LETTERS FROM OUR PRINCIPAL

Rabbi Alan Berkowitz

Vayeishev 5780

Technology and Thoughtful Parenting

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Dear Magen David Families,

 

In a letter I wrote earlier this week, I mentioned things that children were writing to each other in their group chats that were generating fear and anxiety.  In writing about this I glossed over the subject of “group chats” and so I was not surprised to receive some feedback that I’d now like to share with you.  This letter is about our children and their use of technology.  If you don’t have time to read the whole letter, please take note of the guidelines presented at the end.

 

On every occasion that we have discussed the topic of technology and the use of devices, you have heard me express my view that our children should have devices because they are essential 21st Century tools.  You have also heard me state emphatically that adults must figure out how to accept the responsibility of monitoring their children and students’ use of technology. This means that we need to know about new apps and social media that are available to our children and we have to make decisions about what and when they can make use of these apps and social media.  We should also take advantage of services like those provided through TAG to install filters on our children’s devices. More important than just knowing what’s available to our children is active monitoring of their technology usage.  Parents should make it clear to their children that as parents, they must know every one of their children’s passwords and that they reserve the right to check anything on any device at any time.  I suggest that this should be explained by saying to children something like “It’s not because I don’t trust you, it’s because I do love you.”  

 

Without burdening you with too many real-life anecdotes that come to our attention on a daily basis, I want to share one story that happened this week.  It is but one of many stories we hear about every week and it is real.  There is a large group of 10 year old boys and girls that are in a social media group together.  In that group, several of the girls started to use a vulgar term towards each other. This is inappropriate among girls of any age and certainly in children so young.  It is even worse in a coed group and, in some homes, it will generate conversations that are not yet age appropriate, but since the issue has been forced parents may not have a choice but to raise the issue.  One of the parents brought this group to our attention and asked for help.  Indeed, I hope that this letter provides some of the requested help even as I know that it may be insufficient.  The terrible things that the children wrote to and about each other continued over the course of a few days, because the adults didn’t get involved.  This can’t happen again.  If we hope to provide our children with the guidance they need, they will need guidelines.  The guidelines will have to be set by parents, enforced in every home and supported by the school.  (*Please see my suggestions below.)

 

We have made a purposeful decision not to be a school that bans specific forms of technology, just as we do not ban many other things.  We take pride in giving thought to our actions and being a community that parents and rears children in a thoughtful, purposeful manner.  Let us be mindful that this course of action, this approach to child-rearing is not simple.  It requires us to evaluate and re-evaluate our plans for, and interactions with our children at all times. It also requires open and transparent communication between adults.  Again, I remind you that we are up to the challenge.

 

Sincerely,

Rabbi Alan Berkowitz

SUGGESTED GUIDELINES

  1. Parents decide what apps their children have on their devices.
  2. Parents are privy to all passwords and reserve the right to monitor usage as they deem appropriate.
  3. Parents should consider installing filters on their children’s devices.
  4. Parents decide when and where children can use technology.
  5. Parents decide which groups their children may join and which they may not join.
  6. Parents agree to be in touch with each other and communicate openly when problems arise.  As responsible adults parents agree that allowing children to be part of specific peer groups means accepting the responsibility for the well-being of all the children in the group.  
  7. Parents commit to being “in this together”.