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May312013

WHY IS IT SO HARD TO DISCONNECT?

Internet addiction is a rarity amongst us. However, as shluchim, parents and mechanchim, we need to know about it and how to prevent it. * Fascinating parallel between the various parental reactions to a personal Mitzrayim and how the Jewish people reacted upon leaving Mitzrayim. * The real solution: moving onward.

By Ofer Dovid Dishon

A parent or teacher might one day discover, to their dismay, that the Internet is playing a central role in the life of their child or student. Sometimes, the child will maintain that he uses the Internet for learning, hafatza, or to ward off boredom, but too often their main purpose in using it is for social interaction. Sometimes, social interaction on the Internet is so addictive that the child is not able to stop on his own. Parents describe their feelings of helplessness and some of them even express feelings of grief.

THE IMPORTANCE OF SOCIAL NETWORKING TO YOUNG PEOPLE

Social life is important to us beginning when we are little children, but in adolescence the need for social interaction becomes much more important. One of the main characteristics of adolescence is the search for a group to belong to. Finding where you belong is part of the process in forming one’s identity.

Social networks (like Facebook, which the Vaad HaChinuch of Aguch denounced in a letter forbidding its use,) enable intensive social interactions:

Creating a group or joining a group: The online social circle becomes the main force in a child’s life and creates a dynamic of psychological and emotional conformity towards the group.

Defining one’s self-worth through the group: The group provides feedback on what you contribute. The user anticipates a response from other members about what he or she posted.

Availability: You can enter the social network at any time. Previously, in order to socialize, we had to plan, get dressed, go out … Today, friends are available even four in the morning when you are in bed, and some of them, sad to say, continue to be available on Shabbos and Yom Tov too.

Closed off from adults: Social networks are an environment in which the child is in control. It is highly unlikely that he will consult with an adult in the event that he is exposed to negative material, since he will be afraid that this will result in the parent limiting his internet access.

Online relationships: The child has a close circle of friends with whom he builds an intimate relationship. In addition to that, he uses social networking to create a much broader circle of friends. Sometimes, the two circles merge.

Another type of fraternizing on the Internet enables the user to create a fraudulent identity. Nobody knows who he really is. An introverted child can thrive here. There is no social pressure of the type he would find with live interactions. A child will often prefer to focus on the Internet – where he feels good about himself – while closing himself off more and more from the real world where he doesn’t feel as accepted.

SIGNS OF ADDICTION

Research has found that when a person has a live conversation with someone else (a positive one), he feels satisfied in the end. After a conversation via the Internet though, researchers often report a feeling of dissatisfaction, disappointment and sadness. An addictive loop is created in which, in order to give himself a lift he goes back to using the Internet.

With the right treatment, you can get out of a negative addictive loop and find ways to get involved in a healthy social life.

WHAT CAN PARENTS DO?

The answer lies in a famous sicha of the Rebbe on Parshas B’Shalach (Likkutei Sichos vol. 3). When the Jewish people were in distress, with the sea in front of them and Pharaoh behind them, they divided into four groups, each with a different erroneous approach to the situation:

One group wanted to commit suicide by jumping into the sea. Let’s isolate our son in the Sea of Torah.

True, the process needs to include Torah study, but isolating the child from social interactions won’t help.

One group wanted to return to Mitzrayim. We have to accept the Internet. It’s more powerful than we are. What can we do …

The worst thing we can do is give up on our child who fell.

One group wanted to fight. Let’s break the computer. The iPhone too.

G-d forbid. Our child is already broken by his emotional and social situation. War will just make things worse and distance him from us.

Parents have told me that after they broke their child’s iPhone he stole money from pushkas to buy another one.

One group cried to Hashem.

It’s important to daven to Hashem. We need a lot of siyata d’Shmaya, but we cannot suffice with that. Action is the main thing. Our child needs us now. Let us be there for him. Take his hand and pull him out of the pit.

THE RIGHT APPROACH: MOVE FORWARD TO HAR SINAI

1 - One of the special things about Mattan Torah is that the Jewish people were united, “as one man with one heart.” Let us help our child handle real-life social interactions. This will make him truly happy and alive so that he can proceed with realizing his shlichus in the world.

2 - Mattan Torah was the climax of the smelting process that we went through in becoming a nation. Let us help our child form his identity. We might need professional help to get him on his feet.

3 - We can help a child use the social abilities he developed on the Internet for life off of the Internet. By using his strengths, we greatly improve his self-confidence.

4 - Torah study in general and p’nimius ha’Torah in particular reveal a person’s inner light and this light has a healing effect on all ills of the soul.

5 - Tz’daka and chesed – when involved in giving, in influencing, in shlichus and contributing, you get back “reflected light” in the form of feelings of capableness, as well as a more balanced sense of self-worth.

IT WORKS!

Sometimes we can help a child ourselves; sometimes we need a mechanech or a mashpia. And sometimes we need a professional. It’s important that the process be experiential and powerful and convey lots of emuna and bitachon. We are assured that “one who comes to be purified, is helped.”

 

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