson for MUST Crown Heights, to learn more about the initiative.
The program is quite simple – a no-brainer:
Each school has a coordinator who becomes the contact person to MUST Crown Heights. The school coordinator appoints ambassadors who take a short training course from MUST Crown Heights. The ambassadors share the initiative with their child’s class.
The parents in each class collectively create a pact to either stall their children’s use of technology, or to pause the progression of their children’s technology patterns. Once a pact is agreed upon by the parents in the class, it can be registered on MUST Crown Height’s website (must-ch.org) and voila!
Each pact depends on the needs of the individual class. For example, for younger classes, the pact might be to refrain from buying the children smart devices. For classes in which the children already own smart devices, the pact might include clauses to ensure there are no WhatsApp groups, and no devices in school, at class gatherings or at bar or bas mitzvahs and the like.
MUST’s goal is not to ban technology. The organizers are fully aware that technology is here to stay, and children will need to eventually learn how to use it in a healthy manner. Rather, MUST’s goal is to hold off smart device ownership for children until their brains are more developed. For now, MUST is targeting kindergarten through eighth grade.
According to Minkowitz, response to the initiative has been overwhelmingly positive. Most parents are excited about the program and have expressed an eagerness to join. In fact, since the program launched in Crown Heights, parents and administrators from around the world have reached out to MUST Crown Heights to learn how they can bring this concept to their schools too.
As for the children, Minkowitz says their reactions upon hearing about the initiative vary. While many younger children simply accept that phone ownership isn’t in the cards in the near future, some of the older children, usually those in fifth grade and above, might be less agreeable at the onset, although they tend to be happier in the long run.
Of course, the initiative is not without its challenges. For one, Jewish women are busy. Coordinating and implementing such a program, even on a class level, takes time and energy. Still, Minkowitz sees it as “sisterhood trying to support each other,” and there is power in numbers.
Minkowitz is working on this program in Crown Heights with Chani Marosow, Chanel Lipskar, Esther Rosen, Gila Shechter, Estee Leiblich, Batya Tennenbaum and Chaviva New. It is being implemented in conjunction with Dr. Rosen and the Neshamos Organization. You can learn more about the initiative on MUST Crown Heights’ website at www.must-ch.org.