The Internet and the Orthodox Jewish community has been the subject of much discussion of late especially in light of the recent Asifa at Citi Field. I have received many inquiries for guidance by members of the Young Israel of Woodmere. For the sake of clarity, I have chosen to put together some thoughts and suggestions to you. I welcome your comments and critique of my thoughts.
In my view the Internet, willy nilly, is an integral part of communication in the year 2012. It is not going to disappear. Orthodox Jews need it and will use it. Like all other realia of life, we must treat it from the perspective of Jewish Law. We should embrace what we may embrace and avoid what we must avoid. And most importantly, we should try to transmit to our children the necessary tools that will enable them to use the internet in the best possible way as observant Jews and dignified human beings.
The dangers of the internet
1. Free access to all information. This includes pornography and other harmful material
2. Addiction and time waster
3. Too much “chatting,” rechilus, and lashon hara
4. Promotes poor communication skills
5. Discourages reading of books
6. Dangerous chat rooms--both Jewish and others
7. Opportunity to meet unsavory strangers
8. Devices which give access besides computers include tablets and smartphones.
9. Social media like Twitter and Facebook enable huge audiences to be reached for all of the above instantly. There are many dangers to social media:
A. Culture of self absorbency- putting up statuses every few minutes as attention seeking behavior and even sometimes as dangerously revealing and
B. Forgetting that there is a huge audience for whatever you put up there, even with privacy settings. Kids and their friends (without the kids’ consent) can post compromising pictures or information, often because they “forgot” that hundreds of people will see it (it feels like you’re just showing/telling your best friend/s) and
C. Cyber-bullying--using social media as a tool to really hurt other kids on purpose. Having said all this, if parents and kids have open dialogue, these media can be used for good, clean fun and also for tremendous good.
10. REMEMBER - once you make a posting on social media or email, it is forever! And it can go all over the world
11. Irresponsible use of YouTube to create and promote video renditions of inappropriate material
What Can Parents Do ?
1. Get a responsible filter for the home internet
2. Place home computer in a visible place where you can see what your kids are doing. Children should not have computers in their rooms, and children under 16 should not as a rule have their own laptops
3. Limit their time on the computer with a program like ENUFF PC
4. Speak to your children about being responsible about computer use
5. Encourage your kids to use some of their daily spare time for reading real books
6. Learn about Torah libraries that are available on computers
7. Encourage them to do constructive projects and networking on the computer
8. Put educational software and games on the computer for younger children
9. Parents should think twice before giving young children devices that have real wifi access--ipods, iphones, ipads, and many smartphones.
10. Strongly discourage your children from sharing their password with anyone, even a close friend. The password can be shared with a parent.
Limitations on Controls
David Teitelbaum of Camp Sdei Chemed points out:
“The Internet by design was created not to be filtered. By designing it as a web, no matter how much you try you can’t control the information. Look at the Middle East countries where dictators were brought down by social networking. Of course they tried everything in their power to pull the plugs, but the Internet can’t be controlled. The MPAA tried to stop peer-to-peer file sharing and was never successful. The Internet was designed in the 1960s using a system called packet switching so that traffic can always reroute itself, which makes censorship almost impossible.
“When I was just 17 and the web was first starting to explode my father was visited by one of the first “filter companies.” They wanted his haskama. During the demonstration, my father asked me what I thought. I sat down at the computer and with a few clicks bypassed the filter. My father told them to come back when my child can’t disable the filter. They never came back. I wasn’t a computer genius and you don’t have to be one. Any child can learn to break even the most sophisticated password protection. All you need is for one person to figure it out and within seconds all his friends will too. And for those without friends they can Google it. Monitoring software can be disabled just as easily. So can the “chavrusa system.” Don’t be fooled by the companies trying to sell you their products.
“Free unfiltered wireless internet is available almost anywhere you go. The current goal is to have wifi available free over the entire USA, as it is already in some cities. Any filter you have at home is irrelevant. Almost every new electronic device has wifi capability. And trying to password protect every one of them is an unrealistic goal.”
In a perceptive article David Teitelbaum further suggests that “We need to educate our children by teaching them why our Jewish values are superior to the values they see outside (or now, online). We need to teach them how to handle challenges that come their way and stop making believe it doesn’t happen. Life is about making choices and we need to teach our children how to choose wisely, including on the Internet. When a Rebbi or teacher is unable to acknowledge that his class is using the Internet, he can’t have a discussion about it. When social networking is not allowed, how do you teach online privacy and safety.”
One excellent comment was received from a colleague, Rabbi Chaim Poupko of Englewood, NJ. He emphasized that parents should be aware of their computer conduct around their children.
“The strongest impression we make on our children is what they watch us do. I would strongly encourage our parents to consciously limit the amount of time our children see us on the Internet or checking our phones. It may sound a little extreme, but if you think about it – if my kid sees me on my phone at his little league game half the time or at the dinner table or just lounging around the house, that’s a clear expression of what’s important and what is normal behavior. Such behavior validates in the mind of a child the notion that its ok to spend large of amounts of time on the internet and smartphones. More time on the internet/smartphones = more potential for trouble a kid can get into. Setting limits on ourselves can be of great benefit to us and our children.”
May Hashem bless us with wisdom, courage, and His assistance as we begin to confront one of the big challenges that Orthodox Jews must face today.