Jeffrey Kobrin
Looking to the Parasha to Inspire Our Parenting

Putting Down Our Foot

Instagram is probably really, really bad for kids, especially for girls. I’ll return to this point, but I open with it not only to get your attention but also to illustrate that as a parent, sometimes it’s okay to put your foot down and set limits.  There’s a reason that God gave parents greater knowledge and experience than their kids: we are to use that knowledge and insight to help them.  

Commenting on this week’s parasha of Toldot in his insightful Nekudat Peticha (here’s the English version), Rabbi Amnon Bazak observes that the Torah tells us the reason why Yitzchak loved his son Esav: ki tzayid be-fiv, “because game was in his mouth.”  But when it comes to why Rikva ohevet et Yaakov, why Rivka loved Yaakov, the Torah gives no reason.  Rav Bazak posits that Rivka loved Yaakov because of the prophecy she received when pregnant with the twins: she was told that the older would serve the younger.  Rivka wanted that prophecy to come true, and therefore loved Yaakov.  And apparently Rivka never shared that prophecy with her husband, Yitzchak.  Not sharing it would later force her to dress up her younger son as her older one in order to fool her blind husband, tricking him into giving the younger one the blessing of dominance.  Takeaway number one: if you are blessed with a co-parent, make sure that you parent together.  

But that idea is obvious.  What is less apparent is the second takeaway, which is that sometimes we know more than our kids, and it’s okay to act on that knowledge when parenting them.  We are not acting “superior” to our kids when we give them limits; we are giving them the benefit of our own expertise.  Instagram and other social media, for example, is an area in which our parental insight may be important.

If our concern is our kids’ mental health, we should worry less about “screen time,” write researchers Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt (although imposing time limits is still a good idea), and worry more about the potential effects of social media on depression and anxiety.  “The most damaging seem to be those that encourage kids to post photos or videos of themselves to be rated by strangers. Instagram… encourages girls to show off their photo-edited beauty, perfect lives, and fun frolics with friends. Their posting behavior then gets reinforced… by hundreds of small rewards in the form of likes, shares, comments, and followers. [S]uch frequent social comparisons and quantified popularity updates may be harmful.”  The idea is to limit or even prohibit “the use of platforms that amplify social comparison rather than social connection.”  

We have a responsibility to use the insight we have earned as adults in order to teach, protect, and support our children.  That’s what both Yitzchak tried to do with Esav and what Rivka tried to do for Yaakov.  Haidt and Lukianoff suggest that we discuss with our kids the amount of time they would like to spend on devices each day, what other “non-phone activities” they want to do, about which apps improve their lives and which ones are just drains on their time.  “Ultimately,” they write, “we want our kids to be self-regulating.  But even many adults have trouble with this; high schoolers and especially middle schoolers will need some support or structure to prevent digital media from taking over most of their day.”

Not only is it okay to say no to our kids, to use our hard-won knowledge and experience to set limits for them — it’s our job.  We refer to Rivka as Imenu, “our mother.”  While Rivka is technically our ancestor, maybe she can serve as a role model of motherhood for us as well.

Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Jeffrey Kobrin is the Rosh HaYeshiva/Head of School at the North Shore Hebrew Academy in Great Neck, New York. He has bachelors and masters degrees in English literature from Columbia University, semikha from RIETS at Yeshiva University, and a PhD in English education from Columbia University’s Teachers College. He lives in Riverdale, New York, with his wife, Michelle Greenberg-Kobrin, and their daughters.
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