Face Time! Put Down Your Devices and Make Good Times with Your Kids

By: Sue Comeau | Parenting | Action Resources

When’s the last time you called someone just to check in? If you’re like me, many of your interactions are accomplished through texting or email.

A few weeks ago, I had a question for a friend of mine. So instead of the usual ten second text, I did something radical: I walked over to my phone, and I dialed. When she picked up, I joked that I was going ‘old school’ and actually talking on the phone. She laughed too. Our group of gal pals is so used to communicating everything by quick messages, it seemed a little retro to chat on the phone like old times. (Old times being five years ago.) It was just a short call, but I asked my question, we had a quick catch up, and planned to meet for coffee soon. When I hung up a few minutes later, I had that sunny feeling you get when you connect with a friend.

With technology making communication so efficient, it can also make it pretty bare. And I wonder, in our rush to keep up with and embrace this new efficiency, if we’re not selling our relationships and our lives short.

There’s a video called ‘Pass the Salt’, by Matthew Abeler. It’s simple and funny, and it brings home the fact that technology has really swept into our relationships. Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_-xTxP1hD4

When I first watched this, I laughed. The video is funny and very clever. I also thought it was a little over the top - people don’t let their kids bring their cell phones to the table. Do they?

Yes they do.

With all the research on the benefits (and scarcity) of family dinners and family leisure time, it’s surprising to see the number of kids sitting at the table or at home with phones or other devices. Parents too.

It sounds hopelessly old-fashioned, but when I was a kid and a teenager, if the phone rang during dinner, we did not answer it.

“If someone wants to talk to you, they’ll call back,” my mom said. True that, but it wasn’t popular at the time. Now? I’m thankful for it. It was protected family time.

My mom went back to work as a nurse when I was 10, and my brothers were 14 and 16 years old. My dad was an insurance agent. We all played sports and were involved in the local YMCA. So, very much like today, we were all busy.

Time together at the table was a priority. The t.v. was turned off, and we were expected to be present.  I don’t remember half of what we talked about, but I know we were always engaged and eager to contribute to the conversation. At one point my dad had to say, “Okay kids, put your hand up to go next.” And we eagerly did. I think after a while, Mom just gave up trying to get a word in, and listened.

By the time I was in college, (we had many friends stay over at our place,) the Comeau dinner table was popular. It was always fun, always interesting, and everyone got their opinion, contribution, or story in. (Even Mom.) To this day, at my parents’ place, no one would dare bring a cell phone or device to the table. (You might miss something.) It’s the same at our place.

It may seem tough at first to get your family off their devices. Life is busy. I’ve done the old, “Ten more minutes then turn off your iPad”… only to get distracted with something and come back an hour later, to see my kiddo still mesmerized by Clash of Clans, Minecraft, on a chat with friends, or what have you.

Just to give you a little extra incentive, let me give you what I think is a super scary statistic: Here in Canada, (and it is very similar in the U.S.,) kids and youth (in grades six to twelve) average 7 to 8 hours a day on screens (television, computers, phones and tablets)! That’s time that used to be spent playing together, being active, etc. And kids are suffering for it, in terms of higher obesity rates and related health issues.

If you want to get off the screens and have some actual ‘face time’, try some of these:

1. Have a few screen free days each week. Start with one. You can also set a time limit for each day.

2. Have a solid ‘no devices at the table’ rule. (That includes you.)

3. Get everyone to bring a topic to the dinner table: something they want to talk about.

4. Have games that are easy to start and play. Do you have a deck of cards?

5. What games did you like as a kid? We have Boggle, Battleship, etc. And Crazy 8’s is always more fun than you think it will be!

6. Plan activities with friends you want to catch up with. Meeting for a walk let’s you re-connect way better than ping-ponging texts or Facebook updates.

7. Have activities kids can do by themselves: books, simple art supplies, etc. (I was amazed at how much more reading and art my kids did on screen free days.)

8. Say (if it’s good conditions to be out): “Go outside and do something.” Yes, we all had our moms or caregivers say this in the olden days (pre 2000), but it works! The first time I said, “Go out and play!” and got the classic “But Mom there’s nothing to doooo!” I said (a la my mother), “Find something!” And they did. Fifteen minutes later, they were playing this elaborate spy game, then had built an obstacle course, then were making a fort… It was actually pretty liberating! Kids won’t just sit there. After a while, they will find something to do. (And it will probably be really cool.)

9. If your kids won’t engage in conversation, change it up. The old “How was school today” generally gets them in secret agent mode. “How was school? Good. What’d you do? Nothing