Isolation versus Inoculation: Guidelines for Parents in Meeting the Challenge of Digital Technology – Dr. David Pelcovitz

Guidelines for Parents in Meeting the Challenge of Digital Technology 

When I address parents in our community about their role in ensuring their children’s responsible use of digital technology, they are consistently open to adopting a systematic and logical approach. Their level of receptivity, however, is significantly raised when the guidance acknowledges the complexity of what Rabbi S.R. Hirsch describes as “the tension between isolation and inoculation.”[1] Parents whose homes contain smartphones, internet access or other digital technology are often eager for an approach that accepts the realities of technology, while also recognizing that parents bear enormous responsibility to ensure that their children’s innocence and Torah values are not corrupted by unfettered exposure to the outside world. This discussion assumes the unavoidable prevalence of technology in the home and its accessibility to children. In that context, parental responsibilities and appropriate responses will be explored.

I. The Parental Mindset

A. Acknowledging the Challenges

Research on the psychology of change suggests two relevant components of the mind-set of parents in approaching the challenges posed by digital technology:

  1. A mind-set that views a task as a “challenge” rather than a “threat” results in more effective interventions including: greater persistence, more productive thoughts and problem-solving strategies and more efficient physiological responses.[2]
  1. Canadian philosopher and author Robertson Davies, famously said: “The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.”[3] When there is clarity about the nature of a challenge, effective intervention is more likely.

The pervasiveness of digital technology in children’s lives and behavior is demonstrated by the powerful results of the 2015 survey of teen social and technology use conducted by the Pew Research Center.[4] They report that 24% of adolescents are online “almost constantly “and 71% regularly use more than one social networking site. Reliable data on the pervasiveness of technology in our community is not available. Anecdotally, however, when I speak to high school students across the religious spectrum there is widespread acknowledgement that a considerable amount of time is spent with their digital devices, occupying a considerable amount of psychological space in their inner lives.

The impact on family dynamics can be profound. To the extent that one-on-one time spent between parents and children is one of the most powerful ingredients shaping internalization of values, time spent by children and their parents interacting with their devices rather than with each other, by definition, comes at the expense of depth of family connections. When family dinners or long vacation road trips give way to both children and adults immersed in texting, emailing or checking social media, the phenomenon of being “alone together”[5] replaces the family rituals that cement connections.

Parents, not schools or community leaders, must assume the primary responsibility for helping children manage technology use intelligently. During a recent talk that I gave at a Bais Yaakov high school, the overwhelming majority of the girls shared that they had virtually no discussions with their parents about rules and guidelines for prudent use of the Internet or social media sites. National surveys show[6] that an increasing number of parents in the general community recognize the need to guide their children in responsible digital behavior in areas such as interaction with strangers online, reputation management and impact on future opportunities. However, parents seem to be spending very little time discussing the more subtle issues raised by digital technology, such as the increased dangers of being cruel to others in the anonymous settings of digital discourse or the tendency to think and interact in more shallow and superficial ways. For parents who strongly value depth of thought and learning as well as the primacy of proper behavior in the sphere ofבין אדם לחבירו (interpersonal relationships), discussions about these more subtle aspects of digital behavior are an essential component of parental responsibility.

B. Acknowledging the Influence of Stress on Parents’ Choices

Before considering specific challenges and recommendations, it is important that parents recognize the role that stress plays in clouding parental behavior in this area. Daily stress is part and parcel of the frum lifestyle, including time and financial pressures, as well as the particular challenges of large families. This stress often leads parents to seeing the trees rather than the forest – a potential paralysis that can impede parental efforts to take a proactive approach in responsibly inoculating their children. Stress often leads parents to actually encourage overuse of technology by their children, instead of increasing their parental monitoring.

In one of their national surveys on parental modulating of child media use,[7] the Kaiser Family Foundation explains parents’ encouragement of children’s use of technology as significantly motivated by the attractive role that technology can play as an effective babysitter. By distracting children with electronic gaming, texting friends or watching videos, overloaded parents may enjoy increased quiet, “me” time, the opportunity to complete household tasks or a chance to capture the often elusive, yet much needed, couple time.

