Tonight’s Meet a Moms, Ariella Feldman and Jessica Hirsch, are the Executive Directors and Greenwich Chapter Leads of OK to Delay, a grassroots movement to protect middle school from smartphones and social media. Their mission is to unite parents who share a growing concern about the effects of early and excessive use of social media and smartphones.
Ariella and Jessica are dedicated to building a community of informed and empowered parents who will delay giving their kids smartphones, and reverse the devastating trends we are seeing with teen mental health.
They share their personal backgrounds and why they are passionate about this project as well as some useful data for their mission.
Can you please tell us a bit about yourself personally? Names/ages of kids, etc.?
My name is Jessica Hirsch, and I live with my husband Adam and our two daughters, Lucie (7) and Millie (5).
My name is Ariella Feldman, and I live with my husband Steven and two kids – Avia (7.5) and Nathaniel (5)
Where do you live in Greenwich and what do you love about Greenwich and your neighborhood/ what made you decide to move there/ how long have you been there?
Jessica: We live in Riverside. We moved here in the summer of 2019 from the Upper East Side of Manhattan. We were always keen on Riverside, because we love how it is close to downtown Greenwich, but also close to Todds Point. We love the small town vibe of it, while it remains one neighborhood in an actually quite large town, which we really appreciate.
Ariella: We are both originally from NY, and moved to mid-country Greenwich in 2021 after spending a decade in Los Angeles. Although we lived in the dreamiest place in LA (the Pacific Palisades), during Covid, we realized we ultimately wanted to raise our kids on the East Coast because we missed the emotions and traditions that changing seasons bring. When we discovered Greenwich through Youtube videos during Covid lockdown with its New England charm, nature and family oriented culture, we bought a house within a couple of months and never looked back!
For those of us who aren’t familiar, please tell us about OK to Delay and your inspiration behind starting a Greenwich chapter?
OK to Delay is a grassroots movement to unite parents who share a growing concern regarding the negative effects of early and excessive smartphone use along with the implications of early use of social media. We are excited to host community events on this topic featuring excellent and qualified guest speakers such as parenting coaches, child psychologists, doctors, law enforcement, and even kids and tweens in our town who do not have a smartphone yet and can speak to their experiences.
We (Ariella and Jess) became fast friends when our youngest children were together in Preschool at Chabad Greenwich, and we bonded over our shared passion for giving our kids a slow childhood and all the benefits it offers. We knew we weren’t alone in our concerns, and we felt that it was important to link together parents who wanted to hold off on the smartphone but who were perhaps too nervous to do it due to their fears that their child would be the only one without and left out. And for those parents who think “I haven’t even begun to think about this yet”, we also wanted to reach them. Once we read the data, we could never unlearn what we had learned.
Can you please share about your professional background and career highlights? How have they helped in your mission to form OK to Delay?
Ariella: In 2021, I left Meta after 4 years of building video experiences and the creator community on Facebook and Instagram. Once I learned the chilling data on social media and smartphone addiction, I no longer felt that I could spend my career at META no matter how fun it was to be part of the company. To be clear, META and other social media companies are always going to be pursuing strategies to attract younger audiences and make them spend as much time as possible on the platforms because that is how they make money. After having two growing kids, I realized that I couldn’t be part of that.
In terms of other career highlights, my college dream was to be a human rights attorney and so I went to law school. Once I started working in corporate law (because realistically I had to pay off loans, and human rights work didn’t allow for that), I discovered that rather than reading and writing all day in an office alone, I really would love to build new things that bring people joy. And so, I left the law and went into tech. Before I worked at META, I had started a venture backed beauty ecommerce-media company called VIOLET GREY, now owned/operated by Farfetch.
Jess: I have my masters degree in Public Health from NYU. I spent some years working in the non profit sector, and in at risk communities throughout Brooklyn and the Bronx. During those years, not only was I not yet a mother, I was still using a blackberry phone. Email had just made it onto my phone, and I can remember when facebook was able to be downloaded onto my phone. It was a very different world. I think not my career, but having children was what really put this issue front and center for me. By the time our oldest was 18 months I had enrolled her in a “forest school” (not actually school, but a weekly 90 min class) in central park. I did a lot of reading. “Last child in the woods” by Richard Louv, “There’s no such thing as bad weather” by Linda Akeson McGurk and more. From there, I found the 1,000 hours outside challenge which is a national movement that has you making a goal to spend 1,000 hours outside with your kids in nature in one year. Our family did the challenge in 2021 and finished with 1,023 hours. Reading about the importance of kids having time to engage in imaginative play outside, and really diving into the outdoor challenge I think is what put me on the path that would eventually find me here with Ariella. It was an inevitable next step as our kids are growing older.
