Progressively Speaking: Is JFS right to ban mobiles for mental health reasons?

Progressively Speaking: Is JFS right to ban mobiles for mental health reasons?

Rabbi Charley Baginsky takes a topical issue and applies a progressive Jewish response

An iPhone
An iPhone

As both a rabbi and a parent, I find myself agreeing fully with the decision by JFS to ban mobile phones.

The school’s new head introduced the policy at the start of the month in the interest of the “mental health and well-being of children”.

A recent visit by Jami – the mental health service for the Jewish community – to a joint meeting of Liberal Judaism and Reform Judaism rabbis really brought home the reasons why this is so important.

Over the last few years, mental health has become much more of a focus for us all.

We now know how smartphone and/or social media addiction can lead to depression and self-harm.

We also know that half of all mental health problems are established by the age of 14 and 75% of them by the time someone turns 24 – which is why positive action within schools and homes at a young age is so vital.

Of course, mobile phones are an important part of everyday life in 2018, as is social media – which Liberal Judaism uses for everything from keeping our members informed on service times to live-streaming our recent Biennial Weekend.

But everything has its place and should be used in moderation.

Putting our mobile phone away for periods of the day, and concentrating on the people and places around us, is something all of us could learn from, whatever our age.

It ties into the Jewish ideal of l’havidil – which means making a clear distinction or separation.

It is something that can be seen most clearly in the Havdalah ceremony, which marks the end of Shabbat, separating our holy day from the rest of the week.

Imagine all that we could achieve if we took l’havidil into our own everyday lives, marking out clear periods where we weren’t to be distracted by our smartphones and instead using that time to focus on the people and things we really love.

That sort of role-modelling would then have a powerful effect on our children and those around us.

The ideal situation would not be JFS having to ban phones, but students volunteering to lock them away at the start of the school day because they want to.

  •   Charley Baginsky is Liberal Judaism’s director of strategy and partnerships
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