When I was a child, I remember family dinners as a time to be with the family without interruptions. When the phone rang, my mother would scream, “Nobody answer that.” As a mother myself, I find it difficult to hold a conversation with my children without them being attached to their cell phones and other electronic devices. They are Tweeting, Facebooking, and looking at Instagram instead of being present in the moment as a family.
As a marriage and family therapist, I see many parents who feel disconnected from their children and aren’t sure where to begin.
Children are given phones as early as age 8. I understand that parents have been scared by all the violence in schools, but I think that when we give children cell phones too early in their lives, we are setting them up to live in their own worlds. Cell phones make it difficult for parents to know who their children are talking with or messaging.
It is true that cell phones and computers are the way of the world now. So how can we embrace today’s culture and still have family dinners that let us connect with our children and teach them the art of conversation and listening?
Technology is wonderful and opens up many possibilities. My daughters are away at college and I am able to Skype them and see their faces during our conversations. That makes me feel closer to them. Cell phones are useful in locating your child and even working through dilemmas. We can text them immediately and be a part of their ever-changing world.
As parents, we do not want to be left behind, but we also have values that we grew up with that will help our own kids stay grounded and involved with family life. Children need to be heard and seen. We cannot read body language by texting them. Families should continue to have game nights, movie nights and outings – and family dinners.
Here are my tips for a successful family meal:
1. Prepare meals together. Children are more likely to eat food they help prepare.
2. Have theme nights (e.g. Pizza night, breakfast for dinner).
3. Have a talking stick at dinner, so everyone gets a chance to tell about his or her day.
4. Pass around a basket at the beginning of the meal for everyone (adults, too) to place his or her cell phone in.
5. Use dinner to plan your next family event and use calendars to show what’s coming up. Children will participate more if they are involved in planning.
These habits will help create a strong family bond that will stand the test of time, and your children will pass these strong family bonding skills on to their children.
Randi Goodman, LMFT, is in private practice in Agoura Hills and works with families, children and adolescents using a family systems approach. She holds Master’s degrees in clinical psychology and elementary education, and a Bachelor’s degree in special education. She uses play therapy and art materials to help kids feel at ease when discussing their issues.