What We Can Do About Too Much Screen Time

Children nudge to have just a few more minutes of screen time. A few minutes may be harmless but are we slowly building “walls” of habit? It’s our job to give pause and scout the land.

By Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier

The rich man invited the beggar to join him for a steak dinner. The food was served and the poor man began gobbling while the rich man calmly savored each bite. A waiter suddenly knocked into the table, accidentally throwing all the food to the floor. The poor man was upset but the loss wasn’t that great. After all, every bit he took was a novel treat. The rich man, however, was furious. His attachment to gourmet food was such that it was not a novelty but a necessity.

In this week’s sedra, Moshe Rabbeinu sends meraglim to scout out Eretz Yisroel. Rashi explains that Moshe gave them a way to determine the people’s strength: “If they live in open cities [it is a sign that] they are strong, since they rely on their might. And if they live in fortified cities [it is a sign that] they are weak.”

The meraglim returned and reported that “the people who inhabit the land are mighty, and the cities are extremely huge and fortified.”

They wanted the Yidden to realize that the land is so frightening that even the cities with weak people are untouchable because they’re fortified by walls.

Although the report of the meraglim was not a good thing, we can still learn a lesson from it.

In our quest to serve Hashem we meet all types of challenges. When the yetzer hara presents us with big, strong ideas it’s usually easier to recognize their danger. But there are many things that, at first glance, don’t seem wrong or detrimental. Without taking the time to deliberate we can easily dismiss these activities as “weak” and assume that they won’t have a negative effect on us.

Here is where we must learn from the meraglim.

Start by scouting out the situation. Be mindful. Don’t be fooled by a weak or insignificant behavior. I need to ask myself: Am I beginning a pattern that I soon won’t be able to easily break? If yes, then I must stop before these weaklings fortify themselves in me.[1]

Eating meat and drinking wine can be a mitzvah; it can also be a casual treat. But if it becomes an uncontrollable habit, it can be detrimental to a healthy life, physically and spiritually.  

Children nudge to have just a few more minutes of screen time. A few minutes may be harmless but are we slowly building “walls” of habit? It’s our job to give pause and scout the land.

If this is true with negative habits, how much more so with positive ones!

Large and powerful acts certainly have their merit and value but small acts mustn’t be dismissed as insignificant or worthless. Giving a few coins to tzedakah daily can create an actual habit of chessed within a person, where chessed won’t be a once in a while inspiration but rather a way of living.

Spending a few extra minutes listening with undivided attention to our spouse or children tell us about their day may be a small act but when it becomes fortified as a habit it has enormous power.

The meraglim remind us that a fortified weakling is not so weak after all.

[1] Sicha of Shelach 5739 (1979).

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