The pressures of contemporary parenting are, undeniably, intense and occasionally overwhelming. Parents, however, are not typically prepared to address these pressures by encouraging children’s associations with destructive friendships or engaging in physically dangerous activities. Parents must become intensely familiar with the technologies used by their children, and evaluate which uses or programs, if any, are similarly unacceptable preoccupations for their child.

C. Stop Being Afraid to Exert Authority

Over the last decade, studies have consistently shown that the most effective parenting style in helping children deal with digital technology is an authoritative approach. Put simply, parents must assume the role of setting firm limits regarding their child’s use of technology.[8] This does not suggest that a parent should employ an excessively strict authoritarian style that fails to pay attention to the child’s point of view, but is rather an observation that a permissive parenting style is counter-productive, and parents must assume an assertive role. As Chazal tell us, the key to wise parenting is to find the balance between שמאל דוחה וימין מקרבת – “The left hand pushing away while the right hand brings closer.” [9]

Recent generations have seen a drastic diminution in the level of parents’ comfort in employing a responsible balance between love and limits. This topic was addressed in an important book by psychologist Jean Twenge and her colleague, W. Keith Campbell. They document how parental comfort with the limit-setting component of parenting has steadily dwindled over the course of the last two generations.[10] Parents increasingly fear upsetting their child, and avoid imposing limitations, even when the parent recognizes the benefits to the child of such limitations. Too frequently, children prevail in demanding the freedom and latitude enjoyed by friends, whom they perceive as being allowed to do whatever they please. Nowhere is this parental avoidance of responsibility more acute than in regard to children’s access to technology.

We are taught in Mishlei (19:18): יַסֵּר בִּנְךָ, כִּי-יֵשׁ תִּקְוָה; וְאֶל-הֲמִיתוֹ, אַל-תִּשָּׂא נַפְשֶׁךָ – “Discipline your child because there is hope, let your soul not be swayed by his protest.” A Midrash on this verse adds an insight that sounds alien to Western ears: “The more one disciplines one’s child, the more the child will love his parent.”[11]

When the imposition of rules results in an upset, crying child, it is only natural for parents to doubt themselves and be tempted to accede to the child’s demands. Wise parents will recognize, however, that beneath the protests, a part of the child may well be welcoming the imposed structure and limits.

A number of years ago, I saw an adolescent regarding difficulties related to high levels of conflict between him and his parents. His home was dominated by frequent arguments with his parents who, he felt, were placing stricter limits on him than those placed by the parents of any of his peers. Now a young parent himself, he recently told me that when he thinks back to his years of resisting his parent’s rules, he is very grateful that they never yielded to his cries of protest. He now realizes that their limit setting was necessary and came from their fulfilling their responsibility to protect him from himself. What he previously saw as arbitrary and cruel, he now sees as loving and not taking the easy way out. What I found of particular interest, however, was his assertion that he remembers that even during the worst periods of conflict, he was secretly happy that his parents stood firm. He was frightened at the time about the temptations he was being exposed to and, although he could barely acknowledge it to himself, let alone his parents, he needed the controls that he was unable to provide for himself. [12]

Debbie Fox, a prominent therapist in Los Angeles, conducted a study on the use of digital technology by a group of adolescents enrolled in local yeshiva high schools. Among her fascinating findings were the teens’ responses to the question:

When you are a parent and have teenage children of your own, how will you handle their use of digital technology differently than your parents did with you?

More than half of the adolescents responded that they would be more restrictive with their children than their parents were with them. One teen observed that she wished that she could recover the endless hours wasted on texting and social media – often to 3 o’clock in the morning. A tenth-grade boy wrote that he does not think that he will ever be able to erase the pornographic images that he saw on the Internet as a child, when such exposure was surely confusing and over-stimulating.

