| Screen Safer |

Chapter 5: Tech by Example 

Mrs. Segal had just reinforced the message that technology restrictions are terribly inconvenient

By Yossie Strickman, as told to Bayla Hersher

ASsoon as I saw that the four-year-old had his own tablet, I knew I would have a problem.

“Our kids have tablets that need to be filtered,” Mr. Segal had said on the phone, so I assumed the kids shared one or two of them.

But when I arrived at their Monsey home, I saw each of the five Segal kids holding a tablet — which meant they were accustomed to having technology available at all times and would resist having that freedom limited by a filter. It also likely meant that they were emotionally attached to their devices.

Very attached, I thought, looking at the Segals’ eldest daughter, who was hunched protectively over her tablet and eyeing me skeptically.

She was sitting at the far end of their large dining room table, as if to put as much distance between the two of us as possible. The rest of the kids and Mrs. Segal were seated on the opposite end, facing me and Mr. Segal.

“Hi, guys,” I said with a wave. “It’s nice to meet all of you.”

They greeted me with varying degrees of enthusiasm, while Mr. Segal introduced them one by one.

“This is Shifra,” he said, gesturing to his eldest. “She’s thirteen. Ezzy is twelve, Riki is eight, Layla is six, and Asher is four.”

I sat down at the table across from Ezzy and made small talk with the family for a few minutes. Then I took out my computer and cut to the chase.

“Who knows why I’m here?” I asked the kids.

“To put filters on our tablets,” Ezzy answered.

“And,” Shifra called from the other side of the room, “you’re going to tell us why it’s important so that when we get phones, we won’t fight with our parents about filtering them.

“Right, Mom?” she asked dryly, turning to her mother.

“Yes, exactly,” Mrs. Segal nodded, calmly ignoring her daughter’s frustration. And then, with a wry smile, she added, “At least I know you’re paying attention.”

I decided to play dumb for a moment so I could spark a discussion.

“Why would you fight with your parents about getting a filter?”

“It’s just annoying,” Shifra answered. “We’re not doing anything wrong, so we don’t really need one. And it’s totally going to block things we want.”

I make it my mission to ensure that my clients can access everything that’s safe for them to use, so their transition to having a filter, which can sometimes feel like an amputation, is as painless as possible. But when I tried to explain that to Shifra, she knew that we didn’t see eye-to-eye on what constituted “safe to use.” Shifra had recently embarked on her foray into social media by downloading Snapchat, and her parents had already informed her that the filter would block all social media, Snapchat included.

Of course, I agreed with them; they didn’t want their daughter exposed to all the inappropriate content so easily accessible on Snapchat and other social media.

I briefly explained how damaging social media can be — especially Snapchat, which can be even worse than the others. Because pictures disappear so quickly from Snapchat, people don’t think twice about sending things they shouldn’t.

“So why does Mommy have Snapchat?” Riki asked innocently.

Mrs. Segal blushed.


“I’m a grown-up, Riki,” she stammered. “Sometimes grown-ups have things kids can’t.”

“Right,” I agreed quickly, trying to minimize the damage. “Sort of like… Shifra, have you started driving yet?”

“What? I’m thirteen,” she replied, looking at me like I’d lost my mind.

“So what?” I countered. “Don’t you think it would be awesome if you could go wherever you want? You seem very mature for your age — maybe ask your parents to start teaching you the rules of the road.”

Shifra clearly knew where I was headed, so she just crossed her arms and frowned at me.

I turned to Riki instead, asking her if she’d want to go for a drive with her big sister. Not surprisingly, she was hesitant about getting into the car with a thirteen-year-old behind the wheel.

“But who decided she can’t drive yet?” I pressed.

“The government?” Ezzy volunteered.

“Exactly. The state of New York decided that a thirteen-year-old can’t drive, but a thirty-year-old can. Some things get safer the older and more mature you get. Technology can be the same way.”

Even so, I always recommend that parents make sure the phone they carry around at home is appropriate for their kids to use.

I turned to Mr. and Mrs. Segal, who were seated closest to me, and asked in a low tone whether they would consider filtering their own devices, given the circumstances.

Mrs. Segal shook her head. Her kids were not supposed to be using her phone, and they knew it.

“So you never, ever use Mommy’s phone?” I probed the kids. “Never, ever, ever, ever?”

“Never except sometimes,” Layla answered after a moment.

I nodded. Kids always manage to get their hands on their parents’ phones, especially their mothers’, which are usually lying around and not sitting in a pocket.

Mrs. Segal looked from Layla to me, her brows furrowed slightly as her daughter’s words registered. She looked conflicted, and the hesitation in her voice conveyed as much.

“So does that mean it can have only apps I would let my six-year-old use?”

I knew it wouldn’t be easy for Mrs. Segal to hear, but truthfully, the answer to that question is yes.

The kids were chattering among themselves about Shifra’s driving capabilities, or lack thereof, so I turned to Mr. and Mrs. Segal to explain that on the most basic level, it’s extremely unlikely that children will cooperate when their parents tell them not to do something they themselves are actively doing.

“More than that,” I said, warming up to the topic, “your attachment to and reliance on your smartphone makes it more than a cellular device. In a sense, what you have on your screen is a representation of your standards and priorities. If you download something, you’re indicating that it has a place within your value system and your life. Your kids absorb those messages automatically — and they will resist being told that they need to live by a different set of rules.”

The Segals nodded slowly.

