In my youth it was all about the TV. It was relatively easy for parents to block the TV from over use simply because there was only one, and often it was not in the same room where we were eating. Problem solved.
Without much thought, our smartphones and tablets have infiltrated every aspect of our lives. Let’s face it… they’re awesome and we love them! Instant information, games, texting, and movies—it’s all so good! It’s like having a personal servant ready to provide immediate technology gratification at our every whim. The problem? What problem?!
Now stop, listen, and watch your family on a typical evening.
Dad/Mom – Heads down usually in emails, blogs, finance, work. What? It’s 11pm already?
Kids – Soccer replays, texting, soccer replays, texting, Modern Family replay, texting. “I swear I’m doing my homework!”
Day by day, and app by app, the technology creeps into one aspect of life, then another, then another. Soon you realize you can’t go to the bathroom or sit at the dinner table without your little mobile servant by your side.
Here are a few ideas to help put the genie back in the bottle during times of ‘family focus’ such as at dinnertime:
1) No devices during table time – Just make it a hard rule to not have your device at the dinner table. To me this is the best option. This especially includes you mom and dads, stand up and set an example.
2) Go around the table – Make it a point to use dinnertime as a checkpoint where each person shares something about the day. More beyond the minimal “How was your day son” and “Good dad” response. Bad habit. “Tell me something about your day” is one way to advert the “Good” response.
3) Conversational games – Games like those tabletopics.com can be useful to spark different thoughts/conversations. They can interfere with dinner a little, but pulling out one topic like “Do you think animals have emotion” can lead to a fun family discussion.
4) Let your friends, co-workers, boss, in on your plan – Let them know that from 6-7pm none of you use or respond to smartphones. I think you’ll find most will think “that’s a great idea” and you’ll be helping them out as well.
5) In case of emergency – I know there must be some of you out there who are in too deep and need an intervention. If you can’t jump strait to the ‘No Devices’ rule, make it a game! Try playing a game of phone stack. Stack your phones up together. While eating dinner, if anything goes off (text, whatever) set a ‘bet’ regarding who can ignore or needs to check. If someone grabs for the phone first they loose. Make them do all the dishes, make dinner the next night, etc. Have some fun with it. I can’t say I’ve needed to do this in my family yet, but in case of emergency, I’m leaving all options open.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my smartphone as much as all of you. But also like you, perhaps I’m not preoccupied enough with how to best incorporate it into life ‘successfully’. Much like the first phones and TVs, this is our generations’ challenge. If we carve out a few ‘little wins’ of non-tech time such as during dinner, we’ll have more to cherish when the kids are gone and out of the house. Ten years from now I’m hoping not to say “remember those great texts we sent over the years. Ah yes. Those were the days.” Are you?