From a practical standpoint, parents need to recognize two important points:

  1. Children report a lower level of parental supervision of their internet use than their parents report; in other words, parents typically think that they are providing clear boundaries and rules, while their children report that this is not the reality of their day-to-day lives.[13] This problem is easily fixed. This discrepancy will inevitably disappear when parents provide clarity regarding rules, set limits regarding consequences for breaking the rules and regularly engage their children in dialogue about their expectations.
  2. Setting limits works. In their national survey, the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that children provided with clear rules and consequences spend less time with media and are more likely to use media in a responsible manner. In fact, children with any media rules at all consume nearly three hours less media per day than those with no rules.

D. The Importance of Warmth

While it is essential that parents find the correct balance between love and limits, it must always be understood that rules without relationships inevitably translate into rebellion. Monitoring one’s child’s internet use is certainly crucial, but studies find that supervision is only effective in the context of a strong and healthy relationship.

Ultimately, parental controls cannot insulate a child from improper technology. If the child rejects a parent’s guidance, digital technology can be accessed through friends or family. The most important aspect of parental supervision is the conveying of parental values. Such conveyance is forged only by parent-child interactions characterized by warmth, calm discussions that take into account a child’s perspective and a general atmosphere that allows for a child to come to parents with any problem, without fearing a loss of love or support.

E. Parental Modeling

The most powerful force shaping a child’s behavior is not what parents say, but rather what they do. A classic study conducted by British psychologist John Rushton[14] found that when middle-school children were taught to play a game where they could earn tokens that could either be kept for themselves or given to impoverished children, the only predictor of whether the child would act charitably was how the adult, who taught them the game, modeled charitable or selfish actions. The adult’s words were irrelevant, only their actions influenced what the child would do.

For example, a powerful model is established when a parent, in interactions with children and spouse, designates at least some portion of the daily schedule as contemplative, digital free time. Similarly, when having one-on-one conversations with a child, a parent’s phone should not be physically present – even if shut off. The very physical presence of the device may well lead the child to perceive the parent as less “present.”

Research on the family dynamics that are most associated with instilling values in children finds that values are most effectively transmitted to children through the currency of time and emotion. When parents convey their passion about a value by spending time discussing its importance and becoming emotional when sharing their feelings about its importance, the message is far more likely to be incorporated into the family culture.[15] When parents openly discuss their own struggles with being mindlessly pulled into technology use during family time, and when they discuss their determination to fight the temptation of being drawn to the ring of their cell phones or the ping of an incoming text, a powerful lesson is transmitted regarding mindful use of technology.

II. Particular Issues Deserving Parental Attention

A. Pornography on the Internet: Understanding its Impact and the Role of Parents

As online activity has increasingly moved to portable devices, easy access to sexually explicit material has become the norm for the vast majority of adolescents, and the Internet has become the major source of adolescent information about sex.[16] The pervasiveness of these devices is indicated by a recent Pew Foundation survey that found that the average American adolescent owns 3.5 mobile devices – mostly unmonitored by parents.[17] This impact is likely compounded in families and schools in our community who often fail to discuss sexuality with their children.[18]

Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the sexualized nature of the Internet – they are at a stage in life where hormonal and neurobiological changes heighten their sexual drive and curiosity. More than any other period of life, they are prone to risk taking, poor judgment and a drive to explore anything that is new.[19]

A consistent picture emerges from recent studies on the impact of exposure to pornography on adolescents. A process of הרגל – habituation – has led to the “normalizing” of frequent exposure to even the most graphic depictions of nudity and sexual activity. In a Swedish study, close to 70% of adolescent males and 50% of females expressed no shame at pornography use – which is increasingly experienced as a legitimate form of sexual expression.[20] We shouldn’t view our community as immune to this view of pornography. I was recently told by a principal of a Modern Orthodox elementary school that one of her students seemed genuinely surprised when a school administrator disciplined her for sharing pornographic pictures with classmates.

