I am a people watcher and enjoy observing how people behave in public. In the past two days, I have been disturbed by two experiences about parents ignoring their children and applying themselves to technology instead.
We were spending a Saturday morning at Findlay Market buying our usual scones and coffee and enjoying the atmosphere. Next to us were a father and his two small children. They were all having breakfast. The children seemed to be enjoying their food choices. I looked at the father and he was busy texting on his iPhone, completely ignoring the little ones. They were certainly taking care of themselves, but without any connection with the father.
Today we were having lunch at a local restaurant and sitting across from us was a family of four. The father was hard at work on his MacPro and the two children were busy with their computer games. The only person who seemed to be relaxing and enjoying her meal was the mother—and she had no one to talk to.
The privilege of talking to your family around a meal is a special one. Children grow up too fast and we need to savor each precious moment to learn what a child has to say and to laugh and enjoy the human contact. Besides, we are setting examples for our children with our style of communication. Thus it is not surprising to see young people obsessed with their iPhones, iPods, iPads, and other endless possibilities.
I propose a couple of suggestions to encourage families to talk to each other instead of having a keyboard or screen in front of them.
• Determine to eat one meal a day together without any technology—including television—at the table. Mealtime should be the hub of the family time together. When our children were growing up, a question each of us answered for the benefit of the family was, “What was the best part of your day?” That made us start with positive discussions and created an upbeat atmosphere for table conversation. Knowing they would be asked that question prompted our children to be alert to good things during the day.
• Set ground rules for when use of technology is acceptable in family time situations. You might have a time of day before or after a meal when texting or sending an email is appropriate behavior. As a parent, when the child wants to talk, your main responsibility is to listen and nothing else. This is not the time to multi-task. Your interest in what Jennifer or Jake has to say when they are young will probably be the extent to which they will keep sharing information with you when they are older.
No matter how advanced technology becomes, nothing can be as meaningful as a conversation around the dinner table.