After understanding the dangers posed by the Internet and the need for both a filter and chinuch, we spoke with Rabbi Zalman Leib Markowitz, an educational consultant, to hear what the best chinuch approach is for handling Internet usage. * R' Markowitz speaks of a combination of three ingredients: supplying a child's physical and spiritual needs, keeping him away from the Internet, and filling his inner world with Torah and hiskashrus. * True connection to the Rebbe will disconnect us from the Internet!
Interviewer: Avrohom Rabinowitz
Can we raise Bochurim not to want forbidden things through providing a proper chinuch?
Before I answer your question, I would like to point out that people confuse two things that are quite similar but actually worlds apart. There are taavos (lusts) for forbidden things, and there are emotional needs that can lead to forbidden things.
Each of us is born with a yetzer ha’ra (evil inclination) and this yetzer entices us with taavos for things forbidden by the Torah. Even the beinoni of Tanya, who never sinned, has a yetzer ha’ra which presents him with taavos. The only person without taavos is someone who reaches the level of the tzaddik of Tanya, which is not common (although in 5752, the Rebbe said that today, each of us can attain the level of tzaddik). As educators, we are not meant to attempt to raise children without taavos. Our job is to raise children to deal with taavos and to conquer the yetzer ha’ra.
This applies to a taava for something forbidden, but when we are talking about emotional needs for forbidden things, when a person feels he “must” partake of forbidden things, then that is something else entirely. A person is not born with a psychological need for forbidden things. It is not a natural thing but something created due to a corrupt chinuch or inappropriate environment. These create a feeling of spiritual emptiness which leads to an emotional need for forbidden things.
Here is where the teacher comes into the picture. Good chinuch can prevent a feeling of emptiness and the emotional need that comes in its wake. Even in the case where the feeling already exists and there is spiritual deterioration, it can still be fixed.
What is the method of teaching a boy or Bochur so that he won't have an emotional need like that?
Why do you only ask about a boy or Bochur? What about a young man or older man? Is he immune to the tests of the world? The yetzer ha’ra accompanies us all our lives and does not disappear when we grow older. It is true that the tests can become easier, but when speaking about chinuch, we need to know that this is not a topic only for children. The Rebbe often stressed that chinuch is not only for children but for adults too. When he announced Mivtza Chinuch, the Rebbe emphasized that this includes educating oneself and educating others. Our chinuch as adults is not essentially different than chinuch for children.
In Klalei HaChinuch V'Hahadracha, the Rebbe Rayatz writes explicitly that it does not apply only to the young, but rather it applies to all, with no difference as far as age is concerned. That means that whatever we say or write about chinuch, even if it is usually written as guidance for parents, pertains to every person, at every age, in every circumstance.
PROVIDING A CHILD'S NEEDS
More specifically, how can we educate ourselves and our children in this way?
By way of introduction, I must clarify that my answer will be general and of course there are exceptions to the rule. We know that the “Torah speaks about the majority.” This means that even those things stated in Torah explicitly have exceptions, especially something as individualistic as chinuch. You cannot say there is one way that suits everyone. There are those who by nature have a more composed temperament and are not so drawn by the nonsense of the world, and there are those whom life will affect in such a way that the usual chinuch won't suffice, and they need a different approach.
When speaking about the majority, there definitely exists preventative chinuch which, when provided to children, will solve most problems of spiritual deterioration, particularly the dangers of the Internet.
I'm not talking about a series of simple steps but about a high level of awareness of chinuch; knowing one has to invest in it, as it says in the HaYom Yom, quoting the Rebbe Rashab, that just as it is an obligation to put on t’fillin every day, so too, a half hour a day must be invested in thinking about the educational needs of children.
When a parent asks me what topic is the most important when it comes to chinuch, there are so many details one can emphasize such as being open, talking, learning together, being in touch with teachers, being a role model, and so on. But the most important topic of all is for a parent to know what his child's needs are and to provide them. This appears at length in the Klalei HaChinuch V'Hahadracha, so that we can say that the entire booklet is based on understanding the needs of a child and properly assessing him.
Every person has physical and emotional needs. Sometimes it seems to us that we are providing all our children's needs, but the truth is we need to pay attention to see what each child's needs are in each of these two categories. You have a child whose primary physical needs are eating and drinking, while to another child, that is not as important as sleep.
With emotional needs too, a parent has to think and pay attention to discern what a child's emotional needs are, because in one child it can be expressed in the need for more of a social circle, while for another child it is expressed in his being very sensitive. There is a child who becomes enthused by a story; another by a niggun; another by a clever thought. Just as their appearances differ, so too, their physical and emotional needs are not the same.
