The following are excerpts from an interview with Rabbi Twerski on a CD called Caught in the Web produced by Torah Umesorah in 2007.
Internet Addiction — Early Exposure
It’s important to realize that we are facing a very significant and perhaps major epidemic that is affecting all levels of the population. It is causing great harm in marriages and it is affecting young people particularly, in a very harmful way.
One has to remember that when a child watches inappropriate material (when I say a child it could be anywhere from ages eight to eighteen, and of course older as well), it is not a single event. A youngster who gets interested in this material very often follows it up with repeated viewings either at his own home, or at the library, or at a friend’s house. And it’s time that we get over the denial that this would not happen to our children. It can happen anywhere. It happens in the finest families.
If we get the blindness off our eyes and realize what’s out there, and realize that it is not getting better from day to day but it is getting worse from day to day — that there are people out there that are making hundreds of millions of dollars exploiting our children with their objectionable material on the Internet. They are profiting from your children’s ruination. We can’t allow that to happen!
One may think that viewing inappropriate material is only a moral issue, maybe a religious issue, but it has to be understood as a psychological issue as well. Men and women grow up, or should grow up, with a healthy attitude toward a husband-wife relationship. There are countless cases of where terrible distortions have occurred, and this can cause a ripple effect through the marriage and the family. And the kinds of things that are conveyed by inappropriate material on the Internet are the kind of things that can stay with a person for months and years after he has seen them, and it can have a very profound negative effect.
The Attitude to Imbue
The only effective way to really stop this epidemic is not with technological methods, but with the development of the attitude, “I am too good to let this happen to me.” We do not go for such things. This is absolutely obnoxious and odious!
Take these words to heart seriously. Develop an attitude in your home that the children should feel so proud of themselves, so proud of their heritage, so proud of their dignity, that they will not allow themselves to be tarnished by objectionable, immoral material.
When a seventy-five-year-old man discovers a fly in his soup, he puts the whole plate away — he’s not going to eat it. Well, whatever made him think that a fly is so disgusting? After all, little infants who are five or six months old will put insects in their mouths. But what happens when the infant puts insects in his mouth? The mother has a horrible reaction, she goes into convulsion and screams about how ugly that is. And that impression remains with him throughout his life.
That’s the kind of attitude that we ought to convey to our children. Objectionable material is absolutely disgusting and it is something that a person with dignity and pride would never allow himself to indulge in.
Blockers Are Not Enough
Various efforts to try to block out the kinds of things that you don’t want children to see are unreliable, and not only are they unreliable, but [if the parent uses them only to block the children’s access but not their own], they are unwise as well. Many people, who understandably want to avoid a speeding ticket, have a radar detector on their car. A radar detector is a very powerful message to the children — that it is all right to violate and break the law, just make sure you don’t get caught! And it’s a bad message. We have to teach children respect for the law without the fear of being caught. This applies to everything, as well as to the Internet.
A friend of mine told me that he had an altercation with his eleven-year-old son. They were watching television and something came up that he thought was improper for the son to see and he asked him to leave the room and the youngster said “No way.” So, the father had to get up and drag the boy out of the room. And I told him that he had made a serious mistake. Because what he should have done is go over to the television and turn it off and say we do not allow this kind of trash in our home. The way he did it, gave the youngster a message this is not good for children, it’s only good for Daddy and Mommy.
Relationship with Our Children
The Internet problem, as great as it is, is largely a question of parents’ relationship with their children. It’s important to know not only what children read, not only who their friends are, but parents should have a strong interest in their children. They ought to take out time that the children should know this time is for the child. Now I know you have to be at the office and you have to work all the hours, I understand that very well, but we have to prioritize. Our children are our greatest priority.
And let me tell you an interesting finding that came about several years ago. A group of researchers interviewed hundreds of families. Families in which there were children and youngsters who had behavioral problems of one kind or another, and they interviewed many families in which there were no such problems. And they sent all of the data into computers to see whether the computer could pick up any prominent feature that distinguished the two groups. The surprising feature was that the healthier families had more shared meal time — family meal time, together. Now, no one would have thought that this is was important, but when families eat together, and they communicate to each other and do so in a pleasant setting, and do so frequently, I think that creates a strong bond between parents and children.
We have to give our children enough time so that we can find out what is going on in their inner world. And that is the important thing. We all have an inner and an outer world. Children want to be understood. They want their parents to understand them. And I think the greatest gift that a parent can give to a child is the time that the parent gives to have a close relationship with him or her. Now if the parent is so involved with his job or profession, whatever, that he cannot give the child the time that the child needs, the message that the child is getting is, “I will work to buy things for you and to give you economical support because that is important. But I cannot give you myself, because that is not important.” And that is a very serious message to give to the children.