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Chapter 6: Internet Intolerant 

“So don’t say the Internet is bad. Say it’s bad for your kids. It’s like saying that your kids are all allergic to unfiltered Internet”

By Yossie Strickman, as told to Bayla Hersher

I’D clearly called at an inconvenient time.

Eliezer Stern had emailed asking me to call him regarding a technology issue, but it sounded like I’d caught him during some sort of crisis.

“Hi, Yossie,” Eliezer said, composed, even though I could hear screaming in the background. “I’m in the car with my kids, driving from Baltimore to Toronto.”

That explains the noise, I thought. A little girl was repeatedly shrieking, “Shimon’s touching me!”

“Can I call you back later today?” he asked, raising his voice.

Eventually, the Sterns made it to their destination — Mrs. Stern’s parents — where they would be for all of Pesach.

“My in-laws are the most loving grandparents,” Eliezer started when we finally spoke. “They make the Seder come alive for the kids every year, and they take us on amazing Chol Hamoed trips that they’ve planned for weeks.

“My kids love being here with them, and we’re so grateful they open their home to us,” he said sincerely.

Eliezer paused for a moment. I waited for the “but.”

“It’s just that…” he cleared his throat, “my in-laws have a lot of technology. A lot. And none of it’s filtered.”

I get calls like this all the time.

Bubbies and zeidies who grew up without color television, and got cell phones only when they were well into their adult years, often don’t understand exactly how their technology works. They certainly don’t understand the dangers their grandchildren face online, which leaves parents like Eliezer and his wife with the challenge of keeping their children safe on devices handed to them — with love! — by people who are invested in their children almost as much as they are.

The Sterns felt like their chinuch about proper technology usage, which they worked so hard to instill in their children, unraveled during visits to Bubby and Zeidy’s house. There were so many devices available to them — two phones, two laptops, a desktop computer, televisions in a few of the rooms, and old smartphones still useable for entertainment — and not enough pairs of eyes to make sure the children were using them appropriately.

In most cases, the difficulty is compounded by the fact that the grandparents have no idea this problem exists. They’re more than happy to let their grandkids use their computers and phones — and they may even encourage it to keep them occupied during their visit.

“When my older kids were little, my mother-in-law would play Sesame Street on YouTube to help her babysit them so my wife and I could relax,” Eliezer said, sighing deeply. “We usually don’t allow so much screen time, and we weren’t so comfortable with YouTube because of the ads, but we didn’t make an issue out of it because she was doing it to help us.

“But now the kids are getting older, and she’s started leaving the phone with them so they can choose what to watch next. Last year, my bechor mentioned that my father-in-law had given him his computer password so he could go on it whenever he wanted. He’s a great kid, Yossie, but he’s just a kid.”

“You’re caught between a rock and a hard place,” I agreed. “On one hand, you need to protect your children from all the schmutz on the Internet. But on the other hand, you can’t start giving your in-laws mussar about their grandparenting.”

“Is there anything we can do?” he asked plaintively.

“Yes,” I said, “but first, is your wife on the same page as you?”

“Completely,” Eliezer confirmed, explaining that Mrs. Stern had been the one to suggest reaching out to me when they realized they’d be at her parents’ for close to three weeks.

“Is she available?” I asked. “I’d like to speak to her, too, since she’ll be the one to discuss this with her parents.”

I waited for a few minutes while Eliezer got his wife. When she came on the line, she sounded desperate.

“This is such perfect timing,” she said breathlessly. “We’ve been here for only a few hours, but I already found two of my kids curled up on the couch watching some game show on my mother’s laptop. What can we do? I don’t want to hurt my parents, but I need to stop this before it gets out of hand.”

I advised Mrs. Stern to speak to whichever parent she felt she could have an open, honest, and natural conversation with, and she said her mother was more likely to understand their concerns about technology.

But I didn’t want her to start the conversation with concerns.

“Before you say anything about technology,” I cautioned her, “make sure to tell her how much you’ve been looking forward to coming for Pesach — to eat her food, spend time together, go on Chol Hamoed trips with her and your father, whatever you love about spending Yom Tov with your parents.”

“That will be easy,” Mrs. Stern replied. “Technology issues aside, we do love coming here.”

Only after making sure her mother felt her love and appreciation could she address any kind of problem. And even when she mentioned it, Mrs. Stern had to understand that her parents didn’t think there was a problem at all.

Mrs. Stern couldn’t criticize her parents, aged 74 and 70, for not understanding technology, or how to use it or abuse it, or for forgetting why it’s so important to prevent teenagers from stumbling onto anything inappropriate in the first place.

“But once you explain the dangers your kids are facing online, you can ask her to protect your beautiful kids together with you,” I said. “You’re on the same team.”

Eliezer, who was listening in, brought up another good point.

“Don’t you think my mother-in-law will feel bad having unfiltered Internet in the house once my wife goes on and on about how dangerous it is? Like you said, they’re pretty removed from caring about the dark web, and we don’t want to make them feel like they’re doing anything wrong.”

“So don’t say that the Internet is bad. Say that it’s bad for your kids. It’s like saying that your kids are all allergic to unfiltered Internet.”

Using allergies as a mashal, I continued. “If one of your kids had a severe allergy to tree nuts, Bubby wouldn’t serve pistachio ice cream. If Zeidy was out with the child and had a question about a food item, he’d call you to find out if there are any allergens in the ingredients. Even if they, their own children, and all of their other grandkids have no allergies whatsoever, they have to be sensitive to your child’s needs, or the situation could get critical.”

“And as the parents, we decide what the allergy is, in this case,” Mrs. Stern said thoughtfully. “So all I need to do is ask to be asked. I think I can do that without hurting any feelings.”

By the time we hung up the phone, the Sterns sounded hopeful, and judging by the text I got from Eliezer a few hours later, Mrs. Stern’s conversation was a success.

Everything went well, baruch Hashem. My mother-in-law agreed to be much more careful, seeing as our kids are Internet-intolerant.

Have a beautiful Yom Tov.


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 1005)

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