That is the first and most important stage in chinuch; to understand the special needs of every child and to supply them. A parent would not think of buying the same size pants for all his children since he knows that his children are different sizes and have different needs. Likewise, it should be clear that chinuch cannot be one size fits all; the uniqueness of every child must be understood and treated accordingly.
A parent who knows what the needs of every child in his home are, and who provides each one with his needs, will have half the problems solved immediately without any other investment.
How is this done?
There is a saying that simcha is not a mitzva but simcha enables us to reach a spiritual level that no other mitzva can bring us to. Simcha means healthy living. It is not enough that the home in general is a happy place; you need to look at every child individually and see to it that he is happy and content. Every child has a sensitive soul and we need to pay attention to see whether he is going through a hard time; maybe he was offended by friends or maybe he does not get along with his teacher. Our responsibility as parents is not just to do homework with our children, but to be open to what is going on in their lives. That is much more important.
When children learn in yeshivos far from home, parents cannot allow two days to go by without talking to them. When you know the special needs of every child, two minutes is usually enough in order to know how the child is doing. If you hear that something is amiss, that's the time to listen, to understand, and to be supportive. It is not always possible to solve the problems in our children's lives, but it is always possible to give them the feeling that we are with them, that we understand them, and that we support them.
DISTANCE A CHILD FROM TESTS
Can we say that this step will provide a shield from the enticements of the world?
No. It's only the first step and it needs to be followed by other steps.
The second step is no less important and it consists of not putting our child into difficult situations. That includes, of course, not bringing temptations like the Internet into the house, and even if someone uses the Internet for work or to “spread the wellsprings,” it must be filtered so that the children won't be exposed inadvertently to inappropriate things.
Speaking of not bringing tests and enticements into the house, it's not only about the Internet but goes way beyond that. A father who comes home with the latest phone, who plays with it and other gadgets, is conveying a dangerous message to his child. We see that babies are very drawn to cell phones and other technological devices. This is because they see their parents busy with them and they understand from this that these items are very desirable to them. A child can easily discern whether a parent uses a device only for his needs or whether it has become much more than that. When a parent conveys this message to his children, the chinuch he provides for them won't help because his actions are the opposite of their chinuch.
Children get these enticements on the street. Won’t an insular environment in the home make him more susceptible?
Absolutely. Thus, the chinuch process entails two parallel lines: 1) creating a protective fortress in the home so the child does not encounter temptations, and 2) educating the child so that when he goes out to the street, he will be immunized to what he encounters there. When the yetzer ha’ra shows a child the things on the street, the child can handle it with good chinuch, but if we bring the test into the house and there is Internet in the home and the parent himself is preoccupied with technological advances, this is no longer the yetzer ha’ra. Rather, it is placing children in constant danger with constant tests that they won't be able to withstand.
FILLING THE CHILD'S INNER WORLD WITH CHASSIDIC CONTENT
When a child does not have access to the Internet, and parents know his needs and supply them, and there is a Chassidishe atmosphere in the home, can they relax?
As long as we are talking about little children, that is enough. Their yetzer ha’ra is not so big and when you take care of their needs and don't expose them to tests within the house, they grow up healthy. A parent needs to know that if his child does not receive his emotional needs, it won't help that there is no Internet in the house. The child will look for and find places that provide him with satisfaction.
But when children are older, then their yetzer ha’ra is bigger. At this age, beyond providing for his basic needs, he needs deep tochen (content), which will fill his being and immunize him from evil things. This is done through learning Chassidus and hiskashrus to the Rebbe.
The story is told about a Chassid of the Alter Rebbe, R' Shmuel Eliezer, who was very wealthy. When he heard about the Geula of Yud-Tes Kislev, he gave all his money to the Rebbe. Afterward, Chassidim asked him why he did this. Was this a form of Thanksgiving Korban for the Rebbe being released from jail, or a Voluntary Korban that he had promised while the Rebbe had been imprisoned? The Chassid said it was neither; he had a Rebbe and he needed nothing else.
An ordinary person feels that money is what makes him a mentch or that his work makes him a mentch. But a person who has a Rebbe feels that this is what makes him a mentch, and consequently he has no need for anything else.
Pursuing taavos in the attempt to fill one's needs comes from a person not feeling satisfied since he had no inner meaning in his life. This is why he attempts to get satisfaction from all kinds of external things. Some get it from having a nice car, some from money, etc. The pursuit of these things comes from a lack of inner meaning. However, a Chassid who has a Rebbe and Chassidus has inner meaning and he does not need to pursue material things.
