A few weeks ago, the children were all home after the last day of school, and we were getting ready for the start of a long summer vacation. After dinner we had a roundtable discussion regarding the upcoming months at home.
The discussion bumped into a rough moment when we began to discuss the hot topic of “screen time.”
My wife and I don’t like the idea that our children are in love with our computer. We feel that being overly exposed to the Internet is not healthy and a bit dangerous, especially for children who — at their age — lack a sense of responsibility. In our home the computer is in the center of the dining room with the screen facing the kitchen. When the children come home from school they each get a half hour of filtered Internet access, when they are free to surf websites of their choice under our supervision. We make sure the content is appropriate and positive.
Our oldest son, Menachem, who is almost 9, is a bright young man and upon hearing about the half hour of screen time immediately began to negotiate: Why are we so strict regarding the usage of the computer? Why don’t we give him private time to navigate the Internet?
I answered with a metaphor. I told him to imagine himself driving a car, all alone, on a very busy highway without any driving experience. Would that be safe? The Internet is an extremely busy road with curves, bumps, and hasty drivers who sometimes drive a bit too fast. One needs to have lots of guidance and inner strength to navigate the web and make it back home safely at the end of the voyage. At his age, he needs his parents to drive him around. We are his drivers who guide him and give him the tools to make responsible choices; we are responsible for his physical and mental well-being.
Whether or not he happily accepted our words is still open for a debate; however, the rules did not change here at the Farkash home.
Let’s have an “adult” conversation about that for a moment.
Should we allow our eyes and ears the freedom to see and hear everything we desire? Should we give ourselves a “hall pass” when it comes to these two precious senses?
Kabbalah teaches that a person’s eyes are the “windows of the soul” and that the ears are entrances to the human psyche. When you see or hear something, it makes an immediate mark on your heart and mind. On Shabbat before we begin reciting the Kiddush we look at the flickering Shabbat candles to bring the light and spirit of Shabbat into our souls.
This week’s Torah portion is parshat Shoftim. It begins: “You shall appoint judges and police officers for yourself…in all your gates that God, your God, is giving you” (Deuteronomy 16:18).
“Your gates” represent the organs that form the interface between you and your environment, like the eyes, ears, nose and mouth. “You should appoint judges…in your gates” means that the senses (one’s “gates”) should be controlled by “judgment” from the Godly soul. Our neshama (soul) should be fully in control of what enters through the “gates.” We should ensure that only positive and kosher influences enter our psyche.
The damage of unguarded eyes and ears can be so destructive that the Torah gives us the mitzvah of reciting twice daily the Shema prayer, where we say, “you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray.” Rashi explains the idea: “The heart and eyes are the spies for the body. They are its agents for sinning: the eye sees, the heart covets and the body commits the transgression” (Midrash Tanchuma 15).
We are now in the month of Elul, the month of repentance and forgiveness. It’s a good time to really think about this. Let us take a moment and speak to our children and to ourselves about the decision to tighten the security of our gates by being careful with what enters them, while enjoying the great resources the Internet has to offer as a tool to stay connected with family and friends, to study Torah, to give charity and, of course, to get great online deals.
Wishing you all l’shana tova umetuka tikatevu vetichatemu.