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Chapter 4: Part 2 of 2 — The Off Shabbos

      “You told them that a smartphone would be good for you. Now is your chance to prove it”

By Yossie Strickman, as told to Bayla Hersher

Meir Kaplan, a 22-year-old from a home where technology use is discouraged, buys a smartphone with the guidance of his rebbi. In addition to having Yossie filter the phone, Meir asks Yossie to bridge the communication gap between him and his father, a rosh yeshivah. Yossie calls Rabbi Kaplan and emphasizes how the phone could potentially help Meir by meeting the needs that were behind his request. Rabbi Kaplan commits to supporting his son’s decision, but just a few weeks later, Meir asks Yossie to call his father again.


Meir’s request to speak to his father took me by surprise.

Before I could formulate a response, he rushed to explain.

“Everything has been great since you spoke to him, really.”

Meir told me how Rabbi Kaplan was expressing genuine interest in the way he felt the phone was helping him, and celebrating the small victories Meir had already achieved in yeshivah.

After hearing that Meir had gone to Shacharis every day for an entire week, his parents sent celebratory yapchik for his entire shiur that Shabbos with a meaningful note. Whenever Meir mentioned how happy he was, Rabbi Kaplan made a big deal out of it and called his wife in to hear the good news.

From Meir’s voice, it sounded like he had never felt so motivated to push himself to succeed.

“I’m so glad that your father is supporting you, Meir. That’s great to hear,” I started, silently thanking Hashem that Rabbi Kaplan had been so committed to changing his attitude. “So then, what do you want me to call your father about?”

“This week is an off-Shabbos.” Meir said nervously. “It’ll be my first off-Shabbos with a smartphone, and I’m worried my father will forget everything you told him once he sees it in my hand.”

I wanted to help Meir, of course, but I was hesitant to call the rosh yeshivah again and give him parenting advice.

“Are you sure your father needs to hear from me again?”

“I don’t know, but I’ll feel so much better if you talk to him.”

“Okay,” I agreed. “I’ll give him another call.”

I dialed Rabbi Kaplan at ten o’clock that night, and he answered right away, greeting me warmly.

“Rabbi Kaplan, please forgive me for calling you about Meir again,” I started. “It’s not my place to tell you how to raise your son, but he asked me to call you, and I want to honor his request.”

“Not at all — I’m grateful to you for taking care of him,” he said. And then, without missing a beat, he asked, “Is this about his off-Shabbos?”

“It is,” I replied.

I told Rabbi Kaplan how much Meir appreciated his support and how excited he was to see him, and then I shared Meir’s concern about bringing the phone home for the first time.

“I was actually nervous about that, too,” Rabbi Kaplan admitted. “You and I discussed how I need to accept Meir’s phone, and I’m trying very hard to do that for him, but does that mean I need to expose my other kids to technology in the same way? Does my whole kehillah have to know that this is part of Meir’s process?”

I understood Rabbi Kaplan’s concerns.

He was trying his best to be the father Meir needed him to be, but he had other children to take into consideration. He wanted to parent those children the way they needed, too.

Rabbi Kaplan was also a respected community leader whose position on smartphones was widely known. He had put all that aside for the sake of his son, but he was still uncomfortable broadcasting that information to the neighborhood.

“You went far out of your comfort zone by accepting Meir’s phone,” I said. “You showed that you respect him, even though his lifestyle is different from the one you wanted for him. Now Meir has the opportunity to show you that he respects you, too. If you don’t want him to show videos to his siblings or take out his phone in shul, then you can say that to him. You’re working together.”

“How can I tell Meir I don’t want my other children to use his smartphone without undoing all of the work I did to make him feel like he’s doing the right thing by using that same phone?” Rabbi Kaplan questioned carefully. “And how can I ask him not to take out his phone in shul when I’ve tried so hard to make him feel like I’m proud of him for using it as a tool to help him thrive?”

It was clear how badly Rabbi Kaplan wanted to continue being there for Meir. But at what cost?

I explained that all of the effort Rabbi Kaplan had put into making Meir feel good about his choices would prove that he truly appreciated the positive impact the phone had on Meir’s life. As long as he remained encouraging about Meir himself using the smartphone, he wouldn’t contradict anything he’d said when he explained his concern about extending its use to the rest of the family.

“Meir is an adult, and as an adult, he has to understand those concerns.” I reassured him. “And as your son, Meir is going to have to respect your decision about where and when his phone can be used.”

And even if he didn’t, I would make sure Meir acted like he did over Shabbos. But I didn’t mention that to Rabbi Kaplan.

Rabbi Kaplan exhaled.

“I have my work cut out for me. But I’m looking forward to talking with Meir about this. Thank you.”

“It really is my pleasure,” I replied honestly. “And, Rabbi Kaplan, can I please ask you a favor?”

Rabbi Kaplan chuckled. “Yes, I’ll text Meir and tell him we had this talk.”

“Thank you. I know he’ll appreciate it.” Before I could stop myself, I added, “And can you add how excited you are to see him this Shabbos? And please text Meir that you love him.”

“I will,” Rabbi Kaplan said. “Thanks for the reminder.”

Icalled Meir the following morning. He was grateful I had spoken to his father and sounded much more relaxed about his off-Shabbos.

But I didn’t want him to get too comfortable over the weekend.

“Meir, you have one job over Shabbos. One job.”

“A job? What do you mean?”

“Yes. You need to function better than you did the last time you were home.”

“What?” Meir was genuinely confused.

“Your parents have to see that what you said you needed is actually helping you. You told them that a smartphone would be good for you. Now is your chance to prove it.”

“How do I do that?”

“First of all, act happy and grateful. Smile a lot. Say thank you for their support. Be a mensch. Speak respectfully. And then, on top of that, be a more functioning member of the household.”

I paused for a moment.

“Let me ask you something, Meir — do you take out the garbage when you’re home?”

“Not if I don’t have to! If I leave it long enough, someone else will do it, you know?” he said with a laugh.

“Not anymore, Meir. Whenever you pass a full garbage, take it out, tie it up, and replace the bag. Every time.”

“How in the world will that help my parents accept my smartphone?” he exclaimed.

“You told your parents that having a smartphone would help you function in one way or another. You were talking about yeshivah, and you’re doing great — but you need to go home and prove that it’s helping you be a healthier person overall. And healthy young men take out the garbage for their mothers.”

“Ohhh,” Meir said quietly, as comprehension dawned on him. “Don’t worry, I’ll be the official garbage man of the Kaplan house.”

“That’s what I like to hear. You’re going to have a great Shabbos, Meir.”

After Havdalah that week, I turned on my phone to two messages. One was from Meir, and one was from his father, but they both said the same thing.

We had the best Shabbos ever. Thank you, Yossie.


Brain Trust
Tips for parents of teens

Building relationships requires continuous effort.

Invest time in understanding how to navigate new, potentially volatile situations as they arise so they bring you closer together instead of destroying progress and tearing you apart. Communication and mutual understanding are essential to balancing one child’s evolving needs with the existing family dynamic.

Teens, this one’s for you: If your parents put aside their needs to accommodate yours, step up your game. Show them that what they gave you is allowing you to be the best version of yourself.


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 1003)

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