Q While much has been discussed recently about drinking and kiddushim in our community, I would like to raise another obvious problem which has become so out of control that I fear for our children as well as ourselves.
As I drive I look around at all our frum “zombies” (who would be shocked if you called them what they are: addicts!) glued to their phones, while they drive, walk, and come and go from shul. What are we teaching the next generation when Daddy comes come from work and uses all or most of his free time looking down at his phone, iPad, or computer? Why are we then surprised and even horrified when we find that our kids are addicted? Never mind all the families destroyed by the secret behavior or bad material of one spouse or another!
I am not sure what the solution is, and I don’t know if there is one, but what I see going on around me is frightening, to say the least. Any suggestions?
A Thank you for the question; I’m sure many can relate. People rely on cell phones today for a whole lot more than communication. You can conduct business and banking, order virtually any product in the world, listen to lectures and music, and even daven and learn on your phone. The more we can access from a phone, the less we require the involvement of another human being. In essence, we are priming ourselves to become comfortable avoiding human contact and interactions. Obviously, there is a price to pay that comes with this.
Of course, if as parents we are setting the wrong example, there is no reasonable way we can expect our children to behave differently. While we have all seen examples of “do as I say not as I do,” we can see the results of that “style” of parenting and the damage it can cause. If you are a parent struggling with cell phone addiction, be open about it with the rest of the family. They can hold you accountable, and this will be a great opportunity to both break free from it while giving a powerful message to your children that your phone is not your most prized possession. When children see parents practicing any difficult behavior, it teaches them the concept of self-control in addition to giving them a natural role model for them to follow.
It’s important to know that there is an addictive biochemical aspect to excessive cell phone use. The neurotransmitter dopamine is a chemical our brains release to signal pleasure before the actual pleasure is experienced. It is responsible for the “wanting” that we experience, which motivates us to take action since it feels good to us. When you have many recurrent dopamine releases, your brain becomes used to the feeling, desires it in greater amounts, and will look for opportunities to experience it. Seeing new emails or getting phone calls and all sorts of messages from WhatsApp and Snapchat triggers a small release of dopamine in our brains. This can eventually lead to a “dependence” on the dopamine release resulting in anxiety symptoms when you forget your phone at home or don’t have access to it. (Perhaps this can also partially explain the growing number of teens who admit to using their phones on Shabbos and Yom Tov despite being completely frum elsewhere in their lives.)
I think a major theme when addressing this issue is transparency. This includes being open with our children about the potential risks of technology, limiting electronic devices with internet access to open areas in the home, putting filters on devices, and talking about how we manage the use of the technology in our own lives. Some families have adopted the practice of placing all phones in a shoebox during dinnertime to facilitate direct engagement with one another. Although we have this opportunity built into Shabbos and Yom Tov, I think it sends a powerful message to our children when they see us willingly parting with our phones to be present with them. It does not seem reasonable for most families to completely eliminate internet use in the home, so our job is to teach ourselves and our children the concept of moderation. This is something from which they will benefit in many areas of their lives.