This shift is not only attitudinal. Adolescents who are regular consumers of pornography have been found to develop an approach to sex that is primarily physical and superficial and is devoid of the deep connection and commitment that is consistent with Jewish values. How this plays out in our relatively sheltered community is not known, but in the secular world, research indicates that heavy exposure to pornography serves as an accelerant for early and high risk adolescent sexual behavior and that approximately one in five adolescents are engaged in sending and receiving sexually suggestive nude photos through text messaging or email.[21] Studies have also found that heavy adolescent pornography use is associated with social isolation and impaired physical self-image, particularly in girls. Interestingly, when self-concept improves, or social connections are increased, there is a corresponding drop in the need to use pornography.[22]

In recent years, some secular mental health professionals, who had previously welcomed easy access to pornography as a path to healthy sexual attitudes and expression, have become increasingly alarmed at the damage that pornography use can cause in marital relationships. These clinicians report that clients who heavily use pornography are conditioned to experience arousal as self-centered, sensually blunted and loveless.[23] In marital therapy wives complain that husbands who heavily use pornography develop unrealistic expectations regarding the physical appearance of their spouse as well as a self-centered attitude towards sexual activity marked by expecting one’s spouse to be always ready, and consistently willing to try something new.

As is discussed elsewhere in this article, the most effective approach for parents to use in sheltering their children from the destructive force of pornography is an authoritative disciplinary stance, marked by the balance between clear rule setting and a close parent-child relationship. This parent-child connection will allow the child to turn to their parent for guidance and support should they encounter difficulties in the area of pornography. Research consistently shows that one of the most powerful predictors of responsible sexual behavior in teens is the level of parent-child connection. The following general guidelines should be considered:

  1. Adolescents understand less about sexuality than their pseudo-sophisticated and jaded presentation often suggests. Their main source of information about sex is often whatever they find online – or whatever they are told by their equally ill-informed peers. Parents and teachers tend to consistently underestimate their children’s concerns about sex as well as their child’s desire to talk to them about these concerns. Even though adolescents often act like they aren’t interested in parental input, when asked who they turn to in times of trouble, or whose opinions they value the most, the answer, typically, is their parents. It is important to remember that discussions about sexuality in general, or pornography use in particular, are not an event but a process – so even if a talk does not go particularly well, there will be many more opportunities to address this important area of parenting.  If you are uncomfortable discussing sex, say that up front: “My parents/teachers didn’t talk to me about sex so I’m feeling uncomfortable; please be patient. I’d still rather discuss this than avoid such an important reality.” Also, be sure to avoid falling into a lecturing mode by making sure to frequently check in with your child regarding his or her opinions and feelings.
  2. Make your values clear and explicit. Directly explain how exposure to such material violates our core Jewish values. Sharing some of the research discussed above about the negative psychological and social impact of pornography use can strengthen the impact of your message, particularly if your teen tends to generally not be receptive to “religious” based arguments.

Remember to install filtering and monitoring programs on your child’s mobile devices as well as your home computers. Consulting with friends or professionals who have expertise in this technology is often helpful.

B. Attention and Distraction

In their 2012 National survey,[24] the Pew Foundation found that ninety percent of teachers believe that digital media are creating a generation of children with unacceptably short attention spans. Educators teaching American students in Israeli yeshivas and seminaries often share the same observation. These educators have a unique perspective in being able to identify drastic changes in the attention and depth capacities they observe when comparing cohorts of current students with their students of a pre-digital era.

Over the last five years, I have been asked to discuss the role of technology with the students of several seminaries in Israel serving the centrist Orthodox community. I often mention to the students that their teachers find them, collectively, to be much less engaged in the transformative learning and experiential process that in the past had characterized students’ Israel studies. The students agree, and acknowledge that their use of devices has had a significant impact on their ability to focus and become immersed in their learning. Despite this recognition, the students find themselves unable to shed the embrace of devices and to develop the level of independence and growth that in the past has stemmed from the year in Israel experience.

