A Take on Social Media

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05 Aug 2013

Internet connection

This article originally appeared on finkorswim.com.

Adults are using social media (gosh, how I dislike that term) at a breakneck pace. Communication via Facebook and other sites is completely normal in 2012. People share their lives and their ideas on these sites and there are plenty of potential benefits as well as potential problems.

Adults are responsible for themselves and whatever trouble they may find for themselves is their problem. That’s what being a grown-up is all about.

Children are a different story. Parents are responsible to their children to protect them from harm and to prepare them for life. Any challenge that presents itself to children should be successfully navigated with the assistance, or guidance, or upon the teaching of adults.

So when it comes to social media and children, the parents are placed in their familiar role as parents. Responsible parents don’t let their children drive cars before they have their license. They don’t allow them to choose to watch whatever television programs or movies they think they want. Good parents would not drop their child off at an amusement park and tell them that they are on their own. Similarly, responsible parents would not allow their children carte blanche use of the computer and the Internet. The Jewish Action talked with a broad spectrum of educators and asked them their opinion on children and social media.

I endorse the idea of having this conversation. Children need direction and when parents do not have their own experience to draw upon, the idea of parenting on the fly can be very imposing and potentially disastrous. Today’s parents are raising children in a world that is very different than the world in which they were raised. The appropriate thing to do is to prepare ourselves as parent to meet the challenges of raising children in the digital age. Social media is a particularly thorny issue as it is ever evolving. Creating relationships online is dangerous stuff and unless it is monitored and managed properly it can become a serious problem. The Jewish Action is doing a great service by starting the conversation. Even if some of the responses are not that great, the conversation is taking place.

The various responses are not necessarily answering the exact same questions and so the answers don’t really overlap even if sometimes it is clear that they are not in agreement with each other. Some answers are substantive, some are not. I will leave it to you to read the various responses and make your own judgments.

We need to have this conversation in our schools, communities, and families. Invariably, the more reasonable approaches will mirror the approach that each group takes to other mediums. Hopefully we can use the Internet for good and our children will use it for good as well. Clearly, the opportunity that the Internet presents is great. With great power comes great responsibility.

In my (insignificant) opinion, preteens have no business being on social networks. Teens who are in schools that frown upon Internet use should not be on the Internet either. If they are on the Internet they should certainly not be on social networks. In more permissive environments, parents should treat the computer with rules akin to Yichud. Teens do not need smartphones. If they have them, they should not have unfiltered Internet access. Only in groups where everyone is on a social network should the idea even be considered. If parents allow their children on social networks they need to share the password and only parents should approve “friends”. Those are my thoughts.

One nugget worth sharing is this paraphrase that allegedly comes from R’ Matisyahu Solomon by way of Rabbi Mordechai Yaffe. In his words: “I would like to point out that I personally heard the venerated Lakewood Mashgiach Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon say that the Internet is not the enemy—the yetzer hara is.” This it the first I have heard of this sentiment from R’ Matisyahu. It is certainly a positive development.

I suggest reading the full article in the Jewish Action.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.