Published in The Jerusalem Post on April 19, 1998
If our children get any more technologically adept, pretty soon we’ll have to pray for a electrical blackout in order to get in a word edgewise with our kids.
That’s the picture which emerges from a series of worrying new studies on the lifestyles of Israeli teenagers. The studies describe a generation that is growing up locked away in individual bedrooms, eyes glued to a TV or computer screen, ears isolated from parental exhortations by a set of large, padded headphones, and mouths never more than two centimeters away from a telephone mouthpiece.
You see, 72 percent of our kids have their own stereo systems, and most are playing Backstreet Boys or Spice Girls. The most up-to-date surveys also tell us that an amazing 51 percent of teenagers now have their own computer, as well. The CD-ROM on these top-of-the-line machines is playing primarily games of destruction and science fiction fantasy like Age of Empire, Total Annihilation, Doom, Quake and Mow’em Down.
Thirteen percent of youth even have their own Internet accounts, which they use primarily to visit chat sites, or cruise the web sites for kids TV stars Yael Bar-Zohar and Cindy Bar.
Forty-five percent of our young, future leaders have their own TV set in their rooms, the same surveys tell us, tuned for an average of 2.5 hours a day to Yatzpan, Ramat Aviv Gimmel, and the Chartzufim. Thirty-three percent of our youth have their own pelephone (so that Mom can call them in their bedrooms?), and 25 percent have a dedicated phone line in their rooms.
The number of teenagers participant in youth groups, community or sports center, or library activities is rapidly dropping (less than 35 percent), as well. That would require teenagers to venture beyond the bedroom! And there’s usually no music disk or video outlets in these places.
Parents need to know and think carefully about all this. Don’t underestimate the power of self-operated hi-tech entertainment, because today’s youth heroes come from the world of computers and TV — not the ballpark, the older guys in the neighborhood or the youth group madrich.
There’s little inter-personal communication involved here, because stereos and e-mail accounts are run out the bedroom, not the playground. And our kids become ever more exposed to everything early on – not only sex and violence, but consumerism and materialism too, which dominate the electronic media.
Well, at least kids magazines and books are still popular, you say. Not exactly. The average teenager spends only 48 minutes a day reading, with the most popular books being a horror story series called “Tzmarmoret” or sci-fi horror fantasies. * Maariv Lanoar * magazine is doing very well, but Cindy Bar in underwear adorns this week’s cover, and most of the content is similar pop pulp, with little educational value.
Two researchers at Haifa University’s education department, Orit Eshbal and Ella Alexandri, recently dissected and deconstructed Israeli children’s magazines, with distressing results. These magazines, they write, do their best not to educate their young readerships toward anything. They try hard to keep the language shallow and content low-brow, promote materialism and affluence, and glorify life in the fast lane.
Everything in these children’s periodicals revolves around the present tense, with no references to the past (such as Zionist or Jewish history) and no thought of the future. “Multiculturalism” is sanctified, meaning that there are practically no references to Israel, to Jewish holidays or even to the Middle East. There are no pictures of Israeli landscapes, and no references to quality Hebrew literature. Everyone in the magazines is young, with few references to grown-ups or families as significant values.
Reviewing these findings in Haaretz, a commentator lamented that in these magazines “competitiveness is glorified, prying is encouraged, television is venerated. And the main message is: anything goes. Nothing can be dictated. There are no absolute truths.”
And I ask: Can’t better magazines be produced for Israeli children? Don’t we want our kids to go to the old-fashioned library, where educated librarians choose the books and help kids make intelligent choices? Isn’t there some decent community goodworks or volunteerism that teenagers ought to be involved in? And how about a little values or current affairs discussion around the dinner table (– that’s in the dining room, not the bedroom)?
Do we really want our kids growing up in a virtual entertainment world over which we have no control? Should half of our kids be getting their own televisions? Isn’t it time, so to speak, to pull the plug?