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Information Overload

About a hundred years ago, the sphere of knowledge for the average child was extremely limited. Children knew little of the world beyond their home and neighborhood. A child who was lucky enough to complete elementary school was considered quite the scholar.

Thanks to the communication revolution of the past century, even children have access to unlimited knowledge. A child at age 8 now has his mind filled with far more ideas than middle-aged adults once had. However, the problem is that while a child's knowledge base may have expanded, his maturity and ability to integrate it all has not.

The various forms of media do not necessarily filter what they feed our children. A great deal of what our children absorb might be foolish at best, harmful and dangerous at worst. Children are like sponges; a child exposed to material he is not equipped to handle cognitively or emotionally is at risk of psychological damage.

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There are parents who simply throw up their hands and say that it's impossible to cope with the flood of information. There's no way to stand over them and try to control everything they might see or be exposed to. And that may be true, to a certain extent – children cannot be sheltered indefinitely, and we need to acknowledge the realities of the world we live in. However, that does not absolve us, as parents and educators, of the responsibility to monitor what our children learn to ensure that it is appropriate for them. We also must be prepared to discuss and explain what they see.

At the same time, we cannot simply restrict our children's access to any type of media. We need to ensure that their minds and souls are filled with nourishing, enlightening, educational, and, yes, interesting material. A child will not grow or thrive in a vacuum. We need to fill the vacuum before the shmutz of the world fills it instead. Of course, appropriate educational materials for children do not serve solely as preventive medicine. In and of themselves, they are invaluable to prepare our children for a life of meaning, values and integrity.

 

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The Lubavitcher Rebbe sees the rapid progress of media and technology, especially in the effects they have on youth, as a fulfillment of the age-old prophecy: "Youth will put their elders to shame." The rapid turnover of modern society gives a great deal of power to the youth; however, as adults we have the responsibility to teach the youth to harness that power so that they will "put us to shame" in a positive way – through using their energy and drive to change the world in a meaningful way.

The Rebbe ties this prophecy in with a story told of the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dovber (the Rebbe Rashab), who was born on the 20th of Cheshvan, 150 years ago. As a child of four or five years old, he learned in the Torah portion of Vayera that G-d appeared to Abraham after he circumcised himself. He went to his grandfather and burst into tears: "Why did G-d appear to Abraham and not to me?"

It is in our hands, the Rebbe taught us, to educate our children in the same manner, that they will long for a revelation of G-dliness to the point of tears. This all depends on the atmosphere that we, as parents and educators, create for them.
 

 


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