Family time, 2010
Forget old ways of being a family, we have our own style of being together.
(Shawn Benjamin)
It’s supper time at my house.

I’m catching up on emails on the computer. My teen is on his phone, and his brother is playing a computer game. Their dad is watching live soccer on TV, which all of us look up and comment on from time to time.

According to a recent American poll, we’re pretty much the Western norm. Yes, 6 out of 10 Americans who live with family eat with them 5 or more times a night. But according to AP-Gfk Food poll, more than 50% of families have the TV on most of the time. One in 20 has constant email or texting during meals, while 15% are fairly often interrupted by electronic message.

Yes, we love it when we go out to dinner for someone’s birthday and sit around chatting without these distractions. But that doesn’t mean we’re miserable on a normal night like this.

‘Hey, watch this penalty,’ Dad says.

We all watch, then the tween acts it all out again in the middle of the floor and we watch him.

‘You won’t believe these latest survey results,’ I comment, reading them out. Dad and the kids chime in with general disbelief along the lines of ‘These statisticians are crazy.’

‘Kevin says he wants to come with us to the beach on the weekend, can we give him a lift?’ asks the teen. There’s a little back and forth about how much easier it would be if we’d just buy him a scooter already.

In our own ways, we are sharing what we love, what’s important to us, what we find interesting, funny or intriguing.

Yes, some experts say attention is the most important asset we have, and no doubt some people would say we are squandering this precious family time by not having a more civilised conversation. But for better or worse this is the way conversation most often happens for this generation of teens, who easily juggle eight different topics of conversation with a variety of friends on Mxit and Facebook. He can even talk to his Mom on Mxit in small doses.

Maybe by participating in bite-sized conversations, we become part of the music of their lives. Maybe if he sees in his own home that people can love each other, have fun and still enjoy various media, he won’t need to hide away in secret to talk his language, his way.

We’ve played board games, we’ve acted out charades, we’ve baked together and worked in the garden. And yes we’ve even sat around the table and talked on occasion. But I can’t honestly say we chat, hug, laugh and tease any less when we’re connected to the world by our many electronic devices.

Or am I deluding myself?

Read more by Adele Hamilton

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