Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Teaching Kids To Use The Internet Responsibly.

G (over at SerandEz) brings up a very interesting interview that Horizons Magazine had with Rabbi Yaacov Haber, the national director for education at the OU. In the interview, Rabbi Haber talks about some aspects of the state of Jewish education today. He champions (as I long have) the idea of education over banning. Here's his take on the matter:

The internet has proven to be capable of a great amount of damage to Jews of all ages. However, it is important to remember that the internet is a reality. There will come a time in the not-so-distant future when it will be impossible to pay a bill, bank, make a phone call or even turn on a light in your house without using the Internet. Instead of forbidding the Internet and non-kosher cell phones, it would seem to be more prudent to teach students how to interact with the Internet responsibly. If we were to forbid everything that we can use the wrong way we must include cars, mp3 players, and for that matter---women! We have to be very careful with internet technology---but forbidding it is not the answer in the long term.

The timing of this article is rather serendipitous for me. It was just this past week that Walter signed up for his first Facebook account. Eeees and I, as parents, allowed him the account, but with some restrictions. He knows that we are watching. He had to add Eeees and I as "friends." We can see what he posts on other people's walls and what they post on his wall. And, conversely, he can see how we use Facebook. Both Eeees and I are on Facebook (if you know who I am, feel free to send a friend request) and we both use it responsibly. We keep in touch with family, friends (both old and new) and classmates around the world. And this is how we hope he will use it. Sure we can give lectures about how it's to be used (and yes, we will be giving some instruction on responsible use), but more importantly, as we do in many other areas of life, we're hoping to teach by example. We realize that by acting responsibly ourselves, we deliver the strongest message that we can on the responsible use of technology.

Does that mean that it's impossible for something to go wrong? Of course not. There is always the possibility that something could go wrong in every aspect of life. Every time someone gets out of bed in the morning, there is some element of risk. But we can't live our lives by lying in bed all the time. We take the risks associated with going out of our houses each morning because we realize that the potential benefit of doing so (whether it's to go to work, school, the ballgame, etc.) exceeds the potential risk. The same applies to technology. As Rabbi Haber points out, there is going to come a time, in the not too distant future, where technology will be required to function in today's society. If we don't train our kids to use it responsibly we face one of three possibilities, none of them appealing:

1. We ban it outright. They accept the ban and choose to live life without the Internet. They are then marginalized by society. They will find it nearly impossible to go to college, get a decent job and function in daily life. In short, they will be marginalized in society.

2. We don't educate our kids and let them do as they will. Then they'll surely run into some of the seedier sides of the Internet and not be prepared to handle them.

3. We ban it outright. The kids don't accept it and sneak Internet usage behind our backs. Or, when they finally become adults and are no longer under our direct supervision, they move out and access the Internet in their own homes. Then scenario #2 (above) plays out.

Unless you're planning your children's adult lives (something no parent, IMHO, should do) and deciding that they should live a marginalized life (think of the Amish), the only responsible choice is to provide education on responsible internet usage. To do otherwise is akin to allowing your kid to using any other tool without basic training. You wouldn't allow your kid to use a circular saw without watching over him and making sure he knows the rules. The same applies here.

The Wolf

(Note: There were other parts of the interview that interested me as well. I think there may be another post in the future on this interview.)


Ezzie said...


Leah Goodman said...

You're completely right - the internet is a tool. Tools need to be used carefully and responsibly.

You can order a mezuzah, learn a daf gemarah, send a get-well card to a far-away friend, or look up a dvar torah on the internet...

If you take that away from children, it's like banning their wooden blocks because sometimes kids hit other kids with building blocks.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the honor of being quoted. There should be a forum where practical suggestions, like your suggestion regarding Facebook, can be made.

Mikeinmidwood said...

Everyone needs limits and they need freedom. Your method for Facebook is the best.

Pesky Settler said...

Here in Israel, the only way to do many 'first time' things (first passport, report birth abroad, SS#) at the American consulate/embassy is by appointment only. And the only way to make the appointment is via the internet.

When my girls (who are a couple years older than Walter) asked for Facebook accounts, I told them my husnad and I (and if they wanted their father) MUST be friended. There have been several times when I've seen one daughter or another add an application or join a group that I felt was inappropriate and I made them remove it from their Facebook. My power of veto is non-negotiable and they understand that.

But I think it's more than that... I've worked really hard in having a good relationship with my kids, to make sure to communicate with them and not JUST dictate to them and it certainly helps when I decide to put my foot down.

Leah Goodman said...

Pesky hits an important note here - if the trust doesn't exist to begin with, then all the spying in the world won't protect them.

Your kids have to understand what you want for them and why. Just like you explain that you don't want them to smoke cigarettes because you don't want them to die of lung cancer, you should explain why you don't want certain things being influences on them

Leah Goodman said...

P.S. Be really careful with that circular saw, especially around Ezzie's Father-in-Law

Anonymous said...

great post; agree completely

-suitepotato- said...

I come from a much more liberal background with regard to raising. I was a latch-key kid before they named them that, from the time I was seven or so, my dad didn't mind me reading his Playboys when I was twelve, and used to give me and my brother beer on the weekend by thirteen. I still grew up with a good head on my shoulders. It's all a matter of how you raise kids.

My mother taught me empathy, my grandmother how to read, my grandfather about man's horrors, my father about the hard work to keep the rest of life livable.

Naked women in Playboy or the Internet cannot overcome good raising. Connect with the kid's heart and mind early on and the rest follows. To worry about influences from outside is to inherently give yourself less credit for the power of your own influence from the inside.

Concentrate on maintaining a balance of friendship and leadership as both friend and parent and the rest is of little influence and tends to be held in perspective by the young people much better.

But the simple rule of thumb for kids and the Internet is never to allow, if you'll excuse the phrase that was put to me by a coworker, the unholy trinity: pc in their bedroom, webcam, high speed net.

NEVER EVER EVER allow anyone younger than sixteen high speed Internet access, web cam, and pc in their bedroom. You'll be asking for trouble if you do. Kids will find a way to get into trouble in private, and the webcam is just asking for them to experiment with exhibitionist tendencies inherent in humans. Whether comedy or sex or singing, humans LOVE to show off. The ability to do that with abandon should always be curtailed.

-suitepotato- said...

Note that how you raise your kids is up to you, just saying that with all the supposedly pernicious influences in my youth, I still turned out clear headed enough to be what I am today, married faithfully, not a drunk or druggie, a professional network tech, not an unemployed rapist.

A good rapport outweighs most anything.

PsychoToddler said...

We need to take the time we have with our kids to teach them the value of discretion. Once they're out of the house, it's too late. If you pretend the world and it's temptations do not exist, you're kids will discover it anyway, but you won't be around to guide them.