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Hey parents, does this sound familiar: “Please put your phone away, and come and eat.”
Recently, I engaged in a debate with a friend of mine who could not put her phone down while we met for coffee. When she talked, her phone was down, as I began to speak, she picked it back up to scroll.
My response: "How can we teach our kids to engage with us over dinner when we as adults struggle to do the same?" She countered by telling me, "The rules are different for my kids." Here I will give an emphatic, yet firm "NO!” When it comes to technology, the same rules for devices should apply to BOTH of you.
Most children and teenagers learn by modelled behaviour. They watch us, and they make a connection between what is right and what is wrong. They learn very quickly and make strides to be like us in every way.
Many parents have forgotten that our children are sponges. Somehow with the invention of a smartphone and tablet, we have given up “old fashioned” rules for this “new invention” and threw out our wisdom in the process. Just because a child wants their phone at the dinner table, should they sit plugged into it? Just because we can, does it mean we should?
Many of the millennials and generations born after GenX have been taught that these rituals are outdated. As though eating together was a forced upon us and is no longer necessary because we are already connected.
Let’s think about that for a minute; in the 80's when many mothers entered the workforce, dual incomes became the new norm (thank goodness women entered the workforce), but at the same time, we began the age of “organized” play. We organize everything.
We put our kids into a 100 activities, and we drive, drive and drive some more. Dinner time is a luxury and no longer status quo, and in most cases, we are so relieved to sit down after driving and driving we give over the devices to our kids, in many instances, eagerly. Why do we do this?
My dear parents, I am with you. We are exhausted. We are so busy. It seems whenever we ask people nowadays how they are, the “cool” answer is to say “I'm so busy.”
Why is that our automatic answer? As if being busy makes us feel important. Perhaps it makes up for a sense of purpose we are longing for. All this running so that we can justify our disconnect. It seems everybody wants something, is late for something and we are busy trying to be something. Perhaps all our “busy” we have forgotten to look up and see who is right in front of us.
Children do not come into the world longing for a device. We give them one. We are grateful for quiet restaurant meals. We are happy the child is keeping themselves busy, so that we get a moment to ourselves.
Before you get angry, please know that there is truth in what I am saying. It's ok. All of us, every good intentioned, loving, extraordinary person in the world wants only to be loved, to be validated, to be seen by those who love us.
Unfortunately, some of us have traded our real-life front and center people, for the tempting vortex of social media “followers.” As though building that relational equity is more relevant than those who are at home for dinner or with us during the chaos of a restaurant experience.
I know this may seem harsh to many of you, but tough love is like that. There is no value, no relational equity in ANY tech app, space, game or company that can EVER replace YOU. Remember, these words are coming from someone who is building a tech app that might heal some of the wounds created by social media in our society. But I am a mother first. I will repeat it: No tech can replace you. In our increasingly chaotic lives, it is becoming more and more difficult to connect in real life.
Whenever we hand over a device to our children during dinner or those tender moments when the family is together in the house, we are essentially giving them a drug to replace the connection, love, and experience they get from the presence of you, you the parent.
Children will, of course, ask for the phone, they are used to it. We have been giving in for a very long time and foregoing our parental connections for false ones. The fact and truth are this: Dinnertime is YOUR time to show your family, your children who you are. What you care about. What your child needs to learn about you, your family, your traditions, your history, your connections.
Put the phone away. Play tic tac toe at the restaurant. Play Simon says. Play the name game. Tell them stories of you. You are the star of your child’s eyes; they are your super followers. They love you. You love them. The device should NEVER be at the dinner table. Period.
If you are seeking advice in the world of tech and how it affects you and your family, we encourage you to send an email to Askada@mazufamily.com and we will do our best to provide practical, insightful advice.
Janice Taylor is a social entrepreneur, mother, speaker, author and online safety advocate. Her credo of compassion, community, and caring drives the vision of her company Mazu, a safe and fun online platform for families. Mazu gives parents a place to communicate, play and connect with their children in a safe engagement environment.