I spoke to six high school students to hear what they wished their parents and teachers knew about their Internet usage. The students are between the ages of 14 and 17. All go to girls or boys yeshivos in the tri-state area.
This is what they told me:
In yeshiva, we’re often taught about the dangers of the Internet. The thing the hanhalla and even some parents and teachers don’t seem to realize is that you need the Internet for nearly everything in life. Not having a smartphone is unrealistic. They talk about filters too, if you really need a phone, as if maybe you don’t, as if we have a choice in the matter. I make tickets online, check directions online, and order stuff online. I think there needs to be more emphasis on tools to use the Internet safely instead of a discussion on whether you truly need the Internet.
My social life is my phone. My friends make plans on Whatsapp, and post pictures on Instagram and TikTok. Sure, we see each other in person, but many conversations take place on these platforms too. Some of it is harmless. Think of it like the new way to communicate. I’m not going to lie though. Because everything is out there, even if you have high privacy settings, it’s easy for your photos or even conversations to get in the wrong hands, or be screenshot and passed around.
We see you. We watch what you do. You’re glued to your phones. You say it’s for work, or for the kids’ school, to be connected to the family overseas. And we believe you. It just doesn’t change the fact that you’re always on your phones. When the little kids are crying, or misbehaving, how many times do you shove your phone in their faces to distract them with a video? We see that too. Maybe you think it’s okay for you, because you’re older, and more mature. And maybe you’re right. Sometimes it feels like you’re frustrated with my generation’s technology use. You just don’t seem to realize that we’re just mimicking you.
Before I went to an out of town yeshiva, my parents sat me down to have ‘the technology talk.’ It was really a culmination of many talks we’ve had, about how to use the Internet appropriately, and how to differentiate between truth and sensationalism, and not to believe everything you hear or see, and not to get sucked into an echo chamber. I’m grateful it was an open conversation in my house, and we were able to share with my parents what we did online. Most of my friend’s parents don’t do that.
The mental overload from the content we’re being exposed to online can be a lot, and it’s not something every teenager is equipped to handle. I think in some places the focus is on the appropriate versus inappropriate aspect of online content, as if it’s a religious thing. I wish there would be more of a focus on the tools to handle the stress that comes with being bombarded with so much heavy stimuli.
There is a whole online world that we’re living in, and the competition and pressure is enormous. It’s clothes and fashion and bas mitzvah parties and vacations. You can’t escape it. I don’t think parents can do anything about it, because I think many of them live in this world too.
I thank these adolescents for being open and honest and sharing their insights on this topic.