Electronics, Part 1

By Rabbi Yitzie Ross

Q. My kids love to play on their iPads and iPods. It could be 85 degrees and sunny outside, and they want to sit and play on these devices. They always end up fighting with each other about who had the longer turn. I’m scared to take it away, since they complain that “everyone else” plays all the time. I’m so confused.

A.G.

Woodmere

A. This is a common issue, and there is much to discuss. Therefore, I’m breaking this down into two parts. This time we’ll analyze the issue and its repercussions, and next time we’ll work on a solution.

It’s a new generation, and with it some interesting problems have arrived. As a kid I used to play video games as well. Donkey Kong, Tetris, Pac-Man, and a few others. However, the games today are different. Here’s how it works.

Most of the games for iPads use advertising as a primary source of revenue. They want your kids to play as often as possible so they can show the advertisers that each online player is continuously logged in. How do they accomplish this? It’s simple.

Many of these games are created to be addictive. They require logging in to stay updated, and players earn points when they spend time online playing. It becomes an actual addiction. We look at the games and think, “How can they enjoy these games?” Yet these kids actually feel the need to play.

These games are different from typical addictions. With most addictions, you feel a sense of relief after you’ve “fed” the addiction. With these games, the kids just get moody or frustrated. Many parents get equally frustrated and end up saying “That’s it! No iPad for a week!” Two hours later, your son is complaining, “I’m so bored.” It gets even more tricky if your kids have to–gasp–share a device. They begin to argue about the games, amount played, and more.

There are some additional issues with electronics. I’m fond of telling over a story that happened a few years ago. During a league game of baseball, a new boy joined our floundering team. He was certainly dressed for the part; he was wearing a Derek Jeter jersey, some fancy sneakers, and sunglasses worth more than my Shabbos suit. This boy told me that he was a pitcher and a power hitter, and I was thrilled to pick up additional talent.

To make a long story short, he walked the first four batters he faced. He also struck out badly each time he stepped up to the plate. I went over to him after the game and said, “Don’t worry about it, it’s a new environment.” He replied, “I don’t know what happened, I’m so good at the Wii!” It seems he had never actually played the physical game in his life!

To make matters even worse, these electronics exacerbate a serious condition that is affecting the entire world–namely, lack of social skills and the ability to communicate verbally. Play dates are becoming a thing of the past, and when they do occur kids expect their parents to set them up. Shadchanim have pointed out that this is negatively affecting the dating scene as well. Awkward silences have become the norm as these young men and women try to navigate through the tricky waters of dating without looking at a screen or sending a text.

If this isn’t scary enough, there are doctors who believe that this constant visual stimulation causes a plethora of problems in our children. There is insomnia, ADHD, obesity, and a whole bunch more. One mother told me her kids can’t even watch a video or sports game anymore without a break for playing on their own devices. Apparently, whenever there is a talking scene, her kids quickly glance down on their iPods to update whatever it is they are doing. This is not only affecting our communities and societies, but it is definitely affecting our children.

Not convinced we have a problem? Think about car rides now versus when you were a kid. It used to be that we played games in the car, fought with our siblings, listened to music, read, and so on. Now? Watching a video or playing an iPad is the norm, at times even on a short car ride.

Yes, there are definitely good parts to this as well. Some games are educational, they can keep the kids quiet on a rainy day, and these devices can even have a siddur. Nevertheless, I still think we have a huge problem.

The main questions we need to address are:

How much is too much electronics?

If we limit electronics use (for example, only on Friday afternoon or Sunday), will our kids resent it and desire it even more?

Would we be better off getting rid of it completely?

What if our kids claim that “all of their friends” get so much more time?

What kind of example should we, as adults, be setting in regard to our own usage of our phones?

What can we do to help our kids stay social and be prepared to communicate (not through texting or social media)?

Should we let our kids play games that allow conversations with strangers? (Many of them do and you might not even know about it.)

How can we wean our kids off these addictive games?

I’ll answer these questions in an upcoming article. v

Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly e‑mails and read the comments, you can visit www.yidparenting.com.

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