July 23, 2024
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July 23, 2024
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“In every generation, we are obligated to act as if we, ourselves, were taken out of Mitzrayim.” As parents and educators, in keeping with the theme of Pesach discussions with our children, let’s consider how we can help adolescents connect to the feeling of escaping from slavery when we live in a free world with so much at our fingertips.

Webster’s Dictionary provides two definitions for slavery: 1: drudgery, toil. 2: submission to a dominating influence. The slavery that Bnei Yisrael experienced in Mitzrayim was a combination of both definitions, as they physically worked to the bone and mentally had no time to further their commitment to Hashem and their relationships to one another, and having children was extremely challenging. The word Mitzrayim comes from the root meitzar, or constraints, which represents Pharaoh’s efforts to constrain us to work, work and work, without having time to think and contemplate. Definition number two illustrates that slavery is a mental state as well, whereby people are forced into compliance or subject to a different reality given a master’s heavy influence.

To help teenagers today understand slavery, it is worth considering our connection to technology, specifically to phones. While our phones expand our reach socially, as well as educationally by placing information literally at our fingertips and greatly advancing our efficiency, there exists a very powerful and dangerous tradeoff. There are many famous clips, comics, scenes, memes that show individuals together physically but each one on his or her own device smiling and focusing on the device. When we stumble upon these images, we laugh a nervous laugh as we know that this is actually a sad reality. How do we illustrate to our teens that we may be slaves to our phones and we may be missing out on life’s actual moments and opportunities to connect to experiences and individuals? Reports state that teenagers spend six to nine hours a day on their phones and check social media 100 times a day. Teenagers have conditioned themselves to rely on their devices to communicate, foster friendships, have entertainment and keep them busy when bored. When a phone pings or vibrates, adolescents are apt to check it and see what just happened.

If your teen does not know how strong this connection is or may not believe it to be an issue, that is the first conversation you may want to have with them. Show them how they react to the ping or swoosh, describe to them how much deeper and more meaningful a connection can be without hashtags and emojis surrounding it. There are two experiences that teenagers can easily relate to that can illustrate the importance and benefits of being free of phone slavery. Tefillah and Shabbos provide forums for people to unitask. (I am not recommending not using or not having a phone, but rather not being enslaved to a device.) Tefillah should be a phone-free zone. Most high schools enforce the rule that phones are not to be out during davening. The goal is to encourage students to converse with Hashem, focus, connect and think. Shabbos is another phone-free time where children tend to bond with peers and others in their surroundings in ways that do not happen and cannot occur when devices are present and luring them. We should use tefillah time and Shabbos as our model for how to form relationships and extend the peaceful conversation time that we experience on Shabbos or during davening to other parts of the week.

Here are other suggestions for how to become free from phone slavery. As backward as it sounds, teenagers may enjoy the challenge of using an app called “Checky” to track how many times they check their phone. Having data can help one form a realistic goal of restrictions on oneself. Occasionally putting the phone out of sight can alleviate the temptation of seeing or hearing the phone, which lures most adolescents to see what they are missing. This strategy can eliminate some of the FOMO (fear of missing out) teens experience. When getting ready for bed, phones should not be kept in bedrooms even though they have alarms that can be useful. It is all to tempting to be setting the alarm and then check Instagram or send a WhatsApp message to a group. The feeling of freedom one gets when progress is made in this area will continue to leave a lasting impact on those who try to become free from their phone.

Wishing you a chag kasher v’sameach and the ability to come out of Pesach stronger in your connections to Hashem and fellow human beings. Use Pesach as your opportunity to talk about freedom and set goals to achieve it.

By Rabbi Joshua Kahn

 Rabbi Joshua Kahn is the head of school at Yeshiva University High School for Boys/MTA.

 

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