The distraction of devices not only impacts academic and intellectual pursuits, it also affects interpersonal relationships.   Author and researcher Linda Stone, a former Apple and Microsoft executive, coined a widely-used term: “continuous, partial attention.” This term captures the feeling of a constant need to be connected to digital devices lest anything be missed. The self-imposed requirement of constant connection mandates an emotional and cognitive state that is always “on.” These expectations lead to chronic levels of stress and overload. Typically, one may not even recognize this drain, but interactions with children, spouses and friends can be subtly tainted by never being fully “present” in day-to-day interactions.

The subtle way that this dynamic can impact the quality of relationships has emerged in the surprising findings of some recent studies. This research finds that even the presence on a desk of a cell phone that is switched off leads to impairment in attention,[25] as well as a perception on the part of the person being spoken to that the conversation is less meaningful and that the interaction is marked by less empathy.[26]

The reduction in attention that is haphazardly and casually caused by devices is consequential, even to infants. Infants are impacted by where their parents’ attention is directed. If a mother’s gaze is turned to her smartphone, her baby will intrinsically focus on the phone as an object of importance. As Yale psychiatrist Bruce Wexler notes:

If an infant is given a choice of playing with an object being handled by an adult or with an identical copy of the object that is closer, the infant will reach past the copy to play with the one the adult has.[27]

Psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair confirms that even newborns are profoundly impacted by a parent’s frequent and mindless pull to their digital devices. Paying attention to one’s smartphone is qualitatively different than folding laundry or engaging in other superficial tasks. Parents become so engrossed in checking their phones for texts and Facebook updates that they are not psychologically present for their infant or toddlers, whose minds and emotions are being shaped by constantly checking and interacting with their parents. As Steiner-Adair writes: “From birth to two they rely on us completely and they need our engaged presence during these connecting interactions. They can tell when we are distracted. We can’t fool them.”[28]

Recommendation: Empirical research has documented that multitasking reduces efficiency and produces a more superficial product. When a study contrasted a group spending 20 minutes of work interrupted by calls, checking texts, social media sites or email with a comparable group working without interruptions, the multitaskers complained of significantly higher levels of stress and frustration.[29] Most children, however, are unaware of the inefficiencies that typically accompany trying to do more than one thing at a time. In the spirit of thoughtful authoritative parenting, one strategy is to approach older children and adolescents in a collaborative manner. Give them the facts about the research on multitasking and discuss possible alternatives. Listen carefully to their perspective and then encourage them to experiment by doing their work with, and without, multitasking. In a well-designed, parent-child discussion, children may come to their own conclusions about the cost-benefit analysis that makes sense for them.

C. Texting While Driving

Adolescent drivers represent the highest proportion of those who text while driving.[30] Recent studies have reported that ninety-two percent of college students admit to reading texts while driving.[31] Such distractions are a contributing factor in ten percent of driver fatalities.[32]

A recent review of empirical research on the dangers of texting while driving concludes that parents of young drivers have a crucial responsibility in directing their teens not to text and drive. Studies show that adolescents typically believe that they can safely multitask in this way, but the harsh reality is that such behavior often has calamitous results.

Recommendation: First and foremost, parents must model the behavior of not texting and driving. In fact, clear rules should require that cell phones be kept shut off in the glove compartment while driving, available for emergencies. And even then, only after the car engine has been turned off. Not only should parents have discussions about these expectations, they should monitor compliance by checking phone records to confirm that their teen did not text or speak on the phone while driving.[33]

D. Independence

One understandable attraction of smartphones is assisting students abroad, such as in Israel, in coping with homesickness. As one girl told me, “Since coming to Israel, I feel even closer to my parents. I hardly ever said ‘I love you” to my mother or father back home, but now I say that at least once a day.”

Though parents may relish that upside, it comes at the expense of the child’s personal growth that often emerges from finding one’s own way without constant input from family back home. This is true for students studying away from home in Israel, but equally true for the yeshiva student, ostensibly ensconced in the bais hamedrash. At a Torah U’Mesorah convention a number of years ago, I heard Rav Shmuel Kaminetsky say that he does not allow cell phones in the Philadelphia Yeshiva “because when a talmid has a cell phone in the Philadelphia Yeshiva, he is not truly in the Philadelphia Yeshiva.”

