By Larry Gordon
Now that most cable systems have about 1,000 channels to choose from, it has become even more obvious that there are very few programs of any redeeming value to watch these days. Still, some of our schools and communities seem to be handling the issue of TV-watching with a misapplied emphasis on a misunderstood reality.
I’m going to go out on a little limb here and say that even though some of our yeshivas make television-watching public enemy number one, there isn’t much at all that this policy is shielding today’s young people from. If anything, I’m afraid that in many instances the opposite is being accomplished. In some cases, the prohibiting of even looking at a TV is so intense that it serves to arouse the children’s curiosity about what it is that the authorities are so bent on them not seeing.
Today, if they do not see it on a TV then they see it on a computer screen or a cell phone or some other kind of device that has figured out how to receive signals. Indeed, the emphasis of yeshiva screening committees has shifted so that they now inquire of parents about Internet access in the home and take for granted that if people are scrupulous about limiting Internet access for children, then they probably do not have a TV in their homes, and if they do, their children certainly have no access to it.
No, those practices are not a waste of time, but we may be living in an age when an entirely different approach may be more productive. You will recall that less than two years ago there was a rally called by mostly Chassidic leaders in New York to pool their brainpower and resources to come up with methods to shield people—young and not so young alike—from the damage that the Internet can do and has been wreaking on far too many families. The television obsession has paled in comparison to what is going on with the Internet. TV was passive; the Internet is able to reach out and grab you by the throat.
So perhaps consciousness and awareness was raised somewhat, but the effects of the big rally in Citi Field and smaller such events elsewhere have largely dissipated. Sure, people have filters on their home computers, but those that do say that any ambitious young person who is determined enough to bypass those filters can usually easily do so.
Recently a friend from Rockland County related to me the experience of his children and grandchildren at a yeshiva up there. One is six years old, the other is five. One is in first grade and the other in pre-1A. He said that even though his children do not have a TV in their home, they have a computer and an iPad. There are two younger children in the home, a two-year-old and a four-year-old. They all used to watch things like Sesame Street and Barney on their computer screens.
That is until the school introduced what they call a shemiras einayim program, which is a campaign to guard one’s eyes, basically by not spending time viewing those or other children’s programs that are offered today. To further complicate the situation, he says, to encourage participation, the school promised to take kids who don’t watch on a special trip that will leave those who do watch these programs behind.
I understand that schools do not want young kids to get used to watching TV in any form. No question that viewing with consistency is habit-forming and there are most likely kids around today that have to have their TVs on all the time or fall asleep with their iPads on their laps, and that is not good.
But I really do not understand the pressure tactic and the division of the students based on who watches these programs and who doesn’t. The electronic media, TV, the Internet, and so on are a reality that is a part of our lives and our environment. It may be time to start rethinking our approach to these things as both parents and educators. It does not look like restricting access, especially for teens, is really working out that well. Perhaps it is time to teach our children how to use these media of information and communication in a responsible fashion.
And the same can be said about adults who misuse their TVs and computers. I believe we may have reached a saturation point in the approach that says this or that kind of access to media or the Internet is just plain prohibited, no questions asked. It is time to teach people to be accountable for their own actions and take responsibility for the way in which they conduct themselves.
In a similar vein, Dr. Marc Sicklick, a well-known local physician and a member of the Five Towns Office of Emergency Management, sent me an early reminder about Purim. He points out that Rosh Chodesh Adar I is here, and that means that Purim and the matter of imbibing alcohol which is part of the traditional celebration of the holiday is a matter that we should once again be addressing (which we will continue to do here at greater length in future essays).
Dr. Sicklick was the prime force behind an article we did before Simchas Torah revolving around the issue of young people drinking recklessly, harming themselves and potentially harming those around them. Obviously it is a complicated situation that we have not yet found a safe way to deal with. While many shuls and schools are restricting drinking on their premises, young people easily figure out ways to circumvent those policies.
Of course no formula to protect people from themselves will ever work in a definitive way. Dr. Sicklick feels that first and foremost the agenda demands that we publicize the issues and not just sweep them aside as if there is nothing troubling going on.
Purim is indeed a challenge because, as you know, the idea of becoming somewhat intoxicated is a long-held tradition on the chag. What has changed, though, over the years is how people exploit the tradition as simply another opportunity to get buzzed, high, or drunk, just as they do at a kiddush on Shabbos.
Again, you can ban drinking in shul, limit kiddush to wine, and so on, but that is little more than a cosmetic approach to a deep and increasingly troubling problem. Like with TV use and the Internet, if we cannot teach young (and not-so-young) people to use all these things with intelligence and responsibility, then we will continue to be chasing ourselves around in circles while the problems continue to increase. v
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.