The issue of "Half-Shabbos" is still on my mind, months after it broke in the media – but my approach has changed. At first I thought in terms of peer pressure and brain development, and then I blamed individualism/consumerism and the way that people of all religions are re-defining their beliefs and practices to suit their personal wants. But now I'm thinking again.
The aforementioned elements are important, but I've come to think that a major factor, perhaps The major factor, is that the kids who text on Shabbos are emulating their parents, who go "Half" in many halachic areas even as they tell their children to go "Whole". Herewith some examples:
Slumlords and insider trading, home-based daycare centers operating without licenses, sheitel machers and at-home barbers taking cash only.
"The Vaad says that's not kosher, but I think it's (a) a shift to the right, (b) just politics, (c) ignorance of 'real' halachah, (d) all of the above. I use it anyway – and Rabbi X says that's fine." "This bug thing is crazy." "They've gone too far this time." Sound familiar?
Movies and television shows which rebbeim tell their children are inappropriate for them – but which adults freely watch. Off-color jokes traded with a smirk. Sarcasm about school dress code policies.
When I was 12 or 13, a friend of mine babysat for a respected community figure. He was inappropriately curious, and he opened some cabinets he shouldn't have opened – and found some reading material which we had always learned didn't belong in a Torah-observant lifestyle. Of course, he told the rest of us… and what kind of message did that send us, as children?
Coming to shul late, or leaving early, so that we only catch half of davening. Going out for a drink in the middle. Spending the repetition of the Amidah schmoozing with our neighbors. What is this, if not "Half-Tefillah"?
Complaints or slander about parents, teachers, and rabbis, both in the media we watch and in the words coming out of our own mouths – even as children learn that they are obligated to show respect to all of the above.
I could go on with more "Halves", but I think/hope the point is made – if adults are comfortable leading a "Half" Jewish lifestyle, why are we surprised that children do the same?
The irony is that adults are troubled by this. When I was a late teen, the constant refrain I heard was that mature adults understand that the world is not Black and White, but Gray – and that we teens had to grow up and learn to be Gray, too. I still hear that today; kids come back from Israel with an un-nuanced perspective, and their parents are frustrated.
Well, here we have a problem of a different stripe. Children absorb the justification offered by "Half" adults for their own conduct, that the world is Gray, and they make it their own.
For that matter, kids do it in many areas – sexual activity, davening, and more. So why are parents surprised and upset? Just because it's Shabbos?