Give this to your child instead of a smartphone

“Does your school provide iPads in the classroom?” It sounded more like an accusation than a question and I was on the back foot. My mind scrambled to defend Jewish Orthodoxy from the scathing accusation of non-progressiveness, but I realised I would have to admit that my kids still learn from books.

Society is obsessed with gadgetry. We text as we talk, Instagram while we walk and Facebook during meals. Not too long ago, families could take the phone off the hook at mealtimes. Today, your only respite is a Wi-Fi outage. Toddlers swipe before they speak and soon after they learn to talk, they opt to text instead.

We egg them on, of course. We download kiddie apps to sing Old MacDonald and to teach our children numbers and colours in our place. We supply our children with smartphones and tablets in junior school and we expect their teachers to up-skill them in the use of technology (which makes little sense, considering that most kids are more fluent in technology than adults). There is an urgency and obsession to thrust our children into the cyber-reality, because “they say” that is where the future lies, and we’d hate for our munchkins to fall behind the curve.

Parents want their children to have the best opportunities possible. We know that. And the push for kids to master the cutting edge of progress is nothing new. In fact, one of the earliest protagonists of this parenting-style was the Biblical character, Og. Og, the giant, first appears in the Torah as a contemporary of Abraham. He later pops up during the time of Moses. Og was king of Bashan, a mighty nation that the Jews conquered before entering the Promised Land.

In an subtle reference, the Torah alludes to Og’s parenting philosophy, one that may sound familiar to 21st Century parents. It has to do with his bed. Og has a supersized bed made of iron. The Torah calls it an “eres (ערס)“, which relates to the Hebrew word for a baby’s crib, an “arisah (עריסה)“. Scripture doesn’t waste words on decor, so there must be a coded message in that description. It turns out that Og wanted babies to experience iron from day dot. Back then, iron was cutting-edge technology. Og believed that every child needed early exposure to that important technology in order to succeed in life.

Og had already aired strong views on child-rearing Abraham’s banquet to celebrate Isaac’s birth. There Og had commented that he saw no future in Abraham’s heir-apparent. To him, a child brought up to follow an abstract value-system, based on belief in an invisible deity could never amount to much. Og boasted that his pragmatic legacy would outlast and overpower Abraham’s idealism.

Initially, his theory seemed to work. Og became king of a mighty nation, conquered many armies and enjoyed widespread renown. He likely scoffed at how Abraham’s descendants eventually escaped centuries of slavery, only to wander aimlessly for decades in the wilderness.

Og was a big-shot in his time, but his powerful legacy died with him. You will never meet someone named Og. Bashan ceased to exist over 3000 years ago. Ironically, the man who had pegged his success on the power of iron, was felled by an iron blade.

Today we still have Avrahams. And Yitzchaks. And Moshes. Our abstract religion, dedicated to an intangible G-d, lives on in just about every country in the world and has become the basis for the moral fabric of most societies.

Og argued for keeping up with the times; Jews have outlasted the times.

By all means, let your child enjoy a smartphone or tablet. But, don’t convince yourself that the forefront of today’s technology will guarantee your children’s future success. Apple and Android will one day follow the path of the typewriter and the Polaroid. You’d do better to offer your child an appreciation of Higher Authority, a sense of purpose and clearly defined values.

No, my school does not have iPads in the classroom. But, it does offer my children something far superior to modernity: Eternity.

Inspired by an insight of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

About the Author
Rabbi Shishler together with his wife, Naomi and their eight children, runs Chabad of Strathavon in Sandton, South Africa. Rabbi Shishler is a popular teacher who regularly lectures around the globe. he hosts a weekly radio show in South Africa and is the rabbi of Facebook's largest Ask the Rabbi group.
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