This article appears in Spring Boomers magazine.
It’s 2020, and we are in love with tech devices. NPR recently reported that over half of U.S. kids have their own smartphones by age 11, and 84 percent of teenagers have their own phones. People of all ages find themselves distracted by technology — lots of us are hooked on checking email, news updates or social media constantly, or “multitasking” just a bit too much.
However, some baby boomers feel disconnected from younger generations, so-called digital natives who are growing up immersed in technology. It’s easy to feel a little weirded out by babies chatting with Alexa, or to feel dismayed when you’re sitting around the dinner table with your family, and everyone is staring at a device instead of talking. How are we supposed to connect with one another?
Cindil Redick-Ponte, assistant executive director of the nonprofit initiative The Family Dinner Project, says different things work for different families. Reprimanding children for phone use during mealtimes is not ideal. She suggests modeling etiquette — use the same technology manners yourself that you expect children to follow. When it comes to technology at the table, she says, “we like to remind families that the table manners that really matter are the ones that help us connect with one another.”
If technology does have a place at your table, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that — the key is how it is being used. Some families use technology to enhance rather than replace conversation. A child could share photos taken in school that day, for example, or someone could read a funny text out loud, which is all fine.
You may also decide on a “no tech at the table” rule. Ideally, you would agree on this rule together as a family.
“We have heard from many families that ‘banning’ phones and other technology at the table has worked really well for them,” says Redick-Ponte.
Many families choose to put smartphones in a designated spot or a basket before a meal, to be sure everyone is following through. Putting phones on silent during meals can also help avoid temptation.
For many kids, Redick-Ponte says, transition from tech time to dinnertime is important — it’s a good idea to give kids a five-minute (or even longer) warning before dinner so they can switch gears.
Check out thefamilydinnerproject.org for ideas, resources, games and conversation starters for all ages, as well as success stories from families who achieved better connection. They have specific ideas for connecting older and younger generations, including tips for grandparents raising grandchildren, and suggested conversation starters about family history.
“Grandparents are always amazed at what a big impression family stories make on their grandchildren,” says Redick-Ponte.