Straight Talk For Parents About Internet Prevention

kid on computer[By Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, LCSW-R, written for Guard Your Eyes dot org – an organization helping the Jewish people with prevention and treatment of Internet struggles, and sumitted to TLS by GYE] Many children, at some point, will use the Internet for illicit purposes. This is just a  normal part of childhood mischief, as was once looking at dirty magazines. Of course, not every child did such things, but many have done so and turned out quite normal. Children are curious and naturally will have difficulty reigning in their desires, which are intensely felt during adolescence. The problem is that what was once relatively harmless experimentation is now much more dangerous because of the potential dangers and the degree of exposure that the Internet poses. It may not be desirable, but it still is normal for children at some point to experiment with alcohol. Parents do not usually lock up the liquor cabinet in anticipation of this.  Yet, at the same time, we wouldn’t want our children experimenting with Heroin. That is the hazard of the Internet – normal mischief can quickly lead to abnormal and dangerous over exposure.

Some families are more permissive and some families less so, and it is not the place of this article to dictate values.  Rather, this article will focus on what parents can do to protect children from influences and temptations that they deem harmful, although those definitions may vary from family to family.  Children today access the Internet at the library, on their phones, on their friends’ phones, on portable games and almost every imaginable device. The same is true in regard to movies and music that were once confined to tapes or CD’s and now are easily downloaded and uploaded onto stick drives and tiny players. Don’t even THINK that it is possible to keep you child from these influences IF he or she desires them. The technical savvy and ingenuity of even small children surpasses most of us adults. We are hopelessly clueless about technology that is as natural as air and water to our children.  

Therefore, this article begins with the basic assumption that your child uses or can use the Internet – even if you don’t think he or she will. It also takes for granted that your home has appropriate and suitable safeguards and Internet filters if you allow the Internet, and you have family rules and policies around usage. This article will not rehash the obvious. Assuming these basic protective elements are in place, there still remain many questions, such as:

  • How do we educate our children to deal with these challenges, temptations and nisyonos which they will inevitably encounter at some point, despite our best efforts to protect them?
  • What areas of parenting are important for us to improve in order to help our children in these areas?
  • How do we identify warning signs that a child has fallen into viewing inappropriate materials?
  • What do we do if we discover a child was looking at inappropriate materials?
  • How do we talk to our children about shmiras eynaim and kedushas habris without overexposing them prematurely?

Helping Children Develop Critical Thinking Skills

Many of these questions can be addressed via adopting a particular approach.  This approach starts with a recognition that parenting tactics built primarily on control and fear of punishment which may have worked well in the past, are not as effective today. Many children today have more freedom and access to anything than any other generation ever dreamed of, and as we are in ikvesa d’meshicah we know that chutzpah yasgey (brazen behavior is ever increasing, see Sotah 49b.)  Therefore, an important parenting strategy is to develop in each of our children the capacity for critical thinking, good judgment, self-monitoring, and the ability to resist temptation and peer pressure. Just as vaccine inoculates a person from an illness by exposing the body to a weakened form of the disease for it to develop antibodies, so too we must inoculate our children to these dangers by building their defenses and decision making skills.    

Children develop these character skills when they are given opportunities to make choices and learn from their mistakes at levels that are appropriate for them. This is no different than teaching a child how to ride a bicycle. You can’t keep holding the bicycle or use training wheels forever or he will never learn, but you also can’t leave him alone and let him feel overwhelmed by letting him fall all the time. Instead, a parent needs to provide just the right amount of holding and just the right amount of letting go. Because in today’s times, our children will end up having many nisyonos that we won’t even be aware of, we will need to help develop these skills as much as possible.  

