Joseph J. Sherman
Thought leader in digital marketing.

Parenting Children in the Era of Internet and Social Media

This is the third article in a three-part series about internet addiction with Dr. Naftali Fish.

Dr. Fish is a well known clinical psychologist and hypnotherapist, and a senior lecturer at Touro College in Israel, since 1994, who is a world renowned expert in the treatment of many problems, including internet and other addictions.  His approach integrates professional psychology and Jewish spirituality in a very effective way.

His unique NACHAS RUACH Treatment  approach has earned acclaim from many including the well known Rabbanim including Psychiatrist Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, Rav Avner Kavas, and Rabbi Zelig Pliskin.  At the Israeli Prison System he developed the unit for rehabilitation utilizing spiritual principles.     

Dr. Fish’s technique was conceived after the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1979 recommended that mental health professionals develop techniques of Jewish meditation to help people “…gain greater psychological health and peace of mind.”  Dr. Fish developed his approach as a way to respond to the Rebbe’s blessing.

He is the author of two books, the latest being The Internet Challenge: Jewish Spirituality and Meditation to Maintain your Balance and Achieve Greater Serenity.

The first article introduced “The Internet Challenge” and  culture in light of Sigmund Freud’s teachings.  The second article discussed Dr. Fish’s pioneering Nachas Ruach meditation technique for  maintaining inner balance and achieving more serenity in the era of the internet.

This article addresses how parents can effectively raise their children in the digital era.

A small boy becomes addicted to the internet. (Courtesy Hal Gatewood)

In your book “The Internet Challenge” you speak about parenting. How does all of this relate to parenting?

Parents have a hard time raising kids now in the era of the internet.  Some kids are already almost addicted to the media at four or five years old.

One time my wife and I went to visit our grandkids. Usually they jump up to greet us. I know they love us. This time however, they were so mesmerized watching videos on the internet that they didn’t even turn around when we came in to see them.

This reaction which we are now accustomed to seeing cannot be accepted as being appropriate.  It is unnatural to ignore any person who enters your space, let alone a loved one.

This common response today shows how children connected to the internet can disconnect from their natural home environment in a way that needs to be challenged by parents.  Parents really need to be on top of what is going on in their home.

Some schools in Israel are not letting children bring smartphones to school, or they have rules to put them in a locker during the school day. These are public, secular schools, so it has nothing to do with religion. It’s basic social normality we are fighting for today for our children.

How can parents manage their kids internet activity?

Parents can start by asking themselves questions such as:

Do you try to limit your kid’s access during homework or dinner?

Are you consistent in maintaining this process?

Do your children display inappropriate or disrespectful behavior after being online?

What should parents do if their children show signs of addiction?

A boy is consumed by the internet. (Courtesy Annie Spratt)

If you see that your kids are addicted, what you need to do is set a time out for at least two weeks, maybe a month, where there is no internet. This is whats called tough love.

Your kids might really go crazy, but you are their parents and you must be on top of them.

When the time out has ended you put new boundaries on it that have to be maintained afterwards.

For example, you might limit internet use to an hour a day. And of course be sure to get access to what they are looking at, after already making it clear to them what sites they are not allowed to ever go into.

Some parents might think that these signs of addictions are not so bad.  After all, haven’t there always been kids throwing tempers because they want a candy, or spending long hours playing video games?  What is so concerning with the internet?

How about studies showing that a high percentage of kids eight years old are already watching pornography and violence?

Social scientists are already concerned with this will affect children and adolescents later on to be able to develop healthy, long-term relationship commitments with one person.

Our children are at high risk for losing their sensitivity to the need to have healthy boundaries between themselves and others. It is so important to manage our children’s use of the internet and social media so that they have a chance to build healthy, meaningful relationships in the “real-world,” based on having a strong sense of self esteem and positive values.

A small boy becomes addicted to the internet. (Courtesy Hal Gatewood)

Why is pleasure seeking such a strong force within us?

As mentioned in the first article, Freud stressed that people have a basic natural need to have sexual pleasure.

In the era of the internet, this drive can easily be achieved instantly 24/7.  This leads many people to get in over their heads by seeking the unlimited pleasure which is available often for free and make contact with sites or people that are destructive.

For example, I once worked with a religious male patient who had 3,000 Facebook friends from all over the world, most of them women.  He was in contact with them on a regular basis and acted out sexually with many of them them. Because of this, his newly married wife came into therapy with him in a big crisis.  She was seriously considering divorce.

Today we see how much people want pleasure, and relationships.  The difficult challenge today is how to meet these basic human needs in a life enhancing way.  In order to meet this challenge, I have developed the Nachat Ruach mediation to help people experience the pleasure of feeling close to Hashem.  In Hebrew this is called the oneg of d’veikut.  

I have heard that oneg can be translated as Pleasure.  D’veikut can be translated as To have a relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu.  What do you mean by the oneg of d’veikut?

Dovid HaMelech wrote about this experience when he exclaimed “Taste (experience) and see that Hashem is good, happy is the man that trusts in Him.” (Tehillim, Psalms 34:9)

In looking at healthy relationships from a Torah perspective,  it’s important to know that every person has a unique Divine spark that is always holy and always healthy.   From this self-awareness, one can love and be loved in a healthy way.

This is the ultimate form of pleasure and we are hardwired to seek it out. With this knowledge one does not feel the need to expose themselves to faceless strangers across the internet to experience very unhealthy and harmful forms of pleasure.

Could you summarize “The Internet Challenge” and what you want people to get out of it?

Be true to your ideal values. Maintain your balance. Try to internalize what the Torah teaches about the soul. Allow yourself to really be influenced by this. When you’re experiencing d’veikut, that’s the real pleasure.  Then you will feel tremendous gratitude afterwards.

There’s no way to avoid the internet, even in the haredi world. Therefore, we all need to learn how to gain from, it and not be hurt by it.

Dr. Naftali Fish, author of The Internet Challenge and Nachas Ruach (Courtesy)

Do you see this as your shlichut, your life mission?

I see this as an important part of my shlichut: To provide a wide audience in Israel and abroad with the mindset and practical tools to achieve and maintain mental and emotional balance in the digital era.

About the Author
Sherman holds an MBA from The Kedge Business School, a Grande Ecole de Commerce et de management in France, which included time as an executive MBA exchange scholar at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China.
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