Lose the hand-held devices during dinner times (family time together)
This one may not sit well with some of you, but please understand that I’m coming from a place of love when I say this.
2 scenarios I recently witnessed:
2 weeks ago, I was at Ikea and I saw this family of 5 and their helper. The kids were pretty young, all below the age of 6. Before the food came, they were running around with my kids at the kids’ corner and well, behaving like kids should - rowdy, laughing, horsing around, having fun. Once the food came, the helper hurried over, whipped out a device and settled the youngest child. The older 2 scurried away too, sat down and whipped out their own devices and remained glued to the screen for the rest of the dinner. The parents too, sat in silence and looked at their own screens. The kids were well-behaved and didn’t create a ruckus. They did not fidget in their seat. They ate their meals in absolute silence.
Last year, my family was seated with this other family for dinner. Their kids are older - teenagers and young adults. Every one had a device and earphones plugged in. The moment they sat down, they beckoned the waiter over and asked for the wifi password. They were well-behaved and didn’t create a ruckus. They gave mono-syllabic, polite answers when spoken to. They did not fidget in their seat. They ate their meals in absolute silence.
I drew a conclusion that day.
A ---> B
If I let my kids excuse themselves psychologically and emotionally at dinner times (family times) when they are little, I will become Family B in 10 years’ time. THAT horrified me and I hope that horrifies you too. By giving in to our kids’ tantrums and silencing them with devices now, we are silencing conversation, we are breaking connection and we will not be much of a family by the time the kids are grown up because we are all leading separate lives.
If we don't listen to the kids' childlike talk now, they won't discuss more serious, heartfelt and potentially awkward topics with us when they are adolescents.
Habit #2 that has paid DIVIDENDS for us is that from babies, we didn’t allow our kids to have a device during meal times. Oh, it was tough… on frazzled days, on days when I’ve had enough of the kids and just want to enjoy 10 minutes of my meals in peace - those days were hard to say no to the device. But in this respect, consistency is key. Say no enough times regardless of the tantrums and meltdowns and soon, your kids will just take no for an answer and they’ll stop asking you. Even if they do from time to time, no gets easier and easier to say when you stick to your guns.
But if you must, may I urge you to consider screentime not at the breakfast/lunch/dinner table. It is already so difficult for the whole family to sit together and be in the same physical space. Let’s put aside our own devices, talk to the children, listen to them, make eye contact with them, praying and giving thanks, recounting the good and bad things that had happened in the day.
2-way conversation is fluid, connection is beautiful and for once, we don’t have to keep up the “bad cop” persona because let’s face it - that gets tiring.
Shall we commit to better mealtimes, to build better family lives without the device?
Tips to Help with the Transition
If your kids are used to having the device at mealtimes, don’t be too guilty and don’t despair! Here are some tips that I hope will help you transition:
- Give the kids a heads-up and explain the rationale. “We want to have good conversations and talk about your day. You can have the device after dinner for 10 minutes.”
- Play a game during the dinner: Spin the handphone and whoever it points to will tell the whole family something interesting about their day.
Prepare yourself for meltdowns but don’t give in. Try to persevere for 3 weeks before this becomes the new normal. It takes about 21 days of consistency for it to become a habit and a norm.
In the meantime, be supportive and understanding of your child's disappointment at not having the device at mealtimes because your child is already conditioned to having the device. Let's admit it, we ourselves are tempted to tune out and surf Facebook or Instagram; your child too, really wants to watch that youtube channel because it is easy and enjoyable!
I know this is a very real issue in many families but I see anything that steals time away from the family as not helpful to all of our end goals of building strong, connected families. After all, this is why we work so hard at our jobs and at home right? For the very little people to give them a warm, supportive home. Let's do this together and know you're not struggling alone!
Leave a comment and tell me what struggles you have with not permitting devices during family meal times!