E. “Being” Versus Doing

There is a growing body of evidence that our society is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with just “being” rather than doing. In a 2012 survey, eighty-three percent of American adults reported that they had spent no time “relaxing or thinking” during the prior twenty-four hours.[34]

In a fascinating series of studies,[35] University of Virginia psychologist Timothy Wilson and his colleagues asked participants of different ages and backgrounds to sit in a room alone with their thoughts, staring at the four walls with nothing to do but “be.” Even though the participants were asked to sit in the room for only between six and fifteen minutes, they found the experience very unpleasant. The next experiment was even more interesting. A group was given the same task, albeit with a choice. Each participant could elect to either sit alone with their thoughts for fifteen minutes, or self-administer mildly painful electric shocks. Amazingly, 25% of the women, and more than 60% of the men chose to shock themselves rather than experience the discomfort of being alone with their thoughts.

As MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle writes in her book “Alone Together,”[36] stillness – the term she uses to describe the emotional state of “being” – is increasingly rare in the daily life of adolescents. Jewish educators report stories of high school students in a genuine state of panic when they lose their smartphones. Turkle quotes developmental psychologist Erik Erikson as saying that in order to develop their emerging identities, adolescents in particular need to carve out a place of stillness in their lives. Constantly being wired can rob adolescents of familiarity with their core identities and the time and psychological space needed for personal reflection.

Recommendation: In his book “The Distraction Addiction,”[37] Stanford University technology expert Alex Soojung-Kim Pang strongly advocates for building a “digital Sabbath” – a designated part of the week that is technology free. In a sense, translating the lesson of Shabbos into our weekday schedule and attitudes should be a component of educating our children to be more comfortable with carving out a part of their life that allows for stillness and reflection.

Specific recommendations for implementing effective technology breaks include the recognition that in order for such practice in stillness to become part of children’s life, regular times must be set aside during the week. Careful attention must be paid to what activities and discussions will replace a digital connection. In addition, children may need help with strategies for explaining to their friends the reality of their being AWOL from the digital world for a period of time. Of course, to be effective, parents themselves must participate in the designated technology breaks.

RecommendationAlmost one thousand years ago, Rabbeinu Bachya introduced a four-word tefila that captures the essence of our objective:[38] יצילני מפיזור הנפש ‘ה – “May G-d save me from fragmentation of the soul.” A similar statement was made by the Piacesner Rebbe, who quoted the Baal Shem Tov as saying that another way of understanding the words we say several times a day in the Shema – ואבדתם מהרה – is that we should strive to get rid of the rush in our life (instead of the literal translation “you will be quickly lost” it can be read out of context to mean “you should lose ‘quickness’” – i.e., don’t rush).[39]

A possible antidote is to develop a capacity for mindfulness – a teachable skill that directly addresses the emotional state of פיזור and מהירה. Adolescents and young adults are increasingly open to developing skills such as meditation and mindfulness. When I was involved in co-developing a treatment for abused adolescents, one of our more striking findings was the openness of even the toughest teens to learning how to do mindfulness exercises. Yeshiva high school students are also surprisingly receptive to tefila programs that incorporate the development of mindfulness skills as an approach to improving kavana during davening. While the specifics of mindfulness training is beyond the scope of this article, instructive books include The Art of Kavana by Rabbi Alexander Seinfeld (Devora Publishing, 2005), and Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s classic, Jewish Meditation: A Practical Guide (Shocken Books, 1985).

RecommendationIn a recently published book,[40] child psychiatrist Jodi Gold makes a number of common-sense recommendations about a parent’s role in guiding children to responsible technology use. One such suggestion is that parents keep technology out of their child’s bedroom, especially before bedtime. Recent studies have documented how smartphone or iPad use before bedtime can interfere with sleep. Once again, of course, parents must serve as models. Along with their children, each evening parents should recharge their digital devices in the kitchen or dining room. The temptation to check for texts, emails and calls while in bed is simply too strong when the phone is in the room.

