Advice From YidParenting
By Rabbi Yitzie Ross
Q: My husband and I were curious about something, and we would like your thoughts on it. What is the biggest threat to Jewish children these days? Personally, I think it’s the information overload. Children hear so much, and they know way too much. My husband feels that the Internet is the biggest threat. What do you think?
A: This is a difficult question to answer. You are both correct to some extent, but it really depends on the child’s age. When children are young–anywhere from four to seven years old–knowledge is the biggest threat. I have heard five-year-old kids talking about how good or bad our president is, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
A few weeks ago, a pre-1A boy was talking to me during a sports program. He said, “I’m really worried about North Korea! The president is crazy there!” When I was in pre-1A, my biggest fear was spinach. (It still is.) Why are little kids discussing North Korea? The answer is that either he’s hearing it on TV or the radio, or, most likely, he’s hearing it from his parents. Either way, it’s not healthy.
Once kids get a bit older, the internet becomes a huge problem. I’m not saying it’s not an issue at younger ages. Many kids are now hooked on YouTube Kids, but they’re not surfing the net. The average age for kids to start trying to “Google” things by themselves is nine. Nine! That’s insane.
I wrote a full article about the pros and cons of permitting internet access to children, and plan to publish it over the next few months. In the interim, I can share the following. If you are not home to supervise your children, you must have a very good filter, one that will block anything and everything. If you are supervising them, there are other options that might actually help your children be prepared for the technology they will be living with.
In regard to your question, it seems that both of you have a good understanding of the issues that children are facing nowadays. However, in my opinion, the biggest issue that is facing all children is depression. Allow me to explain.
Some of the biggest causes of depression these days (for both adults and children) are financial issues, medications, current events, stress, and abuse. In our communities, these five issues are rampant. Let’s look at each one and how it might affect your children.
Financial Issues. So many parents are struggling to provide for their families, and the kids, especially the teenagers, feel it. It might be that they don’t have the same sneakers as their friends or don’t go to the same camps . . . it hurts them. They might not experience the struggle per se, but they feel the pinch.
Medications. When I was a kid, it was called “ants in the pants,” but now it’s called ADHD. Although it’s definitely dealt with today more efficiently than when I was younger, there are many children who are over-medicated. It’s a simple and quick solution, and many parents don’t give it the measured consideration that it deserves. This is not to say that some children don’t need it, but the numbers are crazy. This is an important topic for a separate article, but it certainly needs to be discussed with a professional. Many of these drugs cause mood swings or depression.
Current Events. Many years ago, my family suffered a terrible tragedy in Eretz Yisrael. Although it affected my entire family, they didn’t discuss it with their kids until they were older. These days, it doesn’t work like that. Parents share every bit of information with their children. Children are not equipped to deal with this influx of information, and it can cause them to become nervous, scared, and eventually develop more severe issues.
Stress. Many adults who deal with stress tend to downplay the stress that children have. I heard a mother telling her teenage daughter, “You don’t know what stress is!” I’m sure that’s exactly what this girl didn’t want to hear. We all have age-appropriate stress. Adults might worry about work or finances, but children have a lot of stress as well, albeit on their level. Friends, school, hormones, and more.
Abuse. One frum doctor told me that many Jews should be in the CIA–we’re that good at covering things up. This is not a good thing. When there is an abuser in our community, we need to make people aware. I’m sure there are special considerations (family, shidduchim, etc.), but why should there be more victims? Incidentally, abuse comes in many forms, both physically and emotionally. Besides for the obvious kinds of physical abuse, there are many forms of emotional abuse which might also lead to depression. Constantly screaming at a child, not giving children time and attention, or even using guilt to control our children can all be characterized as forms of emotional abuse.
Next week, iy’H, we’ll look at some solutions. If you have any ideas, please feel free to post them on the blog.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly eâ€‘mails and read the comments, visit www.yidparenting.com.