Modern Mishpocha: Great technology debate and modern communication

By Jen Perzow

“Can you please put your phone away?”

That was the first thing I said to my teenage daughter as we sat down to write this column together. We had fun coming up with different topics to explore. Considering the season, I proposed that we write about gift giving. What makes a better gift – things or experiences? She countered that the article would be more interesting if we argued different sides of an issue and tried to identify points of consensus. Seemed like a reasonable approach to a parenting article.

We quickly identified technology as a common irritant between parents and children.

Most of you reading this are all too familiar with challenges related to device time. Technology raises a long list of concerns for parents. We are concerned that device use disrupts sleep, results in addiction, and exposes our kids to unnecessary (and potentially very frightening) risks. They ruin a child’s ability to focus and concentrate and have a detrimental impact on our ability to communicate with one another. Have you heard that the inventors of all of this technology don’t let their kids use it? It may be an urban legend, but if so, it captures a certain fear and disquiet that many parents share with respect to technology.

Insert adolescent eye roll.

My daughter thinks that many parents overreact and treat phones as the root of all evil.

“You think that using a phone automatically means you don’t sleep, that you never do anything else, that you do badly in school and that you don’t have any kind of social life.”

“The reality,” she shared with me, “is that if you’re not allowed to have any technology you can’t have a social life, you can’t do well in school, and it is very hard to do things because communicating is very much online.”

Bonding happens and friendships develop through device use. I’m told that she has missed out on conversations, inside jokes and experiences because she is not allowed to text late at night (but she’s still not allowed).

“If you never talk to your friends, you won’t have a friendship. Texting is the new talking so if you don’t text your friends you’re not going to have a good friendship for very long.”

My daughter also reminded me of a perceived hypocrisy in our home. According to her, parents often tell kids to limit their screen time but spend much more time on their phones than kids. I agree that there is certainly some validity to that observation. Most of us spend a lot of time on our phones. Many of us acknowledge that we need to improve our relationship with technology. I have a hard time convincing my children that I use my phone differently than they do. I’m working, I’m paying bills, and I’m signing up for activities. It’s easy to justify device use. But honestly, are there not times that we are also just wasting time?

How can we expect kids to manage technology that we as adults don’t know how to manage?

Shabbat is a great reminder and opportunity to take regular breaks from technology. My daughter concedes that socializing at shul and spending time with family and friends leaves little time to miss technology. However, she quickly adds, “If it was like that all the time then I would fail at life.” And then asks if she can go back to her phone.

There is a big difference between using devices as entertainment and using them as fundamental tools of communication. My daughter’s belief is that technology is vital to kids. Not because they are addicted to it, but because access is expected everywhere and by everyone.