The process of helping our children develop self-knowledge and good judgment begins very early.  Instead of just making rules and demanding compliance, parents should selectively choose areas that a child can articulate and discuss his beliefs and values. Even young children have opinions if they are treated with respect and encouraged to share them. Keep in mind, asking your child his opinion is not ceding authority to him. As a parent, you can always assert your authority. However, it is helpful to give your child a chance to think and discuss what his beliefs and values are, so you can develop in him those necessary decision making skills that children need now more than ever before. This process of listening is what the famous psychologist Haim Ginott referred to as giving children a voice but not a vote.  Parents still can have plenty of control, but the child should feel that his opinion is heard. Let’s consider a number of examples:

Imagine your child comes home with a poor grade on a test. Assuming there are no bigger problems such as learning disabilities or difficulties with a teacher or a classmate, you could discipline the child by cutting back a privilege, supervising his studying more etc. Such an approach may work just fine, however there also is an opportunity for the child to develop his own ability to assess and critique his performance and formulate his own plan to correct it. You can ask what he thinks about the particular grade. You can ask him in general what are his goals, and how he would like to budget his time to achieve them. Additionally, not every child wants to get a “A”, and it may not even be important for every child to excel in school. Other things in life count that do not have to do with grades, such as middos, quality of friendships etc. It is worthwhile to ask your child what is important to him and what his goals are.  If they sound reasonable, support them. If your child is happy with getting a lesser grade, but it is an acceptable grade, find out where he wants to excel and encourage him to pursue that. That builds a child’s own abilities instead of just making him compliant. 

Many parents have concerns about the kind of friends a child chooses. As children enter adolescence, they attach themselves to various peer groups as way of becoming more independent from family. This is a normal part of development. Instead of dictating your child’s choice of friends, ask your child what he thinks makes a good friend or a bad friend. Ask him if he ever had a friend who he thought was a bad influence on him and what he did about it.  

Questions and discussions like these are easier to have before you are in a situation where decisions are already being made and you have to step in and intervene. Each of these discussions help a child build in himself the ability to know his own values and assess his own behavior. 

Specific Points About Shmiras Enayim 

 There is a saying, that if you want your child to do something, the best way is to make sure to get upset about it and forbid it. It is important to treat shmiras enayim and other aspects of Torah modesty in a calm fashion without becoming overly intense or ashamed. Discussions about how the Torah expects us to handle desires should begin before a child enters adolescence, so that when the desires begin to intensify, it will not overwhelm him. While it is up to every parent to decide how much and when to discuss desires in general, it is a Torah obligation to teach our children about what their responsibilities are and what they must watch out for. We can’t expect children to know this without being taught.  Unfortunately, when children are not taught about these things, they can become prey to those who take advantage of them. 

No matter how much we shelter our children, the body matures. There is a famous humorous story of chassidic young man that illustrates this point. The man had sheltered his son from seeing girls his whole life. One day, in his teens, the boy saw some girls on the other side of the street and asked his father, “Totty, what are those?”  Wanting to keep his son as innocent as possible the father answered, “They aren’t really much of anything – just tchatchkes.”  The boy replied, “I like those tchatchkes. I want one!”  

For parents who feel their child should not be taught about these issues at such a young age, the discussion above can be conducted without being explicit. As the reader can see, it is a discussion about Torah requirements.  Still, other parents may want to tell their children more about the facts of life, and that can be worked into the conversation as well.

These discussions are not one time events. Rather, they should happen every few months as the opportunity arises. Often times, various topics in Torah learning ranging from the parsha to a particular Gemara that the child is learning can be a natural segue way into this discussion. 

Warning Signs

If a child’s behavior changes suddenly such as he becomes more secretive, irritable, or has a significant decline in grades, this may be a sign that something is wrong. It is important to ask your child if he is having a problem or challenge that is affecting his behavior. You may want to ask if it is about something that he finds difficult or embarrassing to talk about and reassure him that you will be accepting and supportive. This may be a time to be more explicit about the issues so you can develop a common vocabulary to troubleshoot any suspected problems. Is your child being exposed to something harmful?  Is he part of a bad chevrah? Is someone taking advantage of him? He may not feel comfortable talking about these things if he does not feel accepted by you and safe.  Part of making him feel safe is to discuss some of the common challenges people experience so he feels normal and knows that you are not going to be shocked by what he reveals.

