SMSes at the dinner table
Is your teen ignoring you over the mac and cheese? A family therapist explains how this dynamic works.
I have a morning ritual: shower, get dressed, eat, greet my husband and give breakfast to my daughter - during which time I also squeeze in my personal blog. I also regularly visit Facebook and give attention to the constant flow of text messages and e-mails.

Cellphones have become a comfortable scapegoat for both kids and parents in this relationally barren era. We would rather have meaningless conversations with faceless friends than having those same conversations with a person that should be the most important face in your life.

Cellphone usage at the dinner table is simply a symptom of parents and children who do not feel comfortable talking - on any level.

In Chip Ingram's parenting course, 'Effective Parenting in a Defective World', he explains the role of the parent as being one in which you encourage your child to do as, be and think like you do. What am I - and many parents out there - modelling then? I for one might be planting a seed that the little object in my hand must be kept close at all times and that when it rings or beeps it comes before the needs of the one closest to me.

The cellphone as appendage

According to a survey done on 18 000 young people in 16 countries including the UK, USA, China, Japan, Canada and Mexico, 'Young people... see 'tech' as... an organic part of their lives,' says Andrew Davidson, vice president of MTV's VBS International Insight unit.

'Talking to them about the role of technology in their lifestyle would be like talking to kids in the 1980s about the role the park swing or the telephone played in their social lives - it's invisible.'

The challenge parents face is to not frustrate children with old school rules and depriving them of fitting in, but to replace the problem with something meaningful and family-friendly.

How then do we build relationship with each other? How does a parent model and create healthy family time around the dinner table without boring everyone to death or worse, faking a patent-child relationship?

Make meals a family time
  • Try to set a specific time for dinner each night and do not deviate from it. Children feel secure if there is a set of rules. They may not like it but it is the beginning of creating a family ritual.
  • Eat at the table, not in front of the TV. Set the table, involve the kids, and create a beautiful setting. Have theme nights and dress up. Or eat in different rooms of the house. Keep it interesting and the mood light.
  • Listen when others talk. Make dinner rules. No cellphones. No arguments.
  • As a parent, you must facilitate these conversations: making them fun and keeping them free from arguments, judgment and hurtful comments.
  • Keep these dinner times short at first. Up until the point where the family really connect, awkwardness might creep in if it goes on too long.
  • Decide on extending one of the dinners by playing games, inviting a friend or going out for dessert.
  • Ignite those much needed conversations by starting some kind of family game or ritual. For example, each person gets to name a high and low experience of the day or things they're grateful for.

As technology continuously changes, so our parenting plans must be regularly updated too. If you and your children know that dinner times are special family gatherings where they can be themselves and be heard, they might not feel the need to 'connect' with their cellphone to a faceless crowd 24/7.

For more information on kids and technology visit

Do cellphones intrude on family life?

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