Electronics, Part 2

By Rabbi Yitzie Ross

Last week we heard from a frustrated father regarding his children and their addiction to electronics. I had asked everyone to share their opinions, and I received many blog posts and over 150 e‑mail replies. I compiled all of the ideas together as best as possible, and, baruch Hashem, it seems there is hope if we play our cards right.

On Wednesday morning, I was sitting in yeshiva when two boys walked in. The boy who came in first turned to his friend and said to him (please forgive the run-on sentence): “I am attacking with the baby dragon on the highest level combined with the prince, because the baby dragon has blast damage and the only thing that can stop the prince is blast damage, so unless he also has a fully upgraded baby dragon to counteract mine, I’m unstoppable!”

I told this boy, “I remember learning about a dragon in the Gemara, I think in Avodah Zarah!” He looked and me and said “Rebbe, this is really serious stuff I’m discussing!” It just validated my concerns, namely that electronics have gone from being a fun outlet to a destructive and obsessive habit.

In order to understand the issue better, I think we need to take a step back and see where it’s coming from. We all like to blame our society or our schools and communities. However, I asked over 30 boys during the week, and they all felt that their parents were also addicted to their cellphones. Here are five questions that can help you figure out if you’re one of them:

  1. When you wake up in the morning, do you check your phone within the first few minutes?
  2. When going to sleep at night, do you watch a show, shop, or surf the Web on your phone or other device?
  3. On Shabbos, do you constantly feel your phone vibrating even though you’re not wearing it? (Doctors and Hatzalah members get a pass on this.)
  4. When you’re talking to your kids, are you routinely holding or checking your phone?
  5. Do you base your schedule on how much battery time your phone has left?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, congratulations–you are also addicted!

So, what is there to do about this? Obviously, you need to understand that if you’re constantly on your phone, holding your phone, or checking your phone, your children will not view the phone as something negative, but will rather perceive it as a normal and acceptable way of life. In order to address our children’s addiction with the iPad, cellphone, or electronics, it would be prudent to work on ourselves and try to limit the amount of time we use and check our phones. That being said, if your children are doing well in yeshiva, have friends, and are easygoing, you may not need to do anything. If, however, you feel that your kids are hooked on electronics, these next 18 ideas are for you. Thanks again to the many people who helped with this.

Remember, some of these ideas might work for your family, and some not. See which work best for you. Keep in mind that this will not be easy. However, if you’re consistent, you will be successful!

  1. If possible, make a room that’s set aside for all electronics. This could be a den or basement, but it should be away from all bedrooms. All phones, iPads, and similar devices need to stay in this room. This goes for parents as well. Expecting an important text? Don’t carry your phone with you. Go and check it every so often.
  2. Too much electronics is not healthy. Set up days that kids cannot play any electronic games. This includes checking or updating. Make sure your kids are aware of this in advance. You can also have some designated day(s) that the kids will be able to play. For example, on a Friday afternoon, after they have completed Shabbos jobs and are ready for Shabbos.
  3. You don’t want your children to resent you because you’re limiting these devices. If you feel that it’s becoming a point of contention, ease up a little, but make them earn their playing time.
  4. To counteract the social issues brought on by lack of conversation, try and keep a fair ratio of time played versus activities with others. Even if it’s raining outside, let them do other things besides playing on the iPad.
  5. Electronic devices should never be brought into their bedrooms. It’s even better if they don’t play within a half-hour of bedtime.
  6. On Shabbos and yom tov, all devices should be put away in the parents’ bedroom.
  7. Make sure there are plenty of good alternatives for your kids. Board games, bike-riding, water fights, Nerf warfare, and even simple games like hide-and-seek. They might resist initially, but if you’re persistent they will have a bundle of fun. If you’re able to join in on the fun, remember that it would be counterproductive to be holding your phone while you are watching or playing with them.
  8. Forcing your child to stop using all these devices is not such a good idea. Quite a few parents have mentioned they tried this, and it backfired.
  9. Get them invited on play dates to friends who aren’t into these devices. It’s easy enough to call up parents and be honest. “I’m trying to wean my child off of electronics; can you make sure that they play other games?” It is odd when a group of boys sit around and watch one boy playing a game.
  10. Allow your kids a set amount of time per week for these devices. Once they’ve used up their quota, they cannot even turn a device on. This has the added benefit of teaching your kids time-management skills.
  11. When your kids are not supposed to use their devices, make sure they are in your possession. To do otherwise is certainly lifnei iver (leaving a stumbling block in front of a blind man). Imagine leaving a lit cigarette in front of a smoker and telling him, “Don’t smoke it.”
  12. Kids should not be allowed to use their devices when they’re doing anything else. Playing outside? No phone. Watching a video or ball game? No iPod!
  13. Try as hard as you can to not get irritated when your kids bring up electronics. Remember, it’s so hard for them not to bring it up. Treat it like an addiction. Show them you understand their request and even validate how much they want it. Try and distract them. This won’t be easy.
  14. Make it clear to your kids that if they don’t end off with a smile, the consequence will be that they cannot play for a few days. Keep to it.
  15. Try to take an interest in the games they play. It’ll be a fun bonding experience when you can discuss baby dragons and ogres together.
  16. Make sure you have a good filter. You should definitely block Internet use as well as chatting and similar apps. Make sure that the games your children play do not allow communication with outsiders.
  17. Your kids (and you) should not use an app for davening or bentching unless absolutely necessary. Use a siddur or a bentcher.
  18. Of most importance, be a good role model when it comes to driving and texting. Put your phone away when you are driving–even if the traffic light is red! Remember, your kids are very perceptive and will notice if you practice this dangerous behavior. Soon enough, they’ll be teen drivers and we don’t want them to pick up this extremely terrible and destructive behavior.

With the help of Hashem, we will continue to raise our children to be menschen. 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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