Many of these difficulties remain a normal part of growing up, and parents can be very helpful by offering love, support and guidance without getting overly tense, anxious or punitive. While the Internet definitely poses new challenges in the degree of exposure, human beings have not changed and boys will be boys. Keeping a good relationship with your child is the key to helping him weather the storms of adolescence. A good relationship is built on respect, careful empathic listening, and support. While discipline is sometimes necessary, it works much better when there is a strong relationship. And often when there is a strong relationship, you can help your child develop his own skills to discipline himself which at times in his life, will be the only protection he has.

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  1. The Torah, something that transcends time, current social norms, current physiological opinions and American ideology states that he who does not use a stick hates his child.
    Being mr nice and freindly guy is no way to instill YIRAS shomyim.

  2. Any parent that supports their children to carry & use cell phones are doing a terrible harm to them. There’s no difference between “kosher” phones and any other type. Once a kid has any type of cell phone & that becomes normal & acceptable practice for them, for only a few bucks they can easily upgrade the phone to a fully internet enabled phone. Once they have such a device with them 24 hours a day & they can take it with them to any private, personal places (bathrooms, bedrooms etc) they have virtually no chance to exercise mature judgments. They never had an opportunity to train themselves to become mature and overcome their base desires.

    If we as parents had such endless opportunities handed over to us from the age of childhood, would we not have had a terrible time with it? I’m not even talking about the dangers of interacting with the wrong type of people via texting and social networking sites. I’m discussing having access to any form of (moderated) in your own personal carry with you wherever you are toy. This is outrageous that parents and teachers allow the kids any latitude with this whatsoever.

    What’s more is that it behooves all parents and mechanchim to do the right thing and not carry & use cell phones in public. What kind of message do the children get if we sport around these things while we assur them from using it? From the children’s perspective, we’re hypocrites & from their view, it can’t be all that bad if after all the parents & teachers all use it openly.

    Every decently run school & camp supports the use of payphones for the students & campers. The adults should make a decent example & use them as well.

  3. oh boy #2 i see u need major help!
    A child needs to know that hes not in control; there are ppl wiser and more powerful = authority thats when theyll feel secure. once in a while a child needs to be hit, and a child that cant be hit is not the norm he is sick and the fact that hes sick he needs medicine and remember all medicine has side effects.
    How wrong you are saying that by being hit knocks you off the derech nebach your soul searching or falling to tavos and need SOMETHING or S/O to blame
    May you find yourself and learn your value bmheirah!!

  4. To #2,

    More children who are not hit go off the derech than there are children who hit that go off. That’s a fact, whether people like to acknowledge it or not.

  5. Quote “Any parent that supports their children to carry & use cell phones are doing a terrible harm to them. ”
    there is nothing bad about technology , cell phones itself is not abad thing what is bad is parents who are not in control of their children .
    you teach and guide your children as they grow up. If you do a good job you do not have to worry about contolling their lives in order they do the right thing

  6. Well, I know this probably will not get posted as it seems that whom ever moderates this site make a decission to either post a comment or not based solely on personal oppinion if they like what is said , not on the fact that there are different oppinions that may or may not agree with the articles that posted here . With that in mind this site seems not to be open to free speech that here in America is a benchmark of the foundation of freedom . So there is little reason to leave any more comments here ,In a way maybe that was what you were hoping for to limit the oppinions of those who may see things differently than your own perception of things

  7. I spoke to someone in the holy land who as a internt filtering company he told me most of his customers are not charadim they’re mizrachim and the reason for that is bec. There rabbi stress on getting filters by us charadim tell us Internet is oser oser oser so once we already have Internet and we think we’re doing something bad we don’t get a filter bec we think we’re bad Anyways. I think having a Internet with a filter is a gr8 thing bec we could do everything we want on the Internet without going on anything bad. If us teens don’t have Internet we,ll go to Internet cafe’s library’s and once we’re there we,ll go on lol Dover oser. Parents & rabbaim should stress on having a filter.

