By Yochanan Gordon
This title is of course a play on the 60’s catchphrase coined by TV anchors urging parents to keep their kids sheltered at home from the urban rioting that was going on at the time. I believe it was along the lines of: “It’s 10pm do you know where your children are?” And while we are not necessarily concerned about urban rioting or kids being out long after dark, at least at our kids’ age something has to be done about the class text groups.
We vowed early on that we would delay getting our oldest son a cellphone until the latest possible age; and although he doesn’t have a phone with service enabling him to make regular voice calls with it, he has a phone with text capabilities allowing him to participate in his class text groups.
I didn’t get my first phone until I went off to Beis Medrash in Lakewood, NJ at the age of 18. The truth is there was not much you could do with the phone that I got at the time other than place and receive calls. In fact, it was a time when the definition of a phone was a device we used to communicate with people from a distance. Clearly it was a very different time.
In all fairness when we made this decision together it was well in advance of the coronavirus pandemic. And although our kids had access to technology at the time it was less prominently a part of their lives, before they started attending school and practically interacting with a tablet at every moment of the day.
I don’t fault the schools with the decision of moving schooling over to zoom during those challenging months. The truth is at first they moved classes over to conference calls and we were at the front of the line vociferously complaining that kids in today’s day and age cannot focus without a visual component to their lessons. I mean it is a Gemara after all – eino domeh shmiah l’re’iyah, seeing is incomparable to hearing. But in hindsight we were being naïve in thinking that kids could actually learn off of a computer screen. I was in defiance of an idea that I myself had thought of that even educational shows and computer programs were ineffective as kids are so drawn in by the lights and other addictive aspects of the experience that the content doesn’t end up registering the way it is meant to.
Since that time the classes of two of our sons in 6th and 8th grade have class chats which I will humor myself and assume began in order to keep them informed with the latest updates regarding schoolwork. I mean everything starts with genuine intentions and ultimately veers off in the wrong direction. So in an attempt to be responsible parents instead of getting our children their own devices, allowing them to converse whenever and about whatever with their friends, we gave each of them old devices of ours with texting and WhatsApp capabilities, enabling us to monitor each outgoing and incoming message.
As a result I find that my phone is vibrating far too often and the frequency with which I reach for my phone to see who is feverishly texting me, is reaching an annoying rate. I get group WhatsApp video calls and one time even accidentally picked up while in the car far from where my son Yehuda, whose friend had called. I told the kid to call back and that I would not answer.
I feel that in general these kids are spending far too much time on these devices and that their cognitive faculties are not at the level where it could tolerate that much exposure. I notice, often, that there are kids texting to these groups far past midnight and I often wonder if the parents of these kids are aware of their activity that deep into the night.
But it really reached a level of ridiculousness when a student in my eighth grade dons class was texting me at 4:30 in the morning. It was far before the allied time for tefillin so he couldn’t be up for shacharis that early. Maybe he was an extraordinary child who spent the last few hours saying tikkun Chatzot and learning until
Shacharis but as much as I wanted to believe that it just wasn’t plausible. I didn’t bring it to the parents attention but I really just don’t understand how this goes on.
While our wish to shield our children from full engagement with technology seems to have not been granted, I feel that even if kids do have regular access they should still be monitored and made sure to be getting enough sleep. There are so many aspects important to the regular and wholesome development of our children that needs to be in check, beyond a balanced rate of technology exposure, that it’s only responsible of us to ensure that even if they don’t understand. There is no doubt that despite all that is different about this current generation that they play an important role in the ultimate fulfillment in the purpose of creation and that much of their chance at achieving these goals is dependent on us, as parents, doing our role responsibly.
Read more of Yochanan Gordon’s articles here.