By Rabbi Yitzie Ross

Question:

Why do my parents — and other parents also, I’m guessing — care so much when we waste time? If I chill out on my phone for even a second, my parents get all annoyed and upset with me, saying I need to be more social. When they were kids, didn’t they also hang out or waste time? Why was it OK for them to be kids, but nowadays I always need to be doing something constructive? If I start playing Fortnite for a minute, my father is all up in my face, telling me I’m wasting my life. I heard from his friends that when he was a kid, he used to play Space Invaders and pinball all day and night. I guess what I want to know is how I can tell my parents that they are hypocrites?

Name Redacted
Far Rockaway

Answer:

You want to know how you can tell your parents that they are hypocrites. You can’t. Even if they were being hypocritical, you couldn’t tell them something like that. Besides, I don’t agree that they’re hypocrites. If your parents were playing these games nowadays, then it would be hypocritical.

I’ll give you an example. Imagine that a friend of yours sat down on a bench that was covered in wet paint. If he tells you, “Don’t sit down; it’s wet paint!” is that hypocritical? According to your logic, since he sat down he can’t tell you not to. The fact is, he just doesn’t want you making the same mistake. The same holds true with your parents. In their eyes, they made the mistake of “wasting time” when they were younger, and they want to protect you from making that mistake. It’s not hypocritical that they want what’s best for their children.

However, I agree with your first point. Kids need to be kids, and wasting time is a part of that process. There are many times that parents become overprotective and don’t let their children have enough freedom. One girl wrote in a similar email, “My parents are trying to live vicariously through me, and it’s making me miserable. I want to be able to learn from my own mistakes!”

The response many parents would have to this is actually a pretty good one. You’re correct that they spent time playing Space Invaders and pinball, but they also spent time outside playing ball or interacting with real people. Most kids these days haven’t played Space Invaders or pinball. I played both of those games, and while they were certainly fun, they got boring pretty quickly. The games being played these days are designed to keep you occupied for hours. For example, you mentioned a game everyone is playing called Fortnite. It’s designed to be addictive, and kids (and adults) play for hours on end.

The question is not if it’s OK to waste time, but rather how much time is OK to waste. Your parents, and many other parents out there, are worried that because you’re spending so much time on electronic devices, you’re not maturing socially. There have been many studies about this over the past few years, and there is no doubt that kids these days are having social issues.

Here’s a simple test I’ve developed to see how social kids are. This isn’t scientifically accurate, and you might not understand why certain questions are relevant, but don’t think too much into it. Choose the answer to each question that you feel is the closest match to what you would do.

1) Would you rather…

  • Watch a ball game on TV
  • Play a ball game with friends
  • I don’t like sports

2) If you need to speak with a friend, do you…

  • Text or WhatsApp him
  • Call him
  • Wait for him to contact you

3) When going shopping, or in a car with your mother, do you…

  • Like to have your phone with you
  • Don’t need the phone, it shouldn’t be long
  • Won’t go out without the phone

4) When you’re having dinner with your family…

  • You are busy reading anything you can find, including the nutrition information
  • You are an active participant in the conversation around the table
  • You’re on your phone

5) You’re in the middle of talking to your friends, and your phone vibrates. You…

  • Put your hand in your pocket to touch the phone
  • Ignore the phone. It can wait.
  • Tell your friend to hold on, and look at the phone

6) Shabbos afternoon…

  • You’re hanging around your house
  • You make arrangements and spend time with family or friends.
  • You’re in your room

7) When you go to a friend’s bar mitzvah…

  • You have a nice time but end up in the hallway hanging out most of the time
  • You’re on the dance floor all night. You leave at the end looking like a sweaty mess
  • He’s not that good of a friend. You’ll skip this one.

8) When someone wakes you up in the morning…

  • You grumble and begin the process of waking up
  • You get out of bed ready to rumble
  • You throw the nearest object at the person

9) In school…

  • You’re friendly with a group of kids
  • You get along with pretty much everyone
  • You have one or two kids you hang out with

10) If you’re playing electronics…

  • After about an hour it starts getting boring
  • After 15 minutes it becomes boring
  • You play next to an outlet so there are no interruptions

Now, for each “A” give yourself 2 points, for each “B” give yourself 3 points, and for each “C” give yourself 1 point. If you have between 10–16 points, you’re not social at all. You need to ease off the electronics and start getting together with friends. If you have between 17–23 points, you’re decently social, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get out a little more. If you have 24 or more points, you’re very social, although it still doesn’t mean you should sit and play electronics all day. Again, this quiz is not scientifically accurate; it’s just a fun way of guesstimating your social life.

In any case, most parents these days are worried that their children aren’t developing socially. When your parents were younger, people interacted more; there were no cellphones, and if you wanted to speak to someone you called or went to their house. It’s not anyone’s fault that kids have phones and communicate via texting. This is a new generation with new challenges.

These challenges affect you and your parents. You need to be aware of how often you’re using electronics and understand that you can’t let it control you. That could mean limiting the amount of time you use electronics, and/or increasing the amount of time you spend with your friends (and, yes, even with your family).

So what can you do if your parents are annoyed every time you “chill out?” I think you should be proactive. Before playing electronics, tell your parents that you need a little downtime. Make sure that you aren’t on your phone for too long, and when you’re finished let your parents know. For example, if you are playing a game for 20 minutes, and then stop and read a book for 15 minutes, your mom will think you’ve been playing for 35 minutes.

Another idea is to prove to your parents how social you can be. Be involved at dinner time, hang out with your siblings once in a while, and try to be upbeat whenever possible. This will show your parents that the downtime isn’t affecting you negatively.

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

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