Surely, the Chassid who gave all his money away meant it sincerely and his intention was that when one truly lives with the Rebbe, then there is no place for other things in the world. In order to reach this state, we need to invest in Chassidishe chinuch, the chinuch in which a person lives with belief in the Rebbe, he has grown up with Chassidishe stories, and he fulfills the Rebbe's instructions. When life is filled with light and meaning, then even when faced with tests from within and without, children will have the tools to handle them and won't be fazed by the world.
In a lighter vein, we can say that these three stages are the idea of Chassid (a healthy, happy person), Yerei Shamayim (a person who is not constantly facing enticements), and lamdan (one who is constantly involved in learning Torah – Nigleh and Chassidus).
CONNECTING OUR CHILDREN TO THE REBBE
How do we generate in ourselves and in our children a deep inner feeling that the Rebbe is everything so that the Rebbe's inyanim fill our entire beings?
In order for a child to grow as a Chassid, he needs to be brought into the Chassidic world when he is young and have these ideas implanted in him from his childhood. The atmosphere in the home needs to be full of chayus and Chassidishe emuna, so that the Rebbe becomes a part of the chayus of the home. This means that the music in the home is Chassidish; the bedtime story is Chassidish; that you write a letter to the Rebbe with the children asking for a bracha; and that you share memories of having seen the Rebbe and the feelings we have today towards the Rebbe.
In general, the atmosphere and direction need to be positive with the emphasis not so much on the terrible situation, but more on what we have. The atmosphere is not negative but a positive one of Lubavitch pride in having what the rest of the world does not have – the Rebbe. We cannot teach children only that which is prohibited; they mainly need to hear what is permissible and about how fortunate we are for having a Rebbe and having Chassidus.
In the Rebbe's teachings we find an amazing thing – the fact that every kind of person can find that aspect which appeals to him. A scholar will find genius; a boy will find sichos addressing soldiers in Tzivos Hashem; a sensitive soul will find topics that appeal to his heart; a housewife will find inspiration for her work. Even a person who is not so enthusiastic about learning can watch inspiring videos. We see that when people become close to the Rebbe, it makes no difference what background they come from, they become excited. Our job is to do this for our children and get them excited about the Rebbe just as we do for any other Jew that we meet.
At the same time, we must be exceedingly careful not to disparage the faith and approach of other Chassidim, even if we personally disagree with them. All the more so, must we be careful not to belittle rabbanim, roshei yeshivos and mashpiim, even if we think they are mistaken. The message that our children may get is a dangerous one and works against the entire chinuch we are trying to implant in them, because the Rebbe demands respect for rabbanim, and the faith of Chassidim, each in his own way, is their faith in the Rebbe.
What you’re saying is clearly true and has stood the test of time, but doesn’t the Internet generation need something stronger?
The world hasn't changed; what changed is the swiftness of our reaction. In the previous generation, if a child was offended and felt bad, it took a long time until he had the opportunity to run away to another world, and usually his parents were able to see that something was wrong and had time to take corrective action. Today, the world is running at a crazy pace and there is hardly any time to fix mistakes. A child who feels he does not belong can quickly find himself in bad places, and before the parents realize it, it can be too late. So nowadays, we need to be much more on top of these three things; knowing a child's needs, avoiding bringing snares into the house, and providing a deep, Chassidishe chinuch.
Once upon a time, a Bochur was able to deteriorate spiritually in small increments, on an escalator, while today he can take the express elevator. Even a child or Bochur who is emotionally healthy and Chassidish, if faced with a test – he is in danger. It used to be that the test wasn't right in front of him and he had more time to prepare and defend himself, but today it's all instant, available and easy.
Parents need to know that despite all the chinuch, there is no chinuch in the world that can face danger if it is brought into the home through the front door. This is why it is imperative that whoever uses the Internet, and has permission to do so from a rav, makes 100% sure that his filter will prevent any unwanted tests. Even Yochanan the High Priest, after 80 years, did not withstand the test; how can we make boys face tests that they cannot withstand (especially when today there is no need to look for tests; they come to those who don't seek them)?
A CLOSE CONNECTION WITH CHILDREN
What should we do when a child leaves home and goes to learn in yeshiva?
Practically speaking, you need to ensure that he does not have a cell phone with an Internet connection, and of course you need to encourage him to immerse himself in learning Chassidus and hiskashrus to the Rebbe. It is a time to be more in tune with his needs.
What keeps a yeshiva Bochur going? Usually it is the desire to succeed and to live a normal life. What happens to a Bochur who sees that he is not successful in yeshiva, neither in his learning nor with friends? That's where trouble begins and this is where parents come into the picture. They need to be at his side and support him and not, G-d forbid, make it harder for him.
