There are SO many challenges facing our children today, words have to be one of them. Technology is progressing at an alarming rate, changing our lifestyle dramatically in the process. Never before in human history has one generation experienced as much change in how we spend our time and how people communicate and relate to each other, as ours. Language has been deeply affected, what methods we use, the very words we use, and how they are strung together to relay a message is evolving at light speed. Succinct, sincere, eloquent use of language is becoming more and more of a rarity. Penmanship is almost extinct. A heart-felt handwritten note on monogrammed note paper was replaced by a mass-produced Hallmark card, and now ‘upgraded’ to an abbreviated emoji-dotted text message.
And we can’t escape it. We can’t exclude technology from our lives. How can we prepare our children for what the world is becoming, by alienating them from it? We serve them better by helping them learn to appreciate what technology can do for us, but to self-regulate how they embrace it, and be mindful of what they say and how they say it. Teaching our children how to communicate (in complete sentences no less), has never been so important.
One of the biggest assets any parent has in their arsenal of parenting tools, is actually, for a change, a free one. And it is not something that has to happen every day, or even every week. Here it is, you ready? Lean in: break bread together. Sharing a meal with your children on a regular basis, as a family, with no distractions is all it takes. Imagine, the TV is off, cell phones are in the other room, it’s just you and the kids, with a meal laid out before you, and some conversation. And, can I ask you a question? If you sit for a minute, and truly imagine it, how does it make you feel? I, at first, imagined a quiet room with no distractions, clinking dinnerware and four people looking at each other, and I didn’t like it. And what’s more, I will confess that it was actually necessary for me to have a couple conversation starters in my pocket, like: what was your favorite thing about your day?
If you have kids of a school going age, with afternoon activities, housework, or even studies, a part-time or full-time job thrown in the mix – it becomes routine to bark orders, rally the troops to get here on time, or there. We have text conversations about what is happening, how their day went, or what their best friend said, who needs to be picked up, but how often do we actually slow down enough, to make time to sit together for some actual eye-contact and real conversation? How often do we give our kids the stage, while we sit and just listen? Without being on the other end of the phone, or having the distraction of driving while talking, running through to do lists in your head, or doing some other necessary chore. Just sitting, looking them in the eye, and listening. How will our children learn to communicate if at home, we succumb to the same affliction sweeping the globe? Gathering around a table regularly will teach your children how to tell stories, have compassion for another family member who has had a bad day, learn to wait their turn, learn to listen, learn to slow down, learn to give somebody their time, their ear, learn to tell jokes, learn to laugh with each other, and yes, how to talk in complete sentences free from emoji’s. You can expect to get to know each other a little better, marvel at your little one’s sense of humor, enjoy hearing the details otherwise lost in brevity, and connect and relate to each other on a more intimate level.
Try it, once a month, once a week, three nights a week – whatever works for you. Cook a meal at home, cook it together, throw something on the grill, order-in, set the table, don’t set the table, make it an occasion, make it casual, light candles, don’t: that’s all in the details. The most important thing is that you share a meal, and you face each other. Shoulder to shoulder just won’t do. And start a conversation! It’s about validation, connection, being part of a whole . . . surprisingly, your meals will evolve. I am not saying they will always be stress-free romantic poster-image family events, but they will definitely become a meaningful occasion you will all look forward to, and the occasions will morph into some sort of family tradition that your children will cherish when they venture out into the world on their own. Your children will keep with them always, the magic you created when gathering family to share a meal, and have a conversation . . .