Internet Filters Are Only Part of the Picture

“Filters are a funny thing. In and of themselves they are ineffective in protecting children. They are like seatbelts – important, and you need to use them, but they don’t teach you to drive.” Article by Eli Schapiro – founder of the Digital Citizenship Project.

By Eli Schapirofounder of the Digital Citizenship Project
Originally printed in the MUST magazine

We launched the Digital Citizenship Project as a way to teach children responsible use of technology. Let’s talk about the data we’ve collected, which includes Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, and Chabad students—a great representation of the national Jewish day school and yeshiva community. Let’s start with the fact that virtually no child in our study group did not have internet access in some capacity. Whether on their own devices, parent’s devices, friends’ devices, the library, or public WiFi, everyone had access.

Yet only 39% of parents reported feeling “confident” in their ability to manage their children’s technology, and I can tell you that some of that confidence is greatly misplaced. Of the students who had devices, 80% of them slept with their devices within reach and 83% reported going to bed late as a result of their technology.

People always ask about filters. Filters are a funny thing. In and of themselves they are ineffective in protecting children. Kids have access to the internet in many ways, and giving them a filtered device won’t protect them everywhere. While filters change the device, our goal is to change the person.

We often use the metaphor of a car. Filters are like seatbelts. They are important, and you need to use them, but they don’t teach you to drive. Unfortunately the extent of our community dialogue on technology has largely been limited to filters and has missed a much larger more complex component of technology, which is how it impacts our existential experience. (On a side note, only 35% of student respondents reported having filters on all their devices.)

Let’s have a larger conversation. Let’s focus on how technology impacts social, psychological, behavioral functioning of individuals and families. On a communal level we need help with the simplistic narratives of “just get a filter” or “just don’t use social media” or “just don’t give your kids devices.” Those aren’t helpful to anyone.

Alternatively, narratives like, “They are going to have access anyway, so why filter?” or, “The school makes them use technology, so what do you want me to do?” doesn’t yield great results either. For better or worse, we are living in the age of technology and part of preparing our children to be future-ready is educating them in how to navigate what is nuanced and complex.

People like to put things in clearly defined boxes. Good; Bad. Kosher; Treif. Mutar; Asur. Enhancement; Intrusion. Technology and how we harness it can be all of the above. It is a complex entity whose impact we are only beginning to understand. While there is an argument to be made that we would all be better off living off the grid, at the end of the day we are raising our children to be successful adults in a technology-driven world. We can’t  just rely on a seatbelt to keep our kids safe; we need to teach them to drive.

Eli Schapiro is a licensed clinical social worker with a doctorate in education and the founder of the Digital Citizenship Project. This article is based on an interview that first appeared in The Chicago Jewish Home

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  1. I am a Bochur who strongly struggles with the Internet, and the only reason that I am “clean” now is largely due to filters (As well as major help from members of GuardYourEyes. If you struggle definitely check that out)

    I agree that filters are not the solution but they are vital. An alcoholic wouldn’t put himself in a room full of open bottles just like a Frum Jew shouldn’t live with an open internet. The same way your pantry doesn’t have Treif, you shouldn’t have “Treife” Technology in your home.

    So once you have protected yourself from harm, how do you “teach your kids to drive”?

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