  8. To 2, you sound like you can do with a good couple of petch! From your tone it would seem like you feel you are entitled to be “of the derech”. I detect a serious lack of simple fear of heavenly retribution. You are surly aware that god will judge your every action, and pathetic excuses will get you nowhere.

  9. Too much petching just proves you are a caveman without any other chinuch tools. Did Rav Moshe Feinstein Ztl have to petch his sons to teach them? You need some reading comprehension lessons. Instead of asking what I meant, you chose to jump to accuse and petch. You are the one lacking Yiras shomyim. There is such a thing as too much petching, and yes it has been known to knock kids off the derech. No amount of tough talk or bullying on your part will change these facts.

  10. Too much petch is bad, but never ever potching is worse. A child must learn that there are consequences. An occasional potch, delivered with an explanation and b’koived rosh (never in anger) is vital if you want your kids to take you seriously.

  11. I heard that when Maran R Shtienman Shlita came to America and was asked about cell phones he replied that ossuring is not the answer. “They have it in their pockets in their rooms etc., there is no way to ossur it”. Instead the way to go is to teach our children how to deal with the Yetzer Harah and not just ossur it.
    Can anyone verify if R Shteinmen indeed did say this?

  12. great article. wether we the readers agree word for word is a different story. but it really gives us food for thought.
    I think every father and mechanech should get hold of the steipler ztl, eitzois vehadrochos.
    we deffinitely have big chalenges with the internet.
    on the other hand, there are so many good things on the internet, that if you’re busy with them it distracts you from the shmiras habris problem.

  13. The way to deal with cell phones is not simply to “assur “them and that’s it. The kids will see that the parents and the Rebbeim openly use them and will simply hide them in their pockets. what needs to be done is constantly explain that a yid can live a good normal life (much better really) without having cell phones. The schools can and do assur them but that alone isn’t enough. The parents and Rebbeim have to instill good values and show by good examples that we don’t need to carry around tremendous nisyoinos with us 24 hours a day.

    By doing this, we are effectively teaching our children (& ourselves) how to deal with our Yetzer Hora’s. You can’t teach people to openly keep private, instant, unlimited access to horribly addictive nisyoinos and at the same time accomplish teaching them how to deal with their yetzer hora’s.

  14. In response to teens not at risk…great point but any teen on the internet even if there not going on bad sights they will still be wasting there time!!!

  15. Rabbi Feuerman is a trained expert with a lot of experience. Each child is different and there is no one way to deal with every child (or adult for that matter). In this generation, as parents, we must absolutely be open to Rabbi Feuerman’s advice which is based on case experience. No matter what your approach to child raising is, you should take this man seriously.

  16. Actually i am not sure what the issue with cellphones or even text messaging for children is for phones given by parents to their kids.

    If you look on your bill you can see every number texted and if the phone accessed the internet when it was supposed to have data turned off you would see that to.

    Frankly, there is nothing to stop a child from going into a cellphone store and buying a prepaid phone with the options they want. So if they are trying to hide something you have more serious problems.

  17. You people are so blind. You’re not protecting your kids, there comes a time when they know they can do these things behind your back, and they don’t need you to allow it or not. This man obviously is writing out of experience, and as a parent I respect his article. I want to be the best parent I can be, and this article,in the realistic world that we live in guides us to be the proper parents. Stop hiding, and pretending, and denying.
    Teen at risk- I understand your pain, and I agree with your opinion, it;s not about potch potch potch- it’s about love and understanding.
    I bet you were potched too many times, hence the anger.
    man why are so many people so foolish?

  18. Forget about “kids” with cell phones. It’s the “adults” that worry me. Could you please stay off your cells when driving?

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