Bergen County Heads of School Joint Statement on Device Usage


Bergen County Heads of School Joint Statement on Device Usage
By: Rabbi Daniel Alter, Rabbi Chaim Hagler, Rabbi Jonathan Knapp, Rabbi Daniel Price, Rabbi Tomer Ronen, Rabbi Saul Zucker

We stand together in a unified communal approach to address the significant challenge of technology and social media usage among our children.

The research is unequivocal. Children's social media habits are linked to higher levels of aggression, anxiety, addiction, ADD and developmental delays. Social media conversations among our children bring out the worst in our community, are aggressive, are lacking in empathy and concern for others, and are often very inappropriate.

The following research based recommendations and best practices are designed to draw new lines on device usage and help our children navigate their online world in a healthy, safe fashion. Based on current research as well as a growing desire among our parents to address this issue, we are creating new norms and an improved social media culture for our parents and students regarding device usage.

Below are the 4 primary recommendations that we are sharing and disseminating:

What Age to Give Your Child Their Own Smartphone or Similar Digital Device? - Not Before 6th Grade!
While we recognize different approaches to this issue, we feel strongly that there should be a publicly recognized "minimum age" for our children to be given the responsibility to have their own web-enabled devices. We strongly recommend that families do their best to delay giving their children their own devices even longer than the minimum threshold described here, but we do feel strongly about advocating for a minimum age threshold of the sixth grade. For those who delay giving a child a device even longer, we applaud you.

Should a parent decide a younger child absolutely requires a mobile device for safety purposes, the device purchased should allow for calling and basic texting only and not have full internet access.

Once Your Child Has A Phone - What Parents MUST Do! A Few MUST-DOs.
The Need to Institute and Implement Real, Meaningful Controls and Restrictions.
Once your child has a full web-enabled device, responsible parents will:

  • Adopt and use parental control apps. Basic parental controls are built into almost every device or come with the basic operating software.
  • Regularly monitor children's usage through filters and active oversight of children's activities and group chats.
  • Use apps that easily enable monitoring, managing and limiting device activity.
  • Adhere to recommended age requirements for the existing social media platforms that you allow children to use.
  • Collect all of the devices at bedtime and store them in a safe place (i.e. - parents bedroom) until the morning.
  • Continue to discuss issues surrounding social media usage with your children.

Preventing Overuse & The Need to Make Our Children Disconnect:
Overuse of digital devices places children at risk for a number of complications including poorer school performance, sleep problems, and lack of physical movement and exercise. We ask and request that elementary school-aged children's devices must be shut down or inaccessible for a half hour to an hour before bedtime. Additionally, we must have device-free spaces in our homes, especially in one's bedroom. Children must understand that devices have no place at social gatherings where face to face interaction is expected. This includes playdates, sleepovers, and parties.

Last But Not Least - A Call For Changing Parent Behavior and Parent Modeling For Our Kids:
Without question, our children model what they see their parents do and device usage is no exception. We are calling today for parents to serve as ''media mentors" for younger children by serving as role models and guides. Parents must also limit their own device time, not in an excessive fashion, but at designated times such as meal times, carpools and family activities. For some families, creating a personalized family media plan can also demonstrate a shared commitment to healthy digital behavior and will have a positive impact on children. Research indicates that parents who are immersed in their devices are often short with their children or unaware of what is going on around them.
Each of us, as school leaders and parents ourselves, are deeply committed to the growth and success of our children. We believe there is a need to aim higher and push harder both within and without the walls of our schools when it comes to our personal devices. All that we wrote above is largely an appeal to you, our parents and school community, to help us "move the needle" on how all of us view and treat the devices we carry today.

Join us in this community-wide effort and stay tuned for events and other initiatives led by each of us and our schools to advance and further this mission.

Click here for the video: A Joint Statement on Device Usage from the Bergen County Elementary School Heads of School 

About the Authors:

Rabbi Daniel Alter is the Head of School at the Moriah School in Englewood NJ.  He was previously the founding Rabbi of the DAT Minyan, a Modern Orthodox Shul in Denver Colorado, and the Head of School of the DAT school, where he founded a new high school as an extension of the existing elementary school.  He lives in Bergenfield, NJ with his wife and seven children.

