The Hazards of the Internet
Discussing the Internet with the intention to "Scare" parents is a daunting and often impossible, task. Although the objective mind can easily find many valid points that emphasize the risks of the internet, the points themselves are not a guaranteed deterrent. For a combination of reasons, parents are likely to dismiss my conclusions by responding that "My kid wouldn't do that, my child is different." If reasoning is not effective, how can I convey my experiences in a manner that would override the parents preconceived opinions of their own child?
I realize that what is really needed is to bring to the public what our children themselves are saying. Parents have some very sensible views, but their views are based on assumptions. These views represent how they believe their children act and react to different situations. My goal is to convey what our teenage boys and girls are actually thinking.
I therefore sent an e-mail request to about 45 of my teenage friends. My e-mail request said:
I have been asked to speak in a school, to parents, on the subject of the Internet and why it is not a good thing to have in the home. I am looking for some insight on this from the teenage mind. I am also looking for horror stories, but only those that involve kids whose parents are unaware of what is happening.
The reason that I added the last line was to highlight the point that parents think they know their kids, and on a basic level they do. Children though, like adults, are more complex than they appear. This point brings us to our first misconception.
Parents would like to believe that children live their lives in a morally consistent manner. Let us accept that our children do learn two hours straight on a Shabbos afternoon without prompting. That does not exclude the possibility that they desire to look at things that they are not supposed to be looking at [pornography]. What should be mutually exclusive in the world of logic is comfortably intertwined in the practical world of human weakness. Man was created with the ability and a desire to achieve greatness. Man was also created with the ability to sink to the depth of immorality.
What I would like to introduce is that both these urges can be found within each and every one of us. Allow me to explain.
The majority of us perform well when placed in a positive atmosphere. The average teenager will therefore do well in school, behave in shul, and integrate well within his or her family. The common threads in these few examples are that these environments support good behavior. Most people do not behave against the system. Peer pressure is one reason, laziness is another, being inherently good is yet another.
This does not exclude that the same person, when in an environment that supports negative behavior will not enter a chat room. It does not exclude the teenage boy, when alone, from staring at something that popped up on his screen by mistake.
I am not criticizing anyone's child when I state my belief that they will, when it is accessible, take advantage. I am stating that they are normal, and react normally by demonstrating the typical lack of self control which almost all of us have.
Here is the first of the several quotes that I have based my conclusions on.
A young boy writes:
I am a frum yeshiva bochur attending a very strict and a very famous yeshiva. About 1 and half years ago I was eager to look at pornography, but I never had the guts to do that avairah. One day a kid in my class took me to his house to delete the temporary internet files because he didn't want to get in trouble. As I was erasing them I was also looking at them and then we went onto websites and I REGRET SO MUCH because it has changed my life forever.
There is a misconception that girls have more self control than boys and that less control is needed for them. A Bais Yakov girl e-mailed me the following experience:
I know a friend who went to Bais Yaakov of ------- She was smart, popular and on the top of her class. I mention this to highlight that the internet problem is not limited to the underachiever or the less popular girls. This girl was just a healthy curious girl who, behind her parents back, met, and became heavily involved with a boy. her right after their first initial meeting. She was really broken after that. I don't know if she went for help or what but she began smoking pot and suddenly went from a normal above average girl to a problem one. Today she is married baruch Hashem to a good guy but there remains this real messed up look in her eyes where she looks like she still has emotional issues
Before I continue with other examples I feel the need to bring up a common response. It is true that the previous example represents an extreme and small percentage of our teenager's experiences, not the majority of them. It could be said that enough people get hit by cars while crossing the street, to make it a hazard too great to ignore. Yet we still cross the street. Logic should then say that we should still allow our children to have access to the Internet.
I have put in alot of thought into this point. It is a logical one and is based on the fair assumption that everything in life offers risk yet we all recognize that we must continue to live our lives. My response is to ask the reader to consider their definition of acceptable risk.
Acceptable risk is dependent on two things which must be considered simultaneously. We must weigh our anticipated gain against the risk involved in attaining this goal. Because of the nature of the Internet we must add one more factor. In addition to the risk we must be concerned with the general, more subtle, exposure that all teenage internet users are exposed to.
The positive of the Internet is the access to necessary information, such as for school reports, and the ability to keep them busy with acceptable activities such as sports, online purchasing, emailing and instant messaging with their friends.
The negatives are harder for me to discuss as every family has their personal point system. I personally would not want my child to download music from the internet, others might not be concerned with secular music. Every parent must ask themselves, on a scale of one to ten, how upset they would be if the following took place:
If their child saw flashes of hard pornography two times a week. This happens constantly through unsolicited pop-ups.
How upset would you be if you were certain that your child entered a chat room often and once a week made small talk with a boy/girl? Adding to this concern, what would your thoughts be if it was the same person each time. I am told from teenagers that this too is a certainty for those that enter chat rooms.
How would you feel if one night every week or two your child was up until 4:00 in the morning instant messaging?
Now let us consider the more extreme possibilities. I would suggest that a greater number greater than one out of a thousand is dramatically affected by the Internet. I use this number because it initially does not cause a stir in the hearts of parents. My experiences speak of a more serious danger. Let us substitute this issue with a deadly sickness g-d forbid. Who would consider it acceptable risk to expose their children to a one in a thousand chance of any terrible sickness simply to give them an opportunity to become more educated or to be updated with their favorite sports team?
