In 2011, I heard about the phenomenon of Half- Shabbat and wrote about it in my blog. I actually had heard about the existence of this behavior some time before that. The first time I heard about it I could not imagine what it meant. Is it sort of like keeping 1 and ½ days of Yom Tov in Eretz Yisrael if you are American? Not quite.
It is when someone in public appears to keep all the laws of Shabbat, goes to shul etc., except that he texts his other friends who are “half-Shabbat” observers on Shabbat or engages on social media use. This phenomenon exists in every stream of Orthodox Judaism from the east to the west coast. Why does this happen? How could this happen? How could it be that children growing up in Shomer Shabbat homes and going to Yeshivot all their lives could lose the meaning of Shabbat? What are we doing wrong? I, personally, was devastated. (The focus of my blog then was how to make Shabbat more meaningful- still relevant today).
Fast-forwarding to years later, I wondered if this phenomenon was still as prevalent as it seemed to be then. I imagine it is still out there. Although I did not find any articles from 2016, in a 2014 article in Tablet by Shira Telushkin, called “Shabbat Is A Day Of Rest- But Does That Mean I Can’t Text My Friends,” Telushkin deems half- Shabbat as still widespread.
“He is a typical Modern Orthodox teenager from Boston. He comes from a religious family, attends Maimonides High School during the year, and spends summers at a Modern Orthodox camp. He is well-versed in his community’s prohibitions against using technology on Shabbat, but sometimes, he told me, on Saturday afternoons he and his friends ‘get so bored.’ That’s when their cell phones come out, in the privacy of bedrooms or basements, away from parents and other community members.
‘In the future I would definitely like a day of rest without technology,’ said the teenager who, like most students I interviewed for this article, asked that his name not be used, as his parents don’t know he uses his phone—or turns on lights in his room, or writes in his notebook—on Shabbat. ‘It’s not healthy to be so obsessed with social media. It’s not a necessity, it’s not water, it’s not air.’ But for now, he has no plans to keep his phone off throughout Shabbat.”
Even this young boy admitted he is “obsessed with social media.” It is an obsession. A 2011 story in The Jewish Week claimed that 50% of Modern Orthodox teens keep half-Shabbat, although others maintained it is closer to 17%.
I revisit this topic because, as Telushkin notes, half-Shabbat simply mirrors broader society where “teenagers are addicted to cellphones, they don’t know how to live without their devices, and the peer pressure to stay socially aware at all times is unbearable.” Although Telushkin maintains that she does not believe it is as common as those fear, she does quote a high school student who said she is “‘dying from the guilt’ of breaking Shabbat, but she can’t stop.” Sounds like an addiction to me.
The reason why there is this addiction is clear. Almost all teens have smartphones, and checking on social media and or texting can be “quick and discreet.” And, most sleep near their cellphones so they are aware of them all day. In the Jewish Week’s 2011 article they note that this addiction is painful for the adults as well, (aside from their having their own addiction). “Rabbi Perton said his day school recently tried to enforce a ban on using cell phones during school hours, ‘When we did take away a phone,’ he said, ‘the amount of pain the student was in was literally unbearable. The parents would beg and scream because they were getting it at home from their kid and just wanted to end their own misery. If the students and their parents lose their equilibrium when a phone is taken away for a week, can such a child stop on Shabbos?’ the rabbi asks. ‘I hope so, but do not know.’”
Chani, interviewed in that article said she started texting on Shabbat because “I was just so bored on Shabbat- I had nothing to do.” That boredom is a reason that sets in- similar to the high schooler’s comment above.
This “technology addiction” prompted a study by Common Sense Media, an organization dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology. They “ empower parents, teachers, and policymakers by providing unbiased information, trusted advice, and innovative tools to help them harness the power of media and technology as a positive force in all kids’ lives.” I’ve mentioned Common Sense Media before as they are my go to before I allow my children to watch any movie, tv show etc., as they rate each of them. Additionally, they have educational information for parents and teachers related to technology.
50% of teens feel they are addicted to their mobile devices, according to the Common Sense Media study. 59% of parents said their children were addicted. 80% of teens said they checked their phones hourly and 72% said they felt the need to immediately respond to texts and social networking messages. 36% of parents said they argued with their children daily about device use. 77% of parents feel their children get distracted by their devices and do not pay attention when they are together, at least a few times each week. (Stay tuned to next week’s column when I speak more about the Common Sense Media survey).
We know this addiction is not limited to children. In fact the DSM-5, which establishes mental health disorders, listed “Internet Gaming Disorder” as a possible addition for a future DSM. In summary, the diagnostic criteria for Internet Gaming Disorder include:
1. Repetitive use of Internet-based games, often with other players, that leads to significant issues with functioning. Five of the following criteria must be met within one year:
- Preoccupation or obsession with Internet games.
- Withdrawal symptoms when not playing Internet games.
- A buildup of tolerance–more time needs to be spent playing the games.
- The person has tried to stop or curb playing Internet games, but has failed to do so.
- The person has had a loss of interest in other life activities, such as hobbies.
- A person has had continued overuse of Internet games even with the knowledge of how much they impact a person’s life.
- The person lied to others about his or her Internet game usage.
- The person uses Internet games to relieve anxiety or guilt–it’s a way to escape.
- The person has lost or put at risk and opportunity or relationship because of Internet games.
Although technology is not a drug, and therefore the addiction is not exactly “chemical,” “addicts” can become withdrawn, lost and depressed. Sergio Diazgranados, in his article on Technology addiction, points to that boredom as one reason why the addiction is on the rise. We are thirsting the stimulation that technology provides. We are also seeking an escape from the stress of real life.
What we do know is that in a Common Sense Media survey of Americans ages 8-18, children report that outside of school and homework tweens (ages 8-12) spend almost six hours per day and teens spend almost nine hours per day using media. “Some would point to the sheer number of hours as evidence of an addiction.”
What might be the negative repercussions of this addiction? My column next week will outline some of those impacts. If this week’s column does not yet entice you to attend our December 12th workshop on “Setting Boundaries And Balancing Technology Use For Your Child” presented by Dr. Eli Shaprio, I hope that next week’s column will convince you.
Sixth Grade: We began the unit “Hey Dude, That’s Rude” with discussion of some commonly accepted, yet difficult, etiquette rules.
Seventh Grade: What are the steps of empathy? Students were trained in empathy exercises.Eighth Grade: Students completed their “Self-evaluation” forms where they shared with administrators the activities and talents they have about which we might not know. We then discussed how the election, with a tone of disrespect, might have impacted on Americans and how are we doing at creating an atmosphere of respect in Yavneh Academy.