Technology Addiction Guru Speaks

by Baltimore Jewish Life (See all authors)

An expert on technology addictions, spoke about technology and parental awareness at a community gathering Sunday night to a crowd of well over fifteen-hundred attendees. Rabbi Yechezkel Zweig, who introduced the main speaker, called the evening an “educational opportunity” that would allow parents to “act in an informed manner.” The expert himself, who strongly asserted that we are facing the biggest nisayon that Klal Yisrael has ever dealt with in its history, felt that it would be a mistake to think that parents can fix or avoid the psychological and religious problems that can be caused by technology. For one thing, technology is advancing too quickly and becoming an unavoidable component of modern life. Also, most parents are what he terms “digital immigrants” who cannot possibly outsmart their “native” children in this matter. However, he also maintained that it is the parents’ responsibility to be as informed as possible about this matter.

Besides describing the history of technological advancements like the cell phone, computer, and internet, The expert explained that there are certain social changes in today’s world that, compounded with the use of technology, can lead to disastrous results. In this day and age of instant communication and gratification, it is easy for someone, even an adult, to become severely addicted to texting, online chatting, or internet surfing with a compulsion that can interfere with his daily life. Once someone becomes addicted to certain online content, the psychological pull can be all the more forceful because the internet does not have a definitive end. Cell phones, which he called “more addictive than drugs or alcohol,” are also subtly attractive because they validate their owners, especially children, on a psychological level. Perhaps worst of all is Facebook, the popular social networking site. As the preferred method of communication nowadays, a user can potentially expose himself and his personal information to up to 400 million other subscribers.

One of the saddest parts of the speech was when the expert spoke about the growing number of children who are mechalel Shabbos with their cell phones. It is easy for them to be discreet about their activities because they can use cell phones to text, which requires no conversation, and the cell phones are so small compared to computers that they go easily undetected.

To combat the growing misuse of technology, the expert suggested a few different filtering and monitoring systems. First of all, parents can call their cell phone providers to receive call details about when calls and text messaging have taken place. Verizon offers a “family locator” feature which allows parents to see where a cell phone has been and how long it has been at each place. There is a “usage control” feature that lets parents control how many calls or texts a child can place or send with his phone. For a filter system, he recommends a product called Canine or a system developed in Israel called PureSight that is a monitor and filter in one. No matter the filter, however, it is important that parents not become complacent, since there is no filter that cannot be bypassed.

When advising parents on how to deal with hurtful situations they uncover, the expert cautioned that “how you respond…makes all the difference. If you don’t respond appropriately, you may lose a loved one forever.” At the same time, it is important for parents not to be intimidated by technology and their children’s knowledge.

Ultimately, he said, even if a parent doesn’t use, want, or have any need for these technological devices, his children probably will. And that’s why it’s best to educate children about the proper use of technology from a young age. The Technology and Family Safety Alliance has been established in Baltimore to help families educate their children and keep their homes safe. A highly recommended site for anyone struggling with an addiction to inappropriate content is guardyoureyes.org.

And finally, the expert asked the audience to build love and trust with their children, communicating to them that they will always be loved, no matter what they do.

“Look at people as individuals,” he said. “Work with them and love them… and all the rest will fall into place