Project Focus Inspires and Educates Families in the Digital Age
On September 15th, just two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, about 2000 Jewish men and women gathered at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills for an evening of inspiration and guidance presented by Project Focus, an organization dedicated to addressing the challenges of technology.
“This is an unprecedented city-wide event,” said Rabbi Avi Tashman, the M.C. “We are not here to solve the problem. This is a process. We are here to reignite the conversation, galvanize our community, strengthen our safeguards, minimize distractions, and be inspired and motivated.”
In his opening remarks, Rabbi Boruch Yehuda Gradon, Rosh Kollel of Merkaz Hatorah, spoke about the kiddush Hashem created by so many Jews coming together to grow. “Our tefillah to Hakadosh Baruch Hu is that this tremendous ruach and achdus should bring the Shechinah to settle onto this room,” he said. “Together, we should be improved people.”
The first presenter, Dr. Gavriel Feigin, Ph.D., director of Tikunim Counseling Services and a nationally acclaimed expert on Internet safety, spoke about the latest research on the impact of screen time. While the internet has its benefits, such as access to information and help with learning disabilities, it also comes with many challenges.
Dr. Feigin spoke about the medical, psychological, social, and academic effects of screen time on children and adolescents. Among them are sleep deprivation, lowered self-esteem, decreased ability to problem solve, resolve conflicts, and relate to other people, and decrease in focus and concentration. These challenges can be addressed by time limits on screen usage.
Dr. Feigin emphasized the parent’s job as a role model for their children. “Be objective and mindful,” he said. “Are we able to put the phone down?”
Another aspect of internet usage is content control. Dr. Feigin spoke about open communication with our children about damaging content available on the internet, and how to respond when a child discloses accessing inappropriate materials. He recommended setting clear rules about where children can use devices and installing appropriate filtering and monitoring software. “Stay informed and proactive,” he said. “Our kids are worth it.”
The attendees then watched a moving video presentation about a local yeshiva boy who struggled with a pornography addiction.
The next speaker, Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman, Rosh Yeshiva of Meor Yitzchak, spoke emotionally about rising to the challenge of parenting in this generation. “We are here tonight to hold our children,” he said. “Our children are so good, so desperately want to be good. They need us to hold them and guide them… This heilige kehillah got together for one purpose: to take steps to do what needs to be done in order to guarantee the continuity of Klal Yisrael. Our children are under a threat.”
Rabbi Wachsman encouraged parents to believe in their ability to overcome this challenge. “Klal Yisrael possesses extraordinary kochos,” he said. “Your neshamah’s light is greater than any light in all creation. With our neshamos, we can uplift our children and ourselves.”
Rabbi Wachsman emphasized the need for “kosher certified” technology and recommended TAG’s services for filtering software. He also addressed people who have already been exposed to inappropriate materials. “Chas veshalom, don’t think that you’re already destroyed! This is an opportunity for you to be great. Hakadosh Baruch Hu knows your private struggles.”
“Hakadosh Baruch Hu is giving us tests to raise us up, not to put us down,” concluded Rabbi Wachsman. “Hakadosh Baruch Hu will help, and we will see beautiful doros.”
The next speaker, Rabbi Dovid Revah, Rav of Kahal Adas Torah, listed three practical recommendations for our community. The first was down time, regularly scheduled device-free time to give our full attention to our spouses and children.
The second recommendation was content control, such as removing time-wasting apps while keeping the useful ones. When practical, Rabbi Revah suggested using “kosher smart phones” without internet browsers. For filtering help, he recommended TAG Los Angeles (www.taglosangeles.com), a free service which was recently completely revamped and much improved.
Third, Rabbi Revah spoke about Project M.U.S.T.—Mothers Unite to Stall Technology (www.mothersunite4kids.org)—where parents of all children in a class or school agree on what kind of technology they would allow their children. This step eliminates peer pressure and empowers parents to say no to their children’s requests for electronic devices. Rabbi Revah concluded with the hope that Hashem would bless our efforts.