By: Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC.
I was out for dinner last week. My husband and I went to a family restaurant we both really like. It’s low key, just the right amount of noise, and the food is wholesome and fresh. The restaurant attracts families because of the prices, but the families eating there are different than they use to be. Family dinners are fun because the whole family gets together and talks about the day’s events and who said what to whom. Moms and dads can be heard laughing at their kid’s antics and expressions. This particular night there was some of that interaction, but also a new interaction that I call “electronic parenting.”
At several of the tables, we noted kids with ipads or phones engaged in their activity. There was absolutely no communication between mom, dad, and the kids. The kids were careful not to spill food on their electronic devices and what seemed to make the biggest impact was one time when one of the mom’s almost dropped the ketchup on the child’s ipad. The kid became animated and basically scolded mom. I was hopeful that if the electronics were babysitting the kids at least mom and dad would have some intimate time, but no, that wasn’t the case. Mom and dad didn’t really engage with each other either; dad was fidgeting with his phone or mom looked frazzled. I thought about this scenario for several days because I am concerned about what these kids’ concept of family will be.
Family dinners are so important for continuing communication among the family members. Dinnertime is a time we listen to one another, are reminded of table manners and also mentored about appropriate behavior between mom, dad and kids. You don’t have to eat at home to have a family dinner, but a family dinner is so much more than eating.It’s important that families realize the invaluable opportunity to have an electronic-free meal. Parenting has a lot to do with setting boundaries, saying no, and also making sure you teach your child appropriate social behavior. If your child is on the phone or ipad during dinner they are in their own virtual world and not engaged with the family.
There is no doubt that we are moving in a more electronic wave for the future. Smart phones are smarter than many humans, and as we continue to evolve and grow with technology it will be more and more important that families keep their boundaries strong to preserve the unity of family. The only way to do this is to stay engaged with your kids and your spouse, and keep sacred some of the family rituals such as family meals. Below are some suggestions for keeping your family together and engaged. Your kids may groan, but believe me, in time they will come back and thank you.
Helpful tips for having a family dinner:
1. As much as possible, have family meals during the week. These don’t have to be done at home; however, they should include your whole family.
2. Have a plate or a container where all electronics are dropped prior to dinner. Make sure you silence them as the noise of a text or email incites the mind and distracts from family.
3. Conversation at the dinner table should be kept at a level where everyone can hear one another and you can also enjoy the food.
4. Make sure you remember you are parents at the table and not your child’s friend. If a derogatory word or motion is made at the table, correct your child/spouse. The dinner table should remain family friendly.
5. Continue to show respect and manners with your child at the dinner table. One of a parent’s most important jobs is socializing their child so that the child can feel confident in their ability to demonstrate manners and respect for others.
We cannot go backwards in time, nor should we, but as we continue into the digital age there are some rituals we must keep sacred as a family. Family dinners are one of those. A family is only as strong as its leaders; so parents, it’s time to parent at the dinner table. Electronics can never teach your child family values as well as a parent.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at www.StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at www.maryjorapini.com
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