Our Children's WhatsApp Culture: An Educational Look


Source: Eye on Education no. 14


Current data suggests that the average Israeli teenager receives some 1500 WhatsApp messages a day. In other words, the teen’s electronic device beeps about 1500 times a day, and each time, he stops doing whatever it is he happens to be doing (reading, talking to a friend, studying, etc.) in order to discover the answer to that urgent question: Who just posted an erudite thought which often ends with the letters “LOL”?


Let me be clear: I have nothing against people who use WhatsApp, but I am very concerned about those who allow WhatsApp to use them. Instead of taking advantage of a helpful tool, they are controlled by it. Or, more precisely, they have subjugated themselves to an anonymous friend who may have written something clever, and they worry that they are not the first one to post a witty response.


But the matter does not end there. I recently asked a group of (Religious Zionist) teens a simple question: “What is the last thing you do before going to bed: (a) take a shower, (b) put on pajamas, (c) recite Kriat Shema, or (d) check to see if a WhatsApp message arrived during the other activities?” Ninety per cent of the smartphone owners responded that the last thing they do before going to bed (and the first thing they do in the morning...) is check WhatsApp or Facebook on their cell phones.


Simply put, the device no longer serves man but rather causes many to lose their individuality. They permit it to invade their own intimate, personal space, in the minutes before bedtime, when a free man reads in peace and quiet or thinks about and even contemplates his day and his world….



As always, we should distinguish between practical suggestions and a deeper, thoughtful approach to the issue. The practical suggestions are simple. For instance, one can encourage teenagers to purchase alarm clocks, turn off their smartphones at night, and put them away in a drawer. They can thus liberate themselves from the device’s demanding beeps and dedicate a few minutes to their own needs. Actually, they do not have to wait for bedtime. Turning off the phone two hours earlier ensures that one’s daily schedule includes a set time when one is not “available” to the entire world and when one can pay attention to oneself and one’s personal spiritual world. In fact, this idea would not hurt the many adults who also sleep with their smartphones next to their heads “as an alarm clock.” In addition, one should turn off the automatic tone that indicates that a new message has arrived. In this way, the phone’s owner regains control of his time, because he is able to decide for himself when to read all his incoming messages at once (as long as he is not “addicted” and feels compelled to check his messages every five minutes.)…


For this reason, at the beginning of the very first chapter of the Shulchan Aruch, the Rama teaches that man’s role in this world is encompassed by the pasuk:
“I have placed Hashem before me always” - Tehilim 16:8). Before delving into the specifics of all the other halachot, one must first choose a primary objective and decide where one is headed. In contrast, when one instead opts for a situation best described as “I have placed my iPhone before me always,” one squanders one’s life and surrenders one’s individuality.


We must silence the call of the incoming WhatsApp messages (or incoming emails, for adults) in order to hear the great call that implores us to be faithful to ourselves, to our path, and – mostly - to our Creator. We must heed the eternal call of "Ayekah?" ” (“where are you?” – Breishit 3:9).

Read the entire article at Eye on Education.

Updated: Mar. 02, 2014