SPEAKING OPENLY WITH CHILDREN
How should a parent react when he finds out that his child was exposed to undesirable material?
In precisely the same way that he would react if he found out that his son broke his leg. On the one hand, there is great pain; on the other hand, there is getting involved and being supportive. Parents need to convey their support and empathy to their child and not their disappointment. A parent who is open enough with his child can talk about it; he can explain that this is dangerous, not just spiritually but emotionally. Even a parent who is not open enough and who does not think he can speak freely about this to his child must convey his support and caring and ask the child whom he wants to speak to. Maybe he feels more comfortable talking to a teacher or mashpia or anyone else. The main thing is not to leave him without addressing with it.
Should we tell our children about the dangers of the Internet?
Definitely. This includes those parents whose children have no access to the Internet. If we don't teach them about the dangers in the world, they won't know to be careful; and the dangers are not only physical, but spiritual and emotional. One thing is certain – sooner or later, every child will end up on the Internet. Even if we do all we can to make this impossible, the world is a big place and we can't hermetically seal away our children. This is why we must warn them.
We need to focus mainly on the danger and not so much on that which is forbidden. We should talk about the emotional and spiritual destruction that the Internet can wreak on someone who is not careful, but we don't need to focus on the details of all the kinds of dangers. Every child can understand that there are things that he is better off not having, like a child knows that the street is dangerous or that he is not old enough to drive a car. We are not talking only about Judaism but about his physical and spiritual welfare. This makes it easier for the child to accept what we say.
PROVIDING CHILDREN WITH PRIDE IN EXCELLENCE
Don't you think a child will feel bad to be the only one without Internet or a computer game?
That's a question that I expect to hear from shluchim, but I don't hear it. There is a reason for that. You would think that the children of shluchim would complain to their parents about the numerous things that all their local friends have and they don't, since they eat food with only certain hechsherim etc. In reality, the children of shluchim don't feel bad about it; on the contrary, they are proud to be more Chassidish and prohibited things are part of it.
In general, we are not speaking only about children of shluchim, just as we are not speaking only of the Internet. Every child who is being raised to be more Chassidish than the average child in his class can feel bad about it, but not if it is done in the right way.
Here too, the approach to take is through the three stages we spoke about earlier. First, making sure the child's physical and emotional needs are addressed; this will make him healthy so that he feels good and won't seek to follow other children but will want to be a leader. Second, it is vital that a child not be confused, because on the one hand he is the only one without access to the Internet, and yet, he sees his father immersed all day with his gadget. Naturally, it will be hard for him to feel good about something forbidden to him but permitted to everyone else.
Third, and perhaps the most important point, is chinuch for hiskashrus to the Rebbe. When a child grows up with pride in being a Chassid of the Rebbe, he can go through things and overcome challenges that other children cannot. A Chassidishe boy feels good when he says out loud, “In my house there is no Internet,” or “We don't use that hechsher.” Parents need to instill pride in their children for being Chassidim, and there is no need to fear excessive pride. The feeling of v'niflinu (we are differentiated) is extremely positive. It helps a child be connected and feel that he belongs to something bigger than himself and that it is worth fighting for even through tough times.
This positive pride will save us from surfing to forbidden places. The story is told about R' Binyamin Kletzker, a great Chassid of the Alter Rebbe, who was a prosperous merchant. He constantly traveled through towns, among goyim. He was once asked how he withstood the many tests he was faced with. He said, “When I contemplate that I am a Chassid of the Alter Rebbe, I realize that it is not appropriate for me not to withstand a test.”
His pride in belonging to an elite class is what saved him.
In general, when a child feels and knows that his parents care about him, it is much easier to accept things from them when they explain that something is dangerous for him and they are not giving it to him for his own good. When a child thinks that his parents don't care about him, he is likely to rebel against restrictive rules, while a child who is healthy and open with his parents will believe that they care about his welfare. It will be much easier for him to overcome desires that his parents do not grant him.
Chazal say, “I created the yetzer ha’ra; I created Torah as an antidote.” I think that this means that when speaking of the natural yetzer ha’ra that Hashem created, then Hashem also created the antidote, namely the Torah. However, the yetzer ha’ra that we ourselves create and bring upon ourselves such as inciting the yetzer ha’ra with the Internet, the antidote does not help in this case.
It is like the explanation given for what we say in the confessional prayer, “for the sin that we sinned before You with the yetzer ha’ra” – that sometimes, even the yetzer ha’ra did not think of inciting us in that way and we brought it upon ourselves.
How can a person deal with the yetzer ha’ra that he brings upon himself? That is for another article.