III. A Closing Proposal: The Digital Contract

Both children and adolescents in our community are surprisingly receptive when I introduce the concept of conducting an open discussion between parent and child on responsible use of the Internet and other digital devices, and then establishing a written contract on the agreed-upon parameters of such use. As it says in Mishlei: בְּאֵין חָזוֹן, יִפָּרַע עָם – “When there is no vision, the people cast off restraint.[41] This receptivity reflects the fact that children, as well as parents, are looking for clarity and guidance.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends[42] that parents and children sign a “contract” that represents a commitment to a specific set of guidelines regarding the family’s use of technology. Two important provisions of this contract are the children’s acknowledgment and agreement that their parents will periodically check into their media history on whatever devices the child uses, and the children’s assurance that they will not watch inappropriate shows or play offensive games. Another suggested provision is that a child’s total screen time be limited to a maximum of two hours a day, unless a school assignment requires more.

Gold suggests that while doing schoolwork, children and adolescents give their parent their smartphone to hold. Conversely, an important component of the contracts suggested respectively by both the American Academy of Pediatrics and by Gold is that parents commit to a certain standard of behavior, as well. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ contract also includes a joint family commitment to have technology-free meals, and to designate certain periods of the year, such as portions of vacations or the summer, as technology-free family bonding time.

Each family’s guidelines, of course, must be tailored to the standards of their community, the age and temperament of the children and the particular values of the family. For example, contract terms will inevitably differ between families in a Modern Orthodox community and those in a more sheltered Chasidishe school and community.

Consequences to contract violations are also important. Gold recommends that a contract violation should result in a loss of technology use for half a day in that week. A second offense will result in loss of a whole day. These types of consequences reflect the generally held view of parenting experts that the most effective consequences for children and adolescents are brief and logical, and are delivered unemotionally.

In the spirit of using an authoritative parenting style, parents agree that, while they may designate the ultimate terms of the contract, they commit to actively listen to their child’s thoughts and concerns before the rules and regulations are established. Parents also pledge to take a general approach, guided by trying to help their child learn from their mistakes. A particularly important component of an effective contract – especially for adolescents – is that parents agree that they will expect to give their child increasing freedom and responsibility as the child demonstrates a commitment to responsible use of technology.

IV. Conclusion

When trains were a new technology 150 years ago, some journalists and intellectuals worried about the destruction that the railroads would bring to society. One news article at the time warned that trains would blight crops with their smoke, terrorize livestock… and people could asphyxiate” if they traveled on them.[43]

Thankfully, society learned how to integrate the new reality of the locomotive into their daily life. One of the greatest challenges of our time is far more complex – learning how to manage the technology revolution, a transformational force that brings the outside world – both the good and the bad – into our children’s daily experience. It is hoped that the recommendations shared in this article will help families find their way in reaching the optimal balance between isolation and inoculation.

David Pelcovitz, Ph.D. holds the Gwendolyn and Joseph Straus Chair in Psychology and Jewish Education at Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education.


[1] Rabbi SR Hirsch (1984-2012). Collected Writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Volume 7, page 286, Feldheim, New York, New York.

[2] Tomaka, J. (1997). Cognitive and Physiological Antecedents of Threat and Challenge Appraisal, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 73, 63-72.

[3] Davies, R. (1951). Tempest-Tost, Toronto, Canada: Clarke, Irwin & Company.

[4] Lenhart, Amanda, Pew Research Center, April 2015, “Teen, Social Media and Technology Overview 2015

[5] Turkle, S. (2011) Alone Together, Basic Books, New York, New York

[6] Madden, M. (2012) Parents, teens and online privacy. Pew Internet , Washington, D.C.

[7] Kaiser Family Foundation (2006) The Media Family : Electronic media in the lives of infants, toddlers, preschoolers and their parents.


[8] Valcke, M. (2010) Internet parenting styles and the impact on internet use of primary school children. Computers and Education, 55, 454-464.