What is your best piece of advice as to how to speak to your kids about delaying cell phone use?
Jess: When the time comes for us, we plan to use age appropriate honesty. We don’t want to make our children afraid of the internet, but we want them to appreciate that not having a smartphone too young is not a punishment, but rather a gift. I plan to share the data, and (if appropriate) show the documentaries on the subject (“The social dilemma” and “screenagers”). I think, and I’ve been told by families who are already doing this, that life really does go on once the decision has been made.
Ariella: Completely agree with Jess, and to add, setting healthy screen habits and modeling appropriate behavior starts when kids are very young before the cell phone conversation. For example, I would recommend setting the precedent that tech does not belong when we are in a social atmosphere meant to be engaging with others such as at the dinner table, hanging out with friends/family, or at a team practice. I would also think about your own tech usage and model the behavior you eventually want to see in your children. It is really hard not to check text messages right when they come in, but I have established that when I am supposed to be engaging with my family, I usually silence my text messages and only check them once in a while. Or, if I need to be checking my phone for a special reason, I let my kids know by telling them – sorry mom is on the phone right now a lot because I am waiting for an important email/text/call about x. I would also recommend having certain cut off points for technology such as the 1-2 hours before bedtime because eventually that is a rule you would want to set for your teenager who has access to a cell phone.
Have you had this conversation yet with your own children?
Jess: Our girls have not yet asked about phones or when they can have one. They seem to be (so far) blissfully unaware, but they are still young and I know the time will come and probably sooner than I’d like to think!
Ariella: Yes, we have begun to talk about technology, its addictive qualities and how it causes people to miss out on real life experiences.. About a year ago, when my daughter was in 1st grade, I began pointing out to her when we see young kids sitting at a restaurant dinner table staring at their phones/iPads and not speaking with other friends/family, or when we see kids on vacation on their phones in the pool. She now sees it herself all over the place and has said to me that it looks really boring and sad.
What are some of the most compelling data points for delaying?
There are a lot of reasons to delay. At our first event we highlighted 8 of them:
(1) A changing childhood
(2) academic distraction
(3) the addictive component/dopamine effect on the adolescent brain
(4) impairing of sleep
(6) sexual content
(7) interference with relationships
(8) mental health.
Some of the most compelling data for anyone new to this topic is probably on the mental health component. Some large studies have come out just this year that concluded the more time teens/young adults spend on social media and screens, the more likely they are to feel depressed, lonely, anxious, and even consider suicide. Another study by Sapien labs this year highlighted a connection between the age of first smartphone and mental wellbeing outcomes. That study went viral. The conclusion was the relationship between mental wellbeing at age 18-24 and age of first smartphone acquisition remained significant, even in those with no traumatic or adverse childhood experience. The percentages of females experiencing mental health challenges decreased from 74% for those who received their first smartphone at age 6, to 46% for those who received it at 18. For males, the percentages declined from 42% to 36%. For anyone who attends our events, we bring along the “press book”, which is a binder filled with all the up to date news articles and studies that come out on this subject, so guests can browse before or after our guest speakers.
What do you find the most challenging and most rewarding parts of starting OK to Delay?
So far, the most rewarding moments are when we share our mission with parents and someone says “I’ve been feeling this way for years, thank you for getting this started here”. I think a lot of families are concerned, but no one wants to be the “only one” who is delaying a smartphone or social media for their child. The beauty in all of this will be the linking of arms with others in our community and knowing we are not alone.
We often think about how short childhood is, and how special it can be. As we said at our first event, our kids have their whole lives to be adults who stare into their phones all day if they choose, but let’s give them the chance to enjoy childhood first and not get to that point too soon. A happy, carefree childhood sticks with you forever.
If you are interested in learning more, or getting involved what are the best next steps?
Please visit our website, www.oktodelay.org and sign up to be on our list serve. This will guarantee you are invited to our upcoming community events. Additionally, we have a private facebook page for Greenwich parents (Ok to Delay-Greenwich). If you are interested in being an ambassador for your Greenwich Elementary school, then please email us at [email protected]. We can’t wait to hear from you!
Both of you have some incredible non-profit/philanthropic experience. What other causes are near and dear to your heart?
