Put Some Trust in Family Dinner
Taking time to have meals together offers a place for kids to be heard.
The over-scheduled, technology drenched life is killing us. It chokes out quiet, it chokes out creativity, it chokes out self-reflection … and sadly, it chokes out family time. Dinner is sacred. It would do us well to make it a priority and hang our “do not disturb” signs up while we sit around the table with our kids. The sacrifice in losing this time is far too great.
Sharing a meal has always been a significant time of attachment for humans. Around a table, we listen, laugh, recall stories, get into debates and connect to one another. The busyness of the day and the waste-of-time distractions on our phones spin us out of each other’s lives. We are in need of a steady connection in real space.
Families attach at the table. Studies affirm this. Unfortunately, one of the most tragic costs of technology overuse, is intentional time together as a family. We may share the same room, but we are divided into different worlds, sucked in by the screens we hold in our hands. In order to establish trust and connection with a child or teenager, time must be spent. We deceive ourselves thinking we are good parents if we stay on top of grades and attend every activity. This is not true. The ever-present parenting can seem like being in relationship with your child, but kids do not experience it that way. Dr. Madeline Levine, author and psychologist, discusses this in her best-selling book "The Price of Privilege."
Kyle, a 15-year-old patient of mine succinctly clarified my confusion [about why teens feel isolated from their parents]: “It’s so odd that I feel my mom is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.” Being “everywhere” is about intrusion; being “nowhere” is about lack of connection … Our children benefit more from our ability to be ‘present’ than they do from being rushed off to one more activity. Try to slow down. Perhaps the single most important ritual a family can observe is having dinner together. Families who eat together five or more times a week have kids who are significantly less likely to use tobacco, alcohol or marijuana, have higher grade-point averages, less depressive symptoms and fewer suicide attempts than families who eat together two or fewer times a week.
She goes on to explain how meals together highlight the presence and availability of family members, there is an interest in one another and a space to be heard. Here kids open up about what they are learning, fearing or experiencing that otherwise may not be offered. As adults, we have to create these connecting points. Otherwise, the smartphone and the fake world of social media will hijack all of us.
Be aware, kids will not tell you they appreciate dinners together. They won’t thank you for your hard work. Likely, they will be irritated when you make the rule: no phones at dinner. However, dinners without technology distractions will become your greatest joy. Trust in the bond that is forming under the surface. Don’t be afraid to apologize to your kids for allowing phones to creep in. You are the parent, you lost some authority, and now you can regain it. All parents are on a journey of taking the authority back in their homes; and our kids need us to.
So make dinners a tech-free time. Your kids may argue with you, which, in fact, is another time to teach them respect, but in the end they will experience the internal peace that comes with these times. Bank on it. They need us to choose it for them. Without a doubt, it is countercultural to have nights at home with no technology. You may feel “behind” or “old-fashioned,” but living opposite of the masses typically means you are doing healthy work for your family and yourself.
Dawn Poulterer-Woods is experienced counselor and speaker for Families Managing Media.