[9] Sotah 47a

[10] Twenge, J. & Campbell, K. (2009) The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. Simon & Schuster, New York, New York

[11] Shemos Rabbah, I

[12] Pelcovitz R. & Pelcovitz D. (2005) Balanced Parenting, Shaar Press, Brooklyn, New York

[13] Livingstone, S., & Helsper, E. J. (2008). Parental mediation of children’s internet use. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 52(4), 581–599.

[14] Rushton, J. (1975) Generosity in children: Immediate and long-term effects of modeling, preaching, and moral judgment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 459-466.


[15] Pelcovitz, R. & Pelcovitz, D. (2014) Life in the balance: Torah perspectives on positive psychology. Mesorah publications, Brooklyn, NY

[16] Owens, E. (2012) The impact of internet pornography on adolescents: A review of the research. Journal of Sexual Addiction and compulsivity, 19, 99-122

[17] Lenhart, A., Purcell, K., Smith, A., & Zickur, K. (2010). Social media & mobile Internet use among teens and young adults. PewInternet: Pew Internet & American Life Project.

[18] Hartman T. & Samet, B. (2007) Uncovering Private Discourse: Teachers’ Perspectives of Sex Education in Israeli Religious Jewish Schools. Curriculum Inquiry 37:1

[19] Spear, L. (2000) Neurobehavioral Changes in Adolescence, Current Directions Psychological Science, 9(4), 111-114.

[20] Lofgren-Martenson, L., & Mansson, S. (2010). Lust, love, and life: A qualitative study of Swedish adolescents’ perceptions and experiences with pornography. Journal of Sex Research, 47, 568–579.

[21] Kraus, S., & Russell, B. (2008). Early sexual experiences: The role of Internet access and sexually explicit material. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 11, 162–168.

[22] Owens, E. (2012) The impact of internet pornography on adolescents: A review of the research. Journal of Sexual Addiction and compulsivity, 19, 99-122

[23] Maltz, W. (2009). The porn trap: The essential guide to overcoming problems caused by pornography. HarperCollins, New York, New York

[24] Pew Research Center (2012) How teens do research in the digital world.

[25] Thornton, B. Faires, A. & Robbins, M. (2014) The mere presence of a cell phone may be distracting: Implications for attention and task performance. Social Psychology, 456) 479-488

[26]Misra, S, Cheng, L. & Genevie, J. (2014) The iPhone Effect: The Quality of In-Person Social Interactions in the Presence of Mobile Devices, Environment and Behavior  0013916514539755v1-13916514539755

[27] Wexler, B (2006). Brain and Culture: Neurobiology Ideology, and Social Change. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press

[28] Steiner Adair, C. (2013) The big disconnect: Protecting childhood and family relationships in the digital age. New York, New York, Harper-Collins, page 72

[29] Mark, G. (2006) The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress, University of California, Irvine, Department of Informatics

[30] World Health Organization (WHO), 2011. Mobile Phone Use: A Growing Problem of Driver Distraction. World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.

[31] Atchley, P. (2011). The choice of text and drive in younger drivers: behavior may shape attitude. Accident Analysis and Prevention 43, 134–142.

[32] National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2009. Electronic Device Use in 2008 (Report No.     DOT-HS-811-184). NHTSA, Washington, DC.

[33] Caird, J. (2014) A meta-analysis of the effects of texting on driving. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 71, 311-318.

[34] American Time Use Survey (2012) Bureau of Labor Statistics.

[35] Wilson, T. (2014). Just think: The challenges of the disengaged mind. Science, 345:6192 75-77.

[36] Turkle, S. (2011) Alone Together, Basic Books, New York, New York

[37] Soojung-Kim Pang, A. (2013) The Distraction Addiction, Little Brown and Company, New York, New York

[38] חובת הלבבות בפתיחה לשער הבטחון

[39]Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Weinberg, Maintaining peace of mind in a high speed world, Yeshiva University Purim to go, 5773.

[40] Gold, J. (2015) Screen Smart Parenting. Guilford Press, New York, New York.

[41] Proverbs 29:18


[43] Quoted by Nick Bilton, The twitter train has left the station. New York Times, February 3, 2010.

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