TORONTO — It’s a major challenge to raise teenagers in an age when they know more about technology than their parents, said Larry Borins, a social worker and a psychotherapist.
Borins said this is the first generation that has more expertise than their parents in an area that is such a major part of their lives, which leads to several concerns. For instance, parents might try to create barriers for their children by setting passwords to limit their children’s access to the Internet, but might not be able to outsmart their kids.
“Children seem to know how to rewire the whole house, and often they’re two steps ahead of the parents when it comes to technology,” he said.
Borins and Rabbi Jarrod Grover of Beth Tikvah Synagogue will host a Jan. 19 discussion at the shul that will consider the problems that come with raising a teenager with social media.
Rabbi Grover said the idea for the program came about after 15-year-old Amanda Todd’s cyberbullying story came to light. On the Shabbat after Todd committed suicide, Rabbi Grover spoke to his congregation about her story, and he realized some families showed a real interest in the issue, he said.
“Not that there’s mention of cyberbullying in the Torah,” Rabbi Grover said, “but there’s a heck of a lot of concern in Judaism with lashon hara, speaking evil, treating others the way we want to be treated.”
He said he hopes children of all ages, including high school students, will attend to hear about the Jewish perspective on bullying and self-confidence.
“You are greater and infinitely more important and special than anyone can ever make you out to seem,” Rabbi Grover said. “It’s about celebrating our kids and making sure they feel this is a place where they feel loved.”
Borins will approach the topic from a psychological angle, discussing how social media affects children and families, and how parents regulate their children’s online lives.
“Parenting always involves setting appropriate limits for kids and trying to create the right boundaries,” he said, explaining that may sometimes involve setting time or content limits on their technology.
Natalie Kaplan, a committee member of the synagogue, said she thinks the discussion is especially important for any parent with preteens or teenagers. She is the mother of a 10-year-old girl and recognizes she will need to set rules about social technology.
“I can see now, she and her friends are very excited about getting new technology,” Kaplan said. “They’re all asking for iPods and those kinds of things for birthday presents.”
She agreed with Borins that, as a parent, it’s hard setting boundaries when children know more about the technology than they do, she said.
It all comes down to communication between parents and their children, said Borins, who has a two-year-old child.
“I think it’s in some ways [technology] allowing us to connect in good ways,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s preventing us from having real-time connections. We’re so busy hiding behind the screen that we’re not really having the connections that matter.”
This “authentic communication” is the key to working with children and ensuring they understand the parents’ concerns.
“I think they should be having discussions with young people and collaborating – trying to solve problems together and to also spend time online together,” Borins said.
He said the American Academy of Pediatrics warned parents to limit their kids’ screen time to two hours per day, but most children spend much longer than that.
“What kind of impact does it have on their brain and their social skills and their ability to have face time?” he asked. Additionally, he said the same pediatric association said children under the age of two should not have any screen time at all.
Ultimately, the Jan. 19 discussion won’t solve the problems, but it will highlight some of the biggest concerns and give various perspectives on solutions, he said.
“Hopefully this group, for me, will be an opportunity for me to have an open dialogue and to create a space for shared learning,” Borins said.
To find out more or to register for the discussion, call 416-221-3433, ext. 302, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.