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Parenting in the Digital Age

Parenting in the Digital Age

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Every Monday night, I leave the dishes undone and head off to my parenting class. It’s given by a rabbi from Jerusalem who travels nearly an hour to my little neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh. I guess he feels we need a lot of help. Well, maybe we do. At least I do.

Rabbi Brezak’s always quoting one big rabbi or another, telling us that in this generation, it won’t work toEvery Monday night, I leave the dishes undone just try to control our children. Threats—forget them. Punishments—use sparingly. Communication—use always (unless, of course there’s danger, then you have to just act).

So, I’m trying to put what he preaches into my own practice. He tells us to “positivize” our children. Load on the praise, reign in the criticism.

He says, “If you want your children to listen to you, you have to listen to them.” So I try to listen. Really listen.

The rabbi reminds us that we learn in Proverbs 22:6, “Train [educate] a child according to his way; even when he grows old, he will not turn away from it.” We need to take into account our children’s own nature, and work with that.

Oh, I am trying.

The day before last week’s class, my 12th-grader told me he was worried about two tests coming up. When I came home from class last Monday, he reported that he had aced them both. I put on my parenting-class hat. I didn’t say something like, “See, you worried for nothing.” I didn’t criticize him for not studying to the point where he would have felt more self-confident. I thought of what to say to give him moral support, and to show him I’d listened before to what he’d told me.

“That’s great about those tests!” I said as I patted his shoulder. “I’m proud of you! And you must feel so relieved.”

He glared at me. “Those aren’t the ones I’m worried about. I’m worried about the ones coming up!”

Did I not get it right? Didn’t I listen well? Didn’t I positivize him properly?

At the beginning of our classes, we get a chance to talk about some of our successes and challenges. So at the beginning of the next class, I asked the rabbi what I’d done wrong. He doesn’t like to say that mothers do things wrong. He suggested that rather than tell my son how he must feel, I could ask him how he felt about it. Sigh.

I was feeling a little sorry for myself when he went on to his scheduled talk about communication. I should note that my kids are 18 and 16. A few of the women in the group have children older than mine, although not by much. All of the women have children younger than mine, and most only have children much younger. So, often the discussions, like playground politics, just don’t interest me.

But then he said the magic word: teenager. My ears perked up. “What do you do if your teenager is talking on the phone too long? Can you just take it away from him or her?”

He asked for a show of hands: “Who says you can just say, ‘Enough!’ and grab the phone?”

Well, we’d been in class long enough to know that wasn’t the answer. Trying to just control your kids won’t work.

His solution was to give your kid a heads up. Tell him or her that in, say, half an hour, it’s time to turn the phone off. You can say you know it’s not easy to disconnect, but you have confidence they can do it.

If you make your kids feelDid I do something wrong? you have confidence in them, they will live up to the challenge. He encouraged us to try this tactic.

I thought about it.

I told the class that when my son was super connected to his phone, I started praying that he would be MUCH less connected. Shortly after my prayer campaign, one of his friends did something on my son’s phone (probably not legal) and the phone didn’t exactly die, but was much harder to use. It ran out of its battery much sooner, and some of the functions didn’t work.

Later, he got a new phone, and again was rather addicted, so I started praying again. When he was away at camp, another counselor slammed my son’s phone in a doorway by mistake. That really made it hardly work!

Rabbi Brezak said, “Mrs. Greiff, that’s a very good thing you did. It’s always good to turn to G‑d with your prayers.”

Rabbi Brezak went on. “Let’s say your daughter is talking to boys on her cell phone and you don’t approve. If you take her cell phone away, she will just find a way to go behind your back. You have to be pretty smart in the parenting game.

“You have to communicate in a way your kids will listen. If you lecture, your kids will tune you out. If you listen while you talk, you’ll be so much more effective.”

It’s so hard to put myself in my children’s place because I grew up in such a different age. I could never have imagined the kinds of technology available to them. And the challenges they face were nowhere in my personal experience.

Who ever dreamed that anyone but a television character (Maxwell Smart!) would have a portable phone?

A few days after the lastI grew up in such a different age class, my daughter was yakking up a storm on her cell phone.

“Gosh, Sweetheart,” I said. “It’s getting late. I’d like to ask you to turn off your phone in half an hour.” (Frown from said daughter.) “But, you know, even though it’s not easy, I have confidence in you, and I know you can turn your phone off on time.” I ruffled her hair and left the room.

Twenty-five minutes later, my daughter found me in the kitchen. “Hey, Mom, my phone is off,” she said, showing me a dark screen.

“Go, you!” I said, giving her a high five. “I’m proud of you!”

“Well,” she said, bending her head a little, “I’m proud of myself, too.”

I don’t think it will be easy sailing from now on, but at least once I got it right.

Jolie Greiff is a journalist and a mother. She lives with her husband and two children in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel.
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