“But aside from the mixed messages you’re sending your kids by using apps that aren’t objectively appropriate, there’s a technical reason your phones should be kid-friendly — any phone your kids use becomes your kids’ phone,” I continued. “If there’s an app you don’t want them to access — news, shopping, social media, web browsers, video streaming, whatever it may be — then it shouldn’t be on a phone your kids can access.”

“I’m sorry, but that doesn’t seem practical at all,” Mrs. Segal cut in, shaking her head. “My kids all have their own tablets because there are apps I want that I don’t want them to use.”

The kids in question, who had been ignoring my monologue, perked up when they heard their mother mention them.

“And they don’t use those apps,” she added a bit defensively. “Even when they’re on my phone.”

“Not yet, but they’re still young,” I replied. “Give them time.”

I suggested that Mrs. Segal put Snapchat, along with any other apps she didn’t want her kids to access, on a separate phone, one the kids would never use without her knowledge. She could keep the phone in the car, at work, or locked somewhere.

“It’s not the most convenient solution,” I admitted, “but it’s been helpful for other families with this dilemma.”

“I’ll think about it,” Mrs. Segal answered reluctantly, clearly unhappy with my suggestion.

And with that, Mrs. Segal presented me with one of the greatest obstacles I have encountered in my line of work. All five kids had their eyes trained on their mother’s face, trying to gauge her reaction to hearing that she wouldn’t be able to use technology the way she wanted, and Mrs. Segal had just reinforced the message that technology restrictions are terribly inconvenient. She didn’t realize it, but her response made the family’s goal of filtering the kids’ devices nearly impossible to achieve.

“You can probably identify with the emotions your children are feeling about the filters you want to put on their devices,” I started, trying to call Mrs. Segal’s attention to her mistake indirectly, “since you also don’t seem excited about the prospect of having an app you like taken off your primary phone.”

Fortunately, Mrs. Segal caught on right away.

“You’re right,” she said, forcing a smile and looking around at her children. “I guess mommies can also get upset about filters. We’re going to have to make this work as a family.”

“Or we could just not get filters at all,” Shifra suggested hopefully.

“I’m sorry, sweetie, but we’re going to be filtering everyone’s tablets today.” Mrs. Segal said firmly, despite the reservations she had about her own device just moments before.

She looked at me and nodded, more to herself than to me. “Let’s get started.”

“Like now?” Shifra asked, sounding slightly panicked.

“Now,” her mother confirmed.

Not surprisingly, none of the kids liked that idea.

“But… but, Mom!”

“This is so not fair.”

“Do we have to?”


You’d think I came to cancel summer vacation, I mused.

Given that children usually adopt their parents’ approach to technological safety, I needed Mr. and Mrs. Segal to appreciate the importance of their role in creating a positive attitude toward filters before I started filtering the kids’ devices. I studied the family, trying to come up with a relatable example, when it hit me.

“Can anyone remember Asher’s upsheren?” I asked the kids. “Was Asher happy or sad?”

That got them to quiet down, but they looked completely confused by my question.

Riki was the first to recover. “Happy,” she said.

I asked them if they thought that made sense, even though to a three-year-old, an upsheren means a scary haircut, a yarmulke that falls off when you run, and tzitzis that get in the way when you play.

The kids started telling me how excited Asher was about his party: the presents, the cake, and seeing his grandparents, who came in from out of town for the event. He couldn’t wait to wear a yarmulke and tzitzis, they said.

“Mostly because he wanted to be a big boy,” Riki explained. “Mommy and Daddy kept telling him he’ll be so big after his upsheren.”

Mr. and Mrs. Segal were nodding thoughtfully. They’d caught on, and now it was time to bring everyone back to the issue at hand.

“Many times,” I said to the kids, “celebrating something and making it feel like an important milestone can totally change the way we feel about it — even if it changes nothing but our attitudes. If it can work for yarmulkes, it can work for filters.”

I turned to the parents.

“A paradigm shift like this takes time, but for now, would you consider offering the kids something in exchange for the freedom of knowing they have the entire Internet at their fingertips?” And then, gesturing toward Shifra, I added, “Especially for the ones who will find this more difficult….”

Mr. Segal nodded, but his wife didn’t look like she heard me — she was leaning over the table to hand me her phone.

“Before we discuss presents, I want to give my kids a mother who’s excited about starting this process. I’d like you to filter my phone, please.”

“But after that, will I get a prize?” Layla asked eagerly, before I could respond.

“After that,” Mr. Segal said slowly, chewing over the idea as he verbalized it, “maybe I’ll look into getting a separate work phone to keep at the office. If you can do it for Snapchat, I can do it for my browser and messaging apps.”

“But after that?!” the younger kids chorused.

Now the kids, especially Layla and Asher, sounded excited to have their tablets filtered, but I knew that wouldn’t last very long if it was because of presents promised that day. For their kids to stay positive, Mr. and Mrs. Segal needed to maintain their own positive attitudes and celebrate the important step they’d taken as a family, showering their kids with encouragement when the filter actually got in the way.

Mrs. Segal’s reaction when her phone was finally filtered 20 minutes later was the first step in the right direction.

“Thank you,” she said, with such genuine gratitude that her kids couldn’t help but notice she really meant it.

That didn’t make the older kids suddenly enthusiastic about having their Internet and apps restricted, but it did help them understand that their parents weren’t trying to control them with filters; they were working together with them to ensure their kids’ long-term safety, health, and happiness.

Starting with their own devices.



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.



Tips for parents of teens

Lead by example.

You play the most important role in shaping your children’s behavior and relationship with technology. By getting yourself a filter and adopting a positive attitude about using your own devices safely, you lay the foundation for them to accept the technology boundaries you set for them.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1004)

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