My approach with my kids has generally been to keep smartphones away from them as long as socially possible, and then when I can no longer delay the inevitable, allow smartphones without a browser. But (as I’ve recently discovered) those teenagers eventually grow into young adults with their own bank accounts and smartphones of their choosing.
Does the fact that I’d limited their access to smartphones or iffy internet content until that point prepare them for that point in their lives when they will be choosing where to surf, not their smartphone-allergic Eema?
This past Shabbat at my daughter’s high school, all the 9th-grade parents sat together with the school’s director to discuss the smartphone-teenager conundrum. It was a lively meeting, and a lot of different opinions were expressed regarding ways to keep our kids away from smartphones.
But one mother, Chava, expressed a completely opposite point of view. I don’t think any of the parents present (and certainly not the school’s director) shared her opinions.
“I believe that banning smartphones from schools is an extreme approach. The world is advancing, and ignoring that fact isn’t an option,” she said, before outlining a number of steps she said would most effectively educate our children regarding smartphone use.
1. Don’t Panic: When you see your child using a smartphone in a way you don’t like, don’t radiate panic. Rather radiate security and stability. We love them even when they are doing things that are less acceptable or that we’d prefer not to see them doing.
2. Normalize: Remind yourself that our kids’ desire to be exposed to new things and to do what their friends are doing is normal and understandable.
3. Moderation: Keep an eye on how much time our children are spending with their phones.
4. Empowering Correct Choices: We must teach our children that each of us has the ability to choose, and each of us is responsible for the choices we make. Regarding smartphones, we must choose what to watch, what to look at, and what to investing our time in.
“It’s important for us to remember, and to teach our children, that the subconscious documents, preserves and burns into our brains every single experience we have, from all five senses,” this mother said. “And after we have experienced something, that experience is recorded and saved in our brains forever as a thing we’ve already encountered, something that’s familiar.
“When a person views harsh or extreme scenes or images, they are recorded and burned into their brains and converted into something that the brain considers legitimate. Something that the spirit and consciousness find bearable,” she added. “And the more harsh and extreme images we see, those things become more and more something that lands on soft ground, familiar ground, making it seem more and more legitimate.”
We don’t start educating our children as teenagers. We need to be speaking with them about this from a young age. The central, most important message being that the choice is in our hands.
So, what do I take from Chava’s controversial approach? I’m personally not planning to give my young teenagers unrestricted smartphone or internet access. But Chava’s approach does open up my eyes in a big way regarding something else. The fact that my home computer is filtered and my kids either don’t have or have kosher smartphones is not necessarily educating them about how to make the right choices regarding smartphone use — should they be confronted with that choice today or (almost inevitably) in the future. I need to be talking more with my kids about this crucial issue, not just keeping it at a distance.