Jessica: I have been a volunteer safetalk facilitator for Kids in Crisis for the last two years, as well as the gardening teacher at their emergency shelter last summer. Speaking in Fairfield County elementary school classrooms was eye opening for me as I heard third graders (and sometimes younger) sharing stories with me about times they felt unsafe, and many of these stories involved them being on the internet. Everything from young kids on snapchat to even video games that had chat capabilities was mentioned. The kids were forthcoming, and they also seemed to have a little anxiety about it. I feel like kids should get a little more time to just be kids. In addition to my work with Kids in Crisis, I am on the Women’s Philanthropy board of UJA-JCC Greenwich, I serve on the board of CLAL, (a NYC non profit), and my husband Adam and I founded the UJA Greenwich Teen Philanthropy program now entering its third year.
Ariella: I am a passionate supporter of The Acceleration Project (https://www.theaccelerationproject.org/mission–history.html), a non-profit committed to accelerating small business growth in underserved communities. I work on a pro-bono basis as a business consultant for small business owners to help them with everything from their pricing strategy to marketing and tech strategies.
I also personally enjoy getting involved with philanthropic opportunities at our kids’ school, GCDS. Something we do as a family is cook homemade meals and deliver them to Kids in Crisis.
How do you find a balance with motherhood and your careers as well as philanthropy? Any tips for the rest of the Moms out there?
Jessica: I once read this quote: “You can have it all, just not at the same time”. I say this to myself whenever I feel like I am not able to give 100 percent of myself to something, whether it be planning a party for the girls’ school, a volunteer opportunity, or cooking dinner that night and not having to take out. There is so much we all want to do, and I don’t think any of us are immune to that feeling of wanting to do it “really well”, but we’re all just humans. My tip would be to find mom friends who understand this, share similar values, and allow you to be yourself.
Ariella: My advice is to think less about balance and more about what you can do to find joy and appreciation for life every single day – have breakfast with your family and be fully present, be engaged in a community you love, talk to your best friend for a minute on the phone, connect with your spirituality, watch the seasons change.
I don’t think it is possible to find the perfect “balance” of a career / motherhood / philanthropy / hobbies. You have to evaluate what season of life you are in, and prioritize what is most important for you to give your own time to and then build a community around yourself that can help with the rest. When I was working full time, I only had time for my job, my family life and a tiny bit of time to engage with my temple community; everything else had to be secondary. Because I was not volunteering, planning events for my childrens’ schools or cooking dinner, I donated to causes I believed in, chose schools with involved parents, and found incredible nannies who shared our family values and could step in for me during those hours when I was working.
No matter what season of life I am in though, I always try to ground myself in how I can access joy and appreciation in the day to day.
What do you like to do to relax/have fun?
Jessica: My close friends (and now Greenwich moms) know that my idea of having fun and relaxing is the 5 hours of Irish Step dance classes I take each week. After a 13 year break, I recently have started competing in dance again and it is so fulfilling. I feel so lucky to be doing my original passion since 8 years old (dance) at this chapter in my life. I study at the Doherty Petri School.
Ariella: Walk Tod’s Point with friends, play tennis and tango dance! Tennis has been a great new addition to my life since moving to Greenwich. Like Jess, my soul sores when I dance, and I have been in love with tango since living in Buenos Aires in my early 20s. I recently have been thrilled to find a great ballroom dance studio in Stamford (Metropolitan Dance Studio) that I highly recommend to beginners and advanced dancers!
We love to support local businesses. What are your fave places when you are in Greenwich to:
Jess: CFCF Riverside
Jess: Elevate Fitness in Harbor Point
Ariella: Pilates with “Annie Does Wellness” (https://www.anniedoeswellness.net)
Go on a date night
Jess: Le Penguin
Ariella: Gray Barns if we can get in! In Greenwich, Bianca
Go out for a girls night
Jess: the Cottage or a wine and charcuterie on my couch with all my friends night Ariella: I love sitting at the bar at Happy Monkey
Go out to dinner as a family
Ariella: Pizza Post followed by Gofers is a classic my kids can’t get enough of; Hinoki is a favorite as well
Get your hair done
Jess: Davis Feliz Salon (Davis for my blowout and Jeannie for color)
Ariella: Camoro Salon in Southport (Felipe for color and Eli for cut)
Get your nails done
Jess: Posh nails on Greenwich Avenue
Ariella: same as Jess!
Have fun as a family
Jess: Mianus River Park for a nature walk, Todds Point, and breakfast at the Granola Bar.
Ariella: My kids love when I am “fun mom” and go jumping on the trampolines and rock climbing with them at Chelsea Piers in Stamford.