Rabbi Chaim Hagler is the founding Head of School of Yeshivat Noam, founded in 2001. Rabbi Hagler graduated from Yeshiva College and received a Master’s degree in Education from the Azrieli Graduate School, and Semicha from Yeshiva University.  Prior to being named principal of Yeshivat Noam, Rabbi Hagler was Headmaster of the Ramaz Lower School in New York.  Previously, he served as Director of Judaic Studies at the Hebrew Academy of Montreal and had taught at SAR in Riverdale, NY.  Rabbi Hagler believes in the importance of getting to know his students and establishing meaningful relationships with them. Rabbi Hagler and his wife, Chavie, live in Bergenfield with their five children.

A thoughtful and inspirational leader and educator, Rabbi Jonathan Knapp has been the Principal and Head of School at Yavneh Academy since 2006. His visionary approach to Jewish education and his warm and welcoming manner enrich the Yavneh family. Rabbi Knapp previously served as assistant principal of Judaic studies at Yavneh, supervising all aspects of the Judaic studies program, working with the teachers on enhancing the curriculum and monitoring student growth. Before joining the Yavneh community, Rabbi Knapp served as the director of student activities and as director of student life at the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston, NJ. Rabbi Knapp graduated from Yeshiva University with a bachelor’s degree in economics, and he holds a master’s degree from Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education. He has presented on contemporary topics in Jewish education and moderated at many conferences organized by PEJE, the Orthodox Union and Yeshiva University, among others.  

Rabbi Daniel Price has been the Head of School of RYNJ for the past 7 years and oversees every aspect of the Yeshiva. A passionate and strong educator Rabbi Price leads by example. Rabbi Price is dedicated to the success of every child and making sure that their religious, social and emotional needs are met both in and out of the classroom. Before joining the RYNJ family, Rabbi Price was a Rebbe and Middle School Assistant Principal at the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston, NJ. Rabbi Price graduated from Yeshiva University's Sy Syms School of Business with a bachelors degree in Management Information Systems, has Semicha from Yeshiva University's RIETS, and holds a masters degree from Yeshiva University's Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education. Rabbi Price is a sought after speaker and lectures on topics relating to Jewish education, parenting and Tefila.    

A highly respected leader both locally and nationally, Rav Tomer Ronen has over 20 years of experience in Jewish education. Originally from Rechovot, Israel, Rav Ronen began his career in the United States as a teacher and Junior High School Coordinator at SAR Academy in Riverdale, NY.  Following SAR, he held the position of Rosh HaYeshiva at Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus, N.J. for ten years. In the beginning of the 2016/2017 school year, Rav Ronen joined Yeshivat He’Atid as Head of School. His devotion towards Jewish education shines through in all that he does and to all those around him.  He continually looks for innovative and progressive ways to excite children in learning. His passion to infuse his students with hebrew language immersion and to bring a love of Eretz Yisrael to the classroom is evident through the programming he develops and the Shlichim that join his school each year.  He is well-known for his ability to form authentic, lasting relationships with students, parents and his staff.
With the success Yeshivat He’Atid is seeing through the academic growth of their students, Rav Ronen’s larger vision and goal is to bring Yeshivat He’Atid’s educational model to those communities across the United States who feel passionately about providing their children with a high quality academic Jewish education in an affordable manner.

Rabbi Saul Zucker has had the privilege of working in Jewish educational administration for more than thirty years.  He has two semikhot, from Yeshiva Bnei Torah and from HaRav HaDayan Meir Gruenburg, zt"l, as well as a Masters Degree from the University of Washington School of Education. In addition, he has completed all doctoral coursework at the Azrieli Graduate Institute of Yeshiva University.  Rabbi Zucker is passionate about educational methodology and students' skills development, and takes great enjoyment in seeing students grow so much beyond their own expectations.