Thursday, December 08, 2022

On September 28, Tzom Gedaliah, seventh- and eighth-graders from Ben Porat Yosef, RYNJ, Tenafly Chabad Academy, The Moriah School, Yavneh Academy, Yeshivat He’Atid and Yeshivat Noam joined together for a screening of the acclaimed documentary “Screenagers.” Students were divided by grade and gender and gathered at four of the participating schools for the Yom Iyun program, which comes on the heels of the RCBC’s “Living Connected” community-wide Shabbat that engaged more than a dozen area shuls in technology awareness.

“Screenagers” was created in 2016 by physician and filmmaker Delaney Ruston, who describes growing up in a tech-saturated world where she believes that balance needs to be drawn between screen time and screen-free time. The film examines many common concerns of parents raising children in the digital age and attempts to offer tactical suggestions of ways to live a connected life that is enhanced by technology, not controlled by it.

Students were divided into small groups led by guidance staff and facilitators from each school and were given a chance to openly discuss their thoughts about how they use technology and share ideas on ways to limit screen time in everyday life. Joining students together from different schools to watch and discuss the film provided a sense of empowerment and an understanding that we all face similar challenges with technology. Some confided that their phone could be addictive and often interferes with schoolwork. Others described situations where kids are left out of group chats or events such as parties and get-togethers. Students also pointed out that technology allows us to communicate with each other more easily and helps everyone feel more connected.

“BPY was so happy to host the eighth-grade boys as they viewed ‘Screenagers’ and discussed ideal amounts of time to spend on their devices and the positive and negative impacts of screens in general. The students were particularly excited about tackling these larger issues as part of a larger community alongside their camp and neighborhood friends,” said Dr. Samantha Katz, who oversees the guidance program at Ben Porat Yosef.

Katz added that “while screens, ubiquitous in our communities, facilitate instant communication and ease the classroom workflow, they also may be tied to increased feelings of isolation and depression. Screenagers naturally sparked discussions about some of the pitfalls of the digital world including the addictive qualities of screens, the adverse impact they have on development,
and the ways they become a distraction. At the same time, it emphasized to our students the importance of taking advantage of the benefits offered by modern technology and of finding a way to achieve balance in their approach to screens.”

“While at Yavneh we have worked hard to incorporate technology-use education into both our technology and social/emotional curricula, there was a particular power in joining together with other schools to focus on this issue,” said Dr. Aliza Frolich, director of guidance at Yavneh Academy. “Our students left this day feeling ‘we are all in this together’ facing the same issues. And the fact that the schools made the commitment to take class time to focus on ‘Living Connected’ made an impact on the students and helped them see that we need to take the time to assess our technology use. Additionally, the shuls and schools working together is an initiative that the students have never seen before. Students now realize that their shul/communal life is connected to their school lives and their rabbi not only speaks from the pulpit but wants to connect with teens outside of shul as well.”

Ariela Brum, director of guidance at Yeshivat He’Atid said, “It was truly inspiring seeing the students from all the local yeshiva day schools come together for such a relevant topic. The students were incredibly insightful and thoughtful as they discussed the need for balance and the ways they are already working on achieving this balance in their daily lives. I believe this was an important first step and look forward to continued programming with our students and parents.”

Each group was privileged to hear inspirational remarks from one of four RCBC rabbis who each related to the students that technology is an integral part of our culture and something we enjoy and appreciate. They also reminded students to take a step back and consider screens in a more mindful way.

Rabbi Larry Rothwachs addressed eighth-grade boys who assembled at BPY. Eighth-grade girls gathered at RYNJ, where they heard from Rabbi Beni Krohn; seventh-grade boys were at Yeshivat Noam listening to Rabbi Andrew Markowitz; and seventh-grade girls met at Yavneh Academy with RCBC president, Rabbi Zev Goldberg, who said it was personally meaningful to speak in the same beit midrash where years earlier he gave a dvar Torah at his very own graduation.

“People are craving to be recognized and want to feel connected to other people,” Rabbi Goldberg said, and added that at times technology gets in the way. He continued that while technology has great aspects that enhance our lives, there are also negative influences that we should avoid. Rabbi Goldberg encouraged students to think more creatively about ways we could all be more present, and focus on building meaningful relationships with our families and friends.

Our local heads of school plan to continue technology-awareness programming throughout the year, and together with the RCBC, encourage parents to continue the conversation at home and consider a family tech plan that incorporates some of the concepts discussed.

By Andrea Nissel


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