Please Listen to Me, a Teenager With a Broken Heart

From the Inbox: Listen, I’m still a teen. I don’t know anything yet, especially not about world problems. Nevertheless, I want to share something, something that was realized mostly by young minds.

By a Very Worried Teenager

Dear society,

I am writing this letter not to society as a whole, but to each individual, and yes primarily YOU.

Imagine the scene: a couple is spending some time together and one of them is on his/her laptop. A mother is putting her kid to bed with the TV screen on for her in the room. Two friends are chatting, but one is just as much in Thailand as on the bench with her friend. 

That’s extreme, right? Who would do that? Not me! Not in our community!

But that’s literally what a phone is. A mini laptop and TV screen. Which means it takes away just as much of your attention. My heart breaks when I pass the playground and see a parent pushing their child on the swing with eyes on the phone. This all also applies even if the phone is not a smartphone. Children are the greatest blessing, so why ignore them??

Listen, I’m still a teen. I don’t know anything yet, especially not about world problems. Only the adults are wise, only they do everything right.

Nevertheless, I want to share something, something that was realized mostly by young minds. Yes, by me and my immature friends. 

When our parents were growing up they had their parents at their side. When their parents were home, they were available to their children. That was life and it was taken for granted. Fast forward 40 years. Our world was granted a gift. A large gift, with so many benefits. Yet, we live in a world that’s a mix of good and bad. And so the gift of technology has its downsides as well. 

The younger children around me were born with their parents’ devices in the room. It’s the only life they know. A life of trying to get their parents’ attention and love as their parents’ eyes are glued to a screen. In the best of families as well. I feel so lucky to have been born before that age, to have a clearer perspective on this matter. I for one cannot converse or connect with someone who is clearly showing me that there is something they find more important than me. The little lit-up thing in front of their face. I don’t blame parents for not realizing the damage, after all, they weren’t damaged by technology in their youth. But in truth, the damage is happening to them now, and will forever haunt them, because all parents love their children and damaging your children and your relationship with them is damaging yourself. And that’s besides the seals damage from spending too much time on technology, which they may or may not realize.

If a parent is wondering why their child is acting up and what to do about it, ask me. I have advice: get off your phone. Acting up can be in many ways, I’ll list a few. A parent may be wondering why their child is always on his/her device, or the opposite, doesn’t want to even look at a screen. Maybe their child doesn’t want to open up to a parent, is clingy, spends so much time out of the house, or simply complains about everything. These are normal difficulties kids face, you might say. I beg to differ. Children want attention from their parents so badly, and won’t necessarily act totally out of hand to show that. But, all the issues I just mentioned, if you look at their core, can all be treated with some more love and attention given by their parents. Love is spelled T-I-M-E, and that’s what children want from their parents, their undivided attention. This applies from the youngest age and on. It never stops. 

The experts say, if you u want your kid to daven you need to daven youself. If you want your kids to learn you have to learn yourself, and the same with tznius, tzedakah and so much more. I’m going to add, if you want your kids to be on devices all day, then you go on your phone. That’s life, embrace it or deal with the consequences.

Yes, your children look up to you and will follow your example, sometimes even subconsciously. Although I baruch Hashem have my priorities straight, it’s still confusing when the adults around me aren’t acting according to halacha and hashkafah. When a child sees that his/her parent is on their phone from the minute they wake up till their falling asleep, with just some breaks when the parent had to do something with two hands, what kind of relationship is that?? That really doesn’t leave much time to spend eye-to-eye with their children. 

I want to clarify that I too unfortunately have a foolish smartphone. I got it a couple of months ago and have done great things on it. And yet I’m also wasting more time than I have in a long time. And that doesn’t make me happy, so I work on it. Day by day, step by step, I push myself to power my phone off a little earlier than the night before and wait longer before opening it the next day. If something is urgent, the message will get to you some other way.

Going on your phone for whatever reason is harmful to your children, even if it’s all kosher, just y’know WhatsApp. WhatsApp brings families and friends together yet when addicted to it – how is that even a thing?! – it breaks families and friends apart. If you acknowledged this issue and took steps forward to be more present for your family, good for you! And don’t be offended if you think I’m putting people down, because that’s not on my agenda. 