Let us now consider that we might have two or three children with access to the Internet. Please tell me, how important are these advantages when compared to the certainty of the Internet's subtle effect in addition to the more extreme risks of the Internet. Would anyone in this room consider a one in a 250 chance acceptable risk when it centers around such serious issues?
There is another aspect of acceptable risk which must be considered. Acceptable risk must allow the person to monitor and assess the risk on a constant basis. Because of the privacy your child has in regard to what sites they see, because of their ability to wipe off these addresses as soon as they finish viewing them, it is impossible to accurately assess the risk.
Please consider this. Unlike your child's bringing home a new friend you never really have an opportunity to check up on the advantages versus the risks. Does it make sense that a single decision should decide your approach to parenting without your ability to make a knowledgeable and informed reassessment?
One boy wrote: By the way there are other ways to track internet usage besides Temp files, but as the computer expert in my house I know how to get around them all, so it's not much of a 'worry' for me
Another common misconception is that parents are confident that if they made the wrong decisions there will be flashing lights warning them of any problems. Parents believe that if their child is speaking to a girl then they will suddenly stop doing well in class or maybe something more extreme like put on an earring.
Sadly this is not always true. In these past few years I have spoken to many parents who believe their child would not know what to say to a girl while the child has admitted to me of aveiros chamuros that he or she has done. Teenage children consider it a challenge to be able to fool their parents.
As a matter of fact, the more put together the child is the better they are at keeping secrets. It is the immature and unsuccessful child that gets caught. The productive kid learns the system well enough to never be caught. It is often a single mistake, often years later, which makes their parents recognize that they have been mislead during the past few years.
I am dealing with several cases of chasanim whose wives have found their husbands visiting pornographic sites. Can you imagine what this does to a marriage? Can you imagine how ingrained it must be within the boy to continue looking at such sites even after marriage?
Allow me for a minute to talk about chat rooms. I have a letter from a good girl who, I believe, never met a boy. She nonetheless utilized the chat rooms. She writes:
I've been so fed up lately about the whole AOL, online, chatting issue. I could say about 90% of any frum community has access to the Internet, and probably about 75% of the teens and kids that have access to the net are chatting with guys and girls, mostly behind their parents backs. The reason I think it's suddenly bothering me so much is because I used to be involved with these kinda things, and now that I'm back from seminary it disgusts me. For me, chatting was a sort of an escape. I was a Bais Yaakov girl-never would get involved with guys in the 'real' world, but in a chatroom I could be whoever I wanted and have the fun of talking to guys. So I was involved with things for a while, and it was so easy for me to get wrapped up in these 'relationships' that really didn't exist- I would never let a guy call me-or give out any real private info about myself, but I would think about the guy for a lot and wonder if maybe I should. It was so bad and I realized how wrong it was, and now that I'm back from seminary it kills me even more. I hear about little 12 and 13 year olds getting involved online without their parents knowing. When I was doing it, the youngest kids involved were like 14, 15, and now the ages are getting younger and younger and it's upsetting me more and more. So many kids from so many frum families-their parents never suspect a thing, because what do they know? And even if the parents know about the problem and are conscious about it, if they go out one night to a chasunah the kid goes online.
Another girl wrote me:
I know at least fifty kids that for a period in their lives have gone online after their parents are sleeping and STAM DID NOTHING from midnight to six AM, slug around school, don't pay attention, are not happy because they don't sleep and they need structure and their PARENTS ARE CLUELESS. You just SIT there for hours and stare at the screen. It is SO scary addictive that I can't describe it. You can sit online until your eyes are tearing and flaming red, and your whole week is down the tubes, but you can't get off. Someone said a quote "logging off the internet is like pulling the plug on a loved one" and all the kids in the room AGREED B'LEV SHALEM. Any kid will tell you it's addictive. It's really bad because this can happen to the most yeshivish kids and no one will chap that they are killing their brain cells slowly. And also they don't feel like a human when they cannot sign off when they want to.
Also, if there is a BY girl who likes boys it could be that the reason she doesn't deal with them is because she's scared, of people or Hashem. But on the internet, she can shmooze with guys and convince herself it's not a big deal. This has happened to the finest girls.
I would like to make one final point. Parents have a misconception that their children believe that there is nothing wrong with the Internet and that they do not want their parents to interfere. We therefore conclude that our child will be angry with us if we restrict their privileges. It is true that they will be angry at us. But at the same time they will also understand us. Even more they want us to be firm because within every child is the belief that their parents know better. Within every child is a very clear moral guide. Believe it or not our children are often more shocked with our permissiveness then we can imagine.
Please read this last quote from one of my e-mail friends.
It makes me sick that parents are so clueless. It pierces itself into the Neshomo and stays there always. Your kids won't respect you if you let them. They don't know that you are unaware of the dangers of the net. They think that you know and you don't care. No kid will respect their parents if they allow this stuff. I mean it.
I would like to conclude with one more story, one unrelated to the Internet. A friend of mine who is a Rebbi in a non mainstream Yeshiva related the following incident to me. He was talking to a student a few days before Rosh Hashono. He suggested that the talmud take an English siddur while davening because, "understanding what he was saying will at least remove the monotony of the davening."
The boy responded that Artscroll had a Tehillim with the English translated right under the Hebrew words. My friend was surprised that he would ever have looked into an English translated Tehillim and asked him where he came about such a Tehillim. The boy responded, "I bought it for my mother, so that it will be easier for her to daven for me to become frum."
I would like to close with the following plea. For those parents who feel the Internet is either harmless or simply unworthy of the large amount of attention devoted to it from our Gedolim, please reconsider your stance. Do it for your children. They themselves are asking you to.
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