Recently I wrote a post on screen time and how it impacts our kids. Recommendations are that our kids should not be on screens more than 1 ½ to 2 hours per day. With the impact of video games and social media it is difficult to maintain this limitation. However, it is notable that this preoccupation with screen time on cell phones has taken us to a whole new level which can easily impact the relationships that we have within our families.
I recently was at lunch and sitting next to a family of a dad and two adolescent children, a boy and a girl. As I was ordering my food and waiting for it to arrive, I noticed that I heard no conversation coming from their table. When I carefully looked at their table, I saw that the dad and son were playing games on their phones and the daughter was on social media. They were all totally immersed and were not aware of anything around them.
What was also glaringly apparent is that they were completely silent. They were sitting as a family in a public restaurant and were not communicating with each other in any way. There was no joking, laughing, meaningful conversation or any words at all. It was a significant moment of time to discuss any part of their lives with each other that ended up as a missed opportunity for building relationships.
I was hoping that when their lunch arrived, they would pack their phones away and conversation would occur. But after a few words about their food everything went back to complete silence, the phones were active again and the silence continued.
I have to say that when I was their age, we did not possess cell phones. There was no social media and very few games to play on a device. I personally am thankful for that since it gave us opportunities as a family to discuss life together. I remember stories about our family, funny jokes, commentary on current events and usually some teasing among the kids that was often corrected by parents when things got out of hand. It was relational, informational and interesting. We had our good and bad moments, but it was a time we looked forward to because we had the opportunity to go out, to experience family conversations and to order favorite foods.
I think of those memories and when I reflect on what I just described at a restaurant, I fear that the very relationships that our kids so desperately need may be missed because we have this mentality that cell phones can replace family connections. This perspective may keep our discussions from being meaningful and even influence brain development that family relationships can help to establish. To me it is more than a preoccupation with what is on our phones. It’s a new definition of how we characterize relationships. It feels like a sense of emotional abandonment by virtue of our technology.
We always encourage parents to communicate with their children. This is not about sitting at a table with cell phone focus. There should be an ease of communication happening that has relational depth, fun, words of encouragement and sometimes problem exploration. Our time with our kids is so limited with all the busyness of life. We just cannot afford to miss opportunities that can be encouraging, enriching and life defining.