I am out to dinner Friday night with my family and I look around the table at my three daughters. All were busy with some sort of technology. Caroline was on her new phone, Amelia was on her new leap pad,
and Grace was on her new Itouch. They were happily enjoying all the super technology they got for Christmas. It is abundantly clear they love their technological devices. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of technology and progress. I myself love my MacBook, my Blackberry and my Itouch. However sitting there it felt as if I was having an outer body experience. I was looking at this family with these three children not interacting at all with each other or their parents.
Durning dinner I didn’t tell anyone to put their technological devices away, I just observed. Later on that night the image really began to eat away at me. What had we become? We were like a bad cliche from a tv sitcom. I was never going to have children who behaved this way. My children were going to perfect with wonderful table manners. My dream had always been we would all sit around the dining room table and have wonderful family meals where we would share amusing stories about our day- I watched a lot of Family Ties growing up. I began to realize my dream of perfect dinner hours were being shattered. Instead of sitting around like the Keatons we were in danger of not communicating at all. I see more of the top of my pre-teen’s head then I do her face. Her head is constantly at a tilt. New data reported from Nielsen shows that teenagers ages 13-17 average 3,417 texts a month. Teen girls are reported to text a whopping 3,952 times a month. That is more than 130 texts a day. This generation is going to suffer with severe neck problems in their 40′s and 50′s.
I realize that texting is communication. I firmly believe that social networking and texting have value. These skills are valuable and they will need them when they eventually enter the workforce. I am not interested in stopping progress. I get it. I know we need to forge ahead in technology. But what is the cost? Is the family dinner hour being sacrificied to the gods of constant communication? I think we are paying too high a price.
Who is to blame? I can’t entirely blame Caroline or her new phone. Who gave her these devices in the first place? Who is she learning this behavior from? As I pondered these thoughts the answer came to me and made my stomach turn. Unfortunately, I know the most important rule of of raising children is they learn by example. I began to wonder am I the culprit? What am I doing to send the message that this behavior is okay? I think we all know the answer. I don’t even want to know how many texts I send a day.
Learning from mistakes is important and I believe a return to the dinner hour and table manners is at hand. In fact it is such a hot topic that Peggy Post wrote “Emily Post’s Table Manners for Kids” (HarperCollins, 2009). In it she does address the use of technology during the dinner hour. In a blanket ruling she states: “Do NOT use your cell phone or any other electronic devices at the table.”
I am coming to terms with the fact that my family will never be the Keatons. Life has changed and we are just too busy. Quick meals, to go meals and restaurants make up most of my dinner hours. Especially with both parents working and all of the activities the kids are involved in. But that does not mean we need to sacrifice the family meal or manners. We can still teach our kids to enjoy the company of those they are with along with some basic table manners: sit with your feet under the table, sit upright in your chair, chew with mouth closed, and of course my father’s favorite no elbows on the table.
The following morning after three dance classes we decided to go out to breakfast- we really do eat out too much! As we sat down I took my cell phone and put it in my pocketbook and invited the girls to do the same. Begrudingly they agreed, and we enjoyed our first technology free meal.
Hopefully the first of many.