Now, why on earth should you take my words to heart and action? We all already know that technology mushes brains. We know that being on devices for long stretches of time is far from ideal. We’ve all read about it, heard lectures, and know the Torah’s perspective on wasting time, being on social media, and responsibility as parents and adults in general. 

Here’s why you should heed my cry – because I’m a kid. From the grammar and word usage, it’s obvious that I’m not a writer, psychologist, educator, or the like. I’m a mere teenager with a broken heart, worried for the children of today, and the children of tomorrow. So please do me a favor and think about the following. Check the daily screen time on your phone and ask yourself: How much time am I spending with my family? Is it enough time to give them the emotional, physical and spiritual strength they need to go through their day in this confusing world? Is it enough time to show them how much I love them, care for them and that they are my greatest sense of joy? Do I want to look back in 20 years and only have vague memories of the time spent raising my children? Am I being an example to my children in this area? Do I have a filter that is one I’d want my child to have, one that fits with my communities’ standards? What will I say to Hashem after 120 when I’m asked, what did you spend most of your time doing?

So now, do something big. As soon as you finish reading this, close your phone for the next hour. Like power it off and put it away. Take this time to do two things. Firstly, think about when tomorrow you will shut your phone again for an hour. And if you already do that, great! You can add another hour or two. Get a landline if you don’t have one yet so you can still be reached for urgent matters by phone. Secondly, take this time to be present for your family, friends or whomever you are currently with. And if you’re alone, don’t worry. Being present for yourself is beautiful too. Good luck with taking these steps. May it only bring you joy and blessings. Be empowered by knowing that you are doing the best thing for yourself and your loved ones.

You should all know that this was written with love and that I truly respect the parents today. You are all heroes.

All the best,

A worried teenager who has society’s best interest in mind

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  1. I grew up in a secular home where tv was on CONSTANTLY. I’m still healing from the message I absorbed that tv is more important than me. Fast forward 30 years. I became frum, got married, and did not want internet in my home ( before smartphones were born) because it felt like moving backwards after cutting tv out of my life. One of the things I was attracted to when trying to decide if i want to be frum is the tv- free lifestyle I saw. Parents interacting with children with strong connections.
    Enter the smartphone era. Now I really had strong feelings. If internet at home takes away from wholesome living, why would i want to walk around with it contantly? So I was probably one of the last people to get one.
    I really agree with this article, and I’m so happy you wrote it. I really wish our community would have stood up against smartphones when they first came out.

  2. I grew up seeing my father holding a Sefer in hand, my son grows up seeing me holding a phone. So sad.
    In my opinion, we Chabad made a huge mistake in the early days of the smartphone by not joining the other frum communities and by not making the Smartphone an abomination just as we felt about the TV when we grew up.

    I woud love to see one day, one of these huge Eastern parkway rallies specifically for that purpose, how we regret our past and how we condemn the normalization of the smart phone in our community.
    This will probably never happen, you know why? Because most of our affluent leaders are themselves addicted to their phones and thus “not convinced” of the dangers of the smartphone in our homes.
    Not speaking about Shmutz, simply the Tziyur of parents glued to their phone and consequently the lack of time to study (let alone the social media influence…)
    Maybe I am wrong with the solution, but the problem is real. Killing our Chinuch from within, a silent Shmad.
    Most sichos lessons and Farbrengens should be about this topic, this is the Nisayon and the struggle of our generation.
    Make no mistake, you can’t function normally if you have an attraction to your phone, obviously you can’t raise a genuine Chasidishe family.
    I am really planning to get back to a dumb phone for so many years. May Hashem give me the strength to do it asap.

  3. Three cheers for you!!! Thanks so much for speaking out! Every word you said is 100% correct. I’m a grandmother but your vision is that of an adult.
    How about writing a book, putting together a website, a blog, take on being a speaker, create an organization. One article is not enough. Our world is in need of a Refuah Shlaima. Hatzlacha rabbah!!

  4. I agree with everything said.
    I took your advice and powered off my phone for about 1.5 hours and went to run some errands. Thank you, I wouldn’t have done it on my own.

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