Posts tagged " electronics "

Can I keep my children safe?

August 15th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 2 comments

Michelle Carter was just sentenced in the text message case [where she was found to encourage a young man to commit suicide and didn’t call for help when he did so]. Is there a moral equivalent in the Bible by which one could instruct their children so that they do not go down the path of either of the participants in this event? 

Is it possible that both were equally mentally disturbed and this is only an anomaly? Is social media distorting our mores and morals?

 How would a parent use scripture to keep their children on the correct path when young people are so absorbed in social media to the point it takes over their life, personality, and time?

Michael G. 


Dear Michael,

You actually asked four interesting questions tucked inside your letter. In the case you reference, a young woman was sentenced for encouraging her boyfriend’s suicide. It got attention because there was a trail of text messages detailing her words. Yet, from a moral perspective (rather than a legal one because of proof) there is no difference between this case and one that might have taken place decades ago with conversation substituting for texts. Urging someone to take his life, whether by letter, speech, texts or skywriting is wrong. The message is the problem, not the medium.

We have no doubt that both these individuals were deeply troubled. In fact reading between the lines of the news story suggest a history of bizarre behavior on the part of both players in this tragedy. However, your next question, “Is social media distorting our mores and morals?” intrigues us. Some individuals are born more susceptible to emotional and mental problems than other people. We think that there is no question that trends in our times, including the prevalence of time spent online and bullying social messaging, can exacerbate certain unhealthy tendencies. Today’s media can certainly cause problems for some who might have been perfectly emotionally healthy under different circumstances. From an emotional point of view, the support and balance one gets from a relationship with a real flesh-and-blood friend is not at all replicated by a so-called friend on social media.   We wish they’d have come up with another term than ‘friend’ for the slender digital connection made online. At the same time, the online community is a tremendous gift for some who, for whatever reason, would be less connected in any way to people without the Internet.   With all its shortcomings, for these people, a frail electronic connection might be better than they’d have done in pre-Internet days.

In other words, we humans managed to “distort our mores and morals” before the Internet, before typewriters, and before ball point pens. It is something we have always been rather good at.

That doesn’t mean that we can be sanguine. The greater the technology available to us, the greater potential it has to be used for both good and for bad. Just as we demand more maturity and practice before we let a child drive a car than we do before we let him roller skate, we do need to pay more attention to our children as technology and communication expand. Just as you wouldn’t hand your sixteen-year-old your car keys with no limitations or rules, parents have the obligation to provide rules and restrictions, alternatives and supervision rather than allowing social media to take over their children’s lives, basically replacing parents as the prime instillers of values. We would suggest that in today’s times, children, teens and young adults need more time with their parents (and parents acting more wisely and  thoughtfully) than they did in some other generations.

The many basic messages of Scripture (such as valuing all life)  that provide for healthy living are timeless. It’s up to us to figure out how to apply those messages in appropriate ways for our times.

Make sure you have both quality and quantity time with your children,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

*  *  *

Shem, Ham and Jafeth may not have texted,
but they were also subject to their generation’s immorality.
How did Noah keep them on the right path? Find out in:


The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah





Rabbi Lapin Download

Blackberry Bamboozlement

February 22nd, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 6 comments

When my husband and I were first married, he was the rabbi of a dynamic synagogue. Most of the congregants were young, single and new at developing a relationship with God. They walked out of my husband’s Torah classes with heads full of exciting and thought-provoking ideas. In the years leading up to our marriage, a few of his students had gotten in the habit, which my husband encouraged, of calling him at any time of the day or night when they found themselves grappling with questions sparked by the class or by their fledgling foray into the faith of their fathers.

These calls came in at all hours. During the early months of our marriage (which took place when phones were still attached to walls) my husband used to leap to answer the phone lest one of our congregants might have to wait for his attention. This included mealtime and after we had turned off for the night. As a young bride, my attitude differed from my husband’s. After some calm discussion, which admittedly may have been punctuated with a few tears, my bridegroom came to understand that he was no longer immediately available to his students at all times.

Years later, when we retired from the synagogue rabbinate and moved to the Northwest, the pattern of not leaping to answer the phone with Pavlovian dispatch was well established. Until that is, mobile phones began to accompany my husband wherever he went. Ditto for Blackberries and other electronic devices that seemed to be grafted to his body.  Now the concern was less with congregants and more with one of our children who was away from home. Any suggestion that only seldom did a child far from home need urgent attention placed me in the position of being a heartless mother. Children who were present at our table found themselves ignored as vital concerns from their far-away siblings such as, “I’m writing a thank-you note. What’s the state abbreviation for Missouri?” took precedence. My darling husband caught up with the distant child while those of us at the table remained silent. Discussions take place regularly in our home as to whether modern electronics are devices that serve us or whether we are servants at their beck and call. With a fair number of married years under our belt, there are fewer tears on my part but the exchanges are nonetheless quite passionate.

All of which leads up to a gift my husband recently presented to me. To his intense annoyance, I dislike carrying a cell phone and rarely check messages. His conclusion was that I had an aversion to my specific phone model and so he gave me a Blackberry, confident that I would fall in love. It can do so much! Not only is it a phone, but it can access my email, take videos and I can even leave myself voice messages with it. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that it can bake an apple pie if properly programmed. Accompanying this wondrous machine is a 449 page user’s guide. 449 pages!!!!! Now my husband, like many men, never reads instruction manuals. I do, which is probably why he thought I would appreciate this encyclopedic tome. Quite frankly, if I had time to read 449 pages I would rather re-read Gone With the Wind.

I have always taught my children to express gratitude for gifts whether or not they appreciate the individual item. They were to focus on the thought behind the gift and the relationship with the giver. In keeping with that idea, I am grateful for my new Blackberry while equally convinced that I seek loving relationships with individuals, not machines.