This past Saturday evening, the Young Israel of Oceanside was treated to a powerful parenting workshop led by the father and daughter team of Dr. David Pelcovitz and Karen Pelcovitz Hermann, LCSW. We were introduced to Gary Chapman’s five love languages – receiving gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service and physical touch – and learned that our children are attuned to these different languages much in the way that adults are. Ms. Herrmann explained that each child feels a sense of love in different ways and it is important for us as parents to understand what is the particular “love language”of each child. Dr. Pelcovitz educated us about the four “e’s," the four ingredients to instill our values in our children: explanation to our children when they make mistakes, high expectations for our children, empathy, and emotion for those values that we hold near and dear. Everyone who attended the workshop left feeling inspired and equipped to engage in best parenting practices.
During the Q & A part of the program, there was one question that stuck out in my mind that is something with which most parents grapple, and that is the use of technology. At what age should our children get a phone? A smart-phone? What should the rules and restrictions be to the use of technology? In the modern orthodox community, I believe that our overall approach is patterned after the philosophy of the Rambam. In general, the Rambam believes in the Golden Path. He writes in Hilkhot Dei’ot, that, with rare exception, the way of the upright is to adopt the middle-of-the-road characteristic of each and every temperament that people have. Additionally, he believes it is sinful for someone to restrict himself from all pleasures by, for example, constantly fasting. In short, the Rambam’s philosophy is to engage with this world with moderation.
Technology is a part of the world in which we live. We cannot ignore it and frankly, there are many positive things that technology offers us. It is simply not realistic in the modern orthodox world to forbid a child from using a smart phone or from texting once the child reaches a certain age. At the same time, it is so important to educate our children about how to use technology and how to place limits on its use. I've heard stories of young children texting at all hours of the night and stories of children using language on a group chat that they wouldn’t dare use in person-to-person communication. I believe it is incumbent upon our Yeshiva day schools to get a realistic picture of how our children are using technology during each grade and provide meaningful guidance and education to our children to help them navigate this challenging aspect of living in the 21st century.
At the end of the day, it’s up to the parents to enforce rules and restrictions regarding technology use. But it’s hard. It’s very difficult to strike the right balance and to enforce rules in a way that encourages our children to act responsibly but, at the same time, doesn't lead to likely rebellion if we are too restrictive. The task is hard but the rewards are great; if we teach our children how to use technology responsibly, then we will be doing them a great service that will guide them throughout their lives.
Dr. Pelcovitz pointed out that it is very difficult for parents to do this alone. If there are community norms or guidelines regarding what is and what is not considered appropriate use of technology, then parents feel more comfortable in implementing those norms or guidelines. At the same time, should a community legislate to parents how to raise their children? It’s one thing for our community to have community Kashrut standards so that everyone feels comfortable eating at each other's homes in the community, but who is the “community” to tell me what limits to place on my child's technology use? I know my child best!
This is a very difficult question and another hard balance to strike, but I raise this issue so that we can begin a conversation. As community members, we are in a unique position to provide support to one another as we face the daunting challenge of raising our children, while at the same time respecting each other's unique parenting perspective. So let’s begin! I would love to hear your thoughts.