‘What’s up?’ shouldn’t be WhatsApp

Parenting today makes my head hurt. Screen time is horrible and damaging our children. Results of a new study suggest that concerns are unfounded. What?! Research should help us make the best decisions to help our impressionable, young children grow into competent, informed, and independent adults. This ping-ponging is enough to make a parent surrender and pass over the smartphone and data plan.

Not so fast. Our role as parents is to teach and guide our children from their youth into adulthood. That means we teach, observe, offer guidance, redirect, and set limits. Precisely here, with smartphones and messaging technologies, we have to step in. My 7th grader certainly disagrees with me. Isn’t that the ultimate parental litmus test?

For the past two weeks the 7th graders have had numerous conversations in the classroom about their class Purim costume. Last night, as Shabbat ended, there was a mad dash to the smartphone to see what had been decided, and then a quick printing of an M so he could be an M&M in the morning. Super, that’s an easy enough costume.

This morning he got up and immediately requested permission (yep, I’m that kind of mean mom) to check WhatsApp. Why? Because maybe during the hours he slept the class changed the plan and he needed to know! As if somehow on Sunday morning in the 10 minutes before he needed to catch his bus he could redo his costume??? (He did check and the costume plan stood.)

Our children do not know how to talk to each other, how to make a plan and stick to it, how to develop the ability to depend on and be dependable to others. WhatsApp allows our children to constantly think they are communicating with each other. Decisions are left to the last minute, if at all. Frustrations and anger, even, are being fomented in these groups. Basic courtesies and niceties are unknown to our children.

My children have already shown their deficits. This morning my older son chose to send a WhatsApp this morning about coordinating on a ride, instead of making a phone call, as requested. He wasn’t able to see the reply that his ride would wait for him, he had left the house and the range of our wi-fi. The result? His ride waited for him.

It’s not just with my kids – I see it in myself as well. It is far easier just to shoot off a text message or an email instead of picking up the phone. Except the benefits of a personal interaction far outweigh any risks and even are good for our health.

It’s hard to go against the grain, to tell our children to have an in-person conversation, to make a call, to limit their use of technology. It’s going to be much harder to come to terms with the children we are raising if we don’t.

About the Author
Rachel Gould made aliyah in 2010 to Haifa and now lives in Yokneam. She is a PhD Candidate in Public Policy at TAU focusing on environmental and population policies. She was a candidate for city council in Yokneam on the Mekomi list in 2018.
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