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Chapter 3: Part 1 of 2 — Go Between   

He desperately wanted his father’s approval, and the acceptance he needed and the smartphone he’d bought could not coexist

By Yossie Strickman, as told to Bayla Hersher

“I didn’t want to go behind his back, but when I try to explain, it’s like he doesn’t hear me.”

The young man sitting on the other side of my desk sounded more miserable than angry.

“My rebbi agreed that getting a smartphone is the right decision for me now, but my father… let’s just say he wouldn’t approve.”

Meir had struggled to fit into the yeshivah system his whole life, and now, at 22, he’d found his place. He was in a laid-back yeshivah where the guys work hard to sit through seder, go to the gym to let off steam, and watch basketball after night seder three times a week.

Although Meir had been raised in an insular environment without exposure to technology, he felt he needed access to a smartphone during his downtime. Like most of the yeshivah, he followed sports as an outlet after a long day of learning. He wasn’t being rebellious — on the contrary, he was a good boy with a strong value system.

That’s why he was here, getting his new phone heavily filtered.

“You talked to your father about this?” I asked, trying to get Meir to open up.

He nodded. “Of course! I wanted his permission to get a smartphone, but he kept saying no without listening to what I was saying. And it always ended in a fight.”

Meir’s story is a familiar one. Parents have the best intentions when restricting their kids’ access to technology. To protect their children from something that could be detrimental to their spiritual and emotional well-being, they respond with a firm no — and the expectation is that their children will accept their parental authority in this case, just as they do with other issues. After all, no means no.

However, many parents fail to realize that the request for a smartphone stems from an underlying need, one that differs from child to child.

There are some teenagers who want a smartphone to fit into a clique. Others want to use it to unwind after a demanding day in school. Some think of it as another toy to cure boredom. Another might think of it as a simple solution for loneliness. Whatever the case may be, saying no without addressing the true reason behind the request can intensify the issue until your child takes matters into his or her own hands.

Meir had always fought hard to succeed in yeshivah, and by the time he got home, he was ready to turn off his brain and chill. Since Meir’s parents didn’t understand that this was the motivation behind his request, they never worked with him to find other acceptable outlets. Instead, they said no over and over, until Meir grew up and bought himself a smartphone.

At 22, Meir was certainly old enough to decide what phone to buy. But he desperately wanted his father’s approval, and the acceptance he needed and the smartphone he’d bought could not coexist; it was eating him up inside.

“Do you want me to help you figure out what to say to your father when you tell him?” I asked.

“No, no, no—” Meir was shaking his head before I even finished offering my assistance.

“It’s never going to work. As soon as I start talking about technology, my father stops listening. He knows where the conversation is headed, and he doesn’t want to go there.”

“So what do you want to do?”

“I want someone else to call my father and talk to him for me.”

“That’s a great idea. Do you have someone specific in mind?”

“Yeah.” Meir cleared his throat. “I was hoping you would do it.”

“Me?” I asked, confused. I wanted to help Meir, but I didn’t know Meir. I had met him only 15 minutes before and had never heard of his father. “Isn’t there anyone who knows you and your father a little better?”

“Of course,” Meir said. “But the people who know me for longer don’t get it as well as you do. You understand my situation, and you understand technology. I know we just met, but you’re the only one who understands me.”

How can I say no to that?

“Okay, Meir,” I replied, “I’ll call your father for you. What’s the best time to reach him?”

“After night seder,” Meir answered easily.

“Is your father in kollel?” I asked, trying to gather more information.

“No, he’s there in case the boys have questions in learning.”

“As a shoel u’meishiv?”

“As the rosh yeshivah.”

AS it turns out, roshei yeshivah are very busy. Meir had advised me to call his father at exactly 10:00 p.m., but it took several tries until I got through to him.

“Shalom, Rabbi Kaplan. I got your number from your amazing son Meir. Do you have five minutes to talk about him?”

After gently breaking the news that his son had purchased a smartphone, I told Rabbi Kaplan how impressive it was that Meir was acting with the guidance of his rebbi, and how proud I was that he was filtering his new phone so it would remain a kosher means of entertainment.

“I’m glad Meir is going about this the right way,” Rabbi Kaplan said coolly. “Thank you for installing the filter for him.”

I had expected more of a reaction from the rosh yeshivah, but he sounded emotionally unattached to the issue.

Although I was glad that Rabbi Kaplan wasn’t upset, I knew this kind of indifference would only reinforce Meir’s feelings of distance from his father. Meir needed openness, warmth, and a lot of positive encouragement.

I felt that the topic would resurface further into the conversation, so I moved on to my goal of working with Meir.

“I want to empower your son to use his new phone to function even better, now that he has the outlet he’s been looking for,” I said.

“Excuse me, ” Rabbi Kaplan cut in, “but I don’t see how having a smartphone will help my son function at all. I know the boys in our community with smartphones.”

He forced a laugh.

“They come to Shacharis late, leave seder early, and are too glued to their screens to notice anything in between. Tell me how that’s functional.”

“Rabbi Kaplan,” I replied, “how many mornings would you estimate that Meir has come to Shacharis on time up until now? And has he told you how difficult it is for him to sit through a seder already?”

Rabbi Kaplan didn’t respond, so I continued. “Meir might continue to wake up late and leave yeshivah early, but please don’t blame it on his smartphone.”

“Fine, so he’s already having problems. I’m sure the phone will make it worse,” Rabbi Kaplan said sharply.

“It doesn’t have to. This can help Meir by giving him a harmless way to de-stress. But the only way to make it a positive change is if you fully support him.”

“But I don’t. I don’t want my son to have a smartphone.”

“Your son already has a smartphone,” I reminded him. “But do you know what he doesn’t have?”


“His father’s absolute acceptance.”

“What do you mean? Meir is my son, and his smartphone isn’t going to change that.”

I nodded even though he couldn’t see me.

“Does Meir know that?” I asked.

And finally, Rabbi Kaplan began to understand what he had missed before. His own feelings were not the priority — what was most important was how he conveyed his feelings to Meir.

“Meir needs two things from you now,” I explained. “Number one, he needs to feel that you still love him.”

“Why would Meir think I don’t love him?” Rabbi Kaplan sputtered. “Like I said, he’s still my son!”

“Meir does know that you love him. But he needs to feel it. I know Meir is practically a man, but he needs to hear the words, ‘I love you.’ A lot.”

I paused, waiting for my words to sink in.

Then I asked Rabbi Kaplan a question. “How much do you and your rebbetzin do for Meir?”

“A lot, I can guarantee you that,” Rabbi Kaplan answered.

“I know you do. And I know that everything you’re doing is out of love for your son,” I replied. “Here’s how you can help Meir feel it: When you send him something for Shabbos, tell him it’s because you love him. When you pay for a sefer for him, tell him it’s because you’re proud of him and you love him. If you ever meet Meir for lunch near his yeshivah, say that you’re spending time with him—”

“Because I love him.” Rabbi Kaplan laughed. “I think I get the picture. What’s the second thing Meir needs from me?”

“Understanding. Meir needs to feel like you understood the needs that led him to buy this smartphone. Meir works hard and needs to unwind. Since he loves sports, he wants to follow them. He’s not being rebellious, he’s not angry. Meir just wants to chill.”

“And I’m assuming he doesn’t want any suggestions about the hundred other ways I can think of for him to chill?”

“It’s too late for that, unfortunately,” I said truthfully.

The time for the Kaplans to provide Meir with other forms of entertainment had passed.

“Because he didn’t have any other outlets before this, he became fixated on the idea that a phone would fulfill that need. Now that he has it, he can finally stop feeling like he’s chasing something. He can actually chill.”

“I see.” Rabbi Kaplan sighed. “So now that I understand why Meir bought this phone, I have to be happy about it, right?”

“Not at all. You and your wife can cry about it when he’s not home. But don’t let him see that you’re disappointed. Wash your face and tell him you’re proud that he is fulfilling his needs in the best, most kosher way possible. Stay positive and tell him you’re happy to see him thriving.”

“I… I think I can handle that.”

By the end of our two-hour conversation, Rabbi Kaplan was committed to making Meir truly feel supported and loved. Meir’s journey was different from the one his father had envisioned, and the change wouldn’t be easy, but Rabbi Kaplan was willing to try for his son’s sake.

“Thank you, ” Rabbi Kaplan said as we wound down, his voice thick with emotion.

“It’s my pleasure,” I said honestly.

Then I quickly added, “Can I ask you one favor before we hang up? Meir is waiting to hear that I had this conversation with you. I could let him know, but I think it would be much more meaningful if you texted him instead.”

“Sure, I’ll text him right away.”

“Can I ask you to do one more thing, Rabbi Kaplan?” I hoped I wasn’t crossing a line by giving him exact instructions. “Text Meir that you’re proud of him for following daas Torah throughout this whole process and for getting a filter on his phone. And tell him you love him.”

“I will,” he said, his voice breaking. “Have a good night.”

The next day, I got a call from Meir.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said with genuine appreciation. “I knew you were the right person to make the call. My father texted me last night after he got off the phone with you, and he didn’t even mention that I got a smartphone without telling him. He just said he was proud of me for the way I went about this, and that he’s looking forward to helping me succeed in yeshivah and in life…. I’ve never gotten a text like that from my father before.”

The two of us were in touch frequently over the next few weeks as we personalized his filter to meet his needs, so I was already preparing to log into Meir’s account when I picked up his phone call one Wednesday morning.

“Hi, Meir. What can I do for you?” I asked.

“Can you call my father again? Please?” he asked hesitantly.


Brain Trust: Tips for parents of teens
Understand the underlying need.

It’s crucial for you as parents to understand the motivation behind your children’s requests in order to address them effectively. Work together with your child to find alternative solutions to their problems — solutions that align with your values — because offering something in return for the denied request is not just the only constructive approach, it’s the only effective one. Regardless of what you decide, be a source of unconditional love and support even if your child’s growth looks different than you expected.


Yossie Strickman is the founder of Project TRUST, an initiative that offers comprehensive support to those navigating the dangers of technology, including exposure to improper content, unhealthy internet habits, and cyberbullying. He is based in Passaic, New Jersey, and speaks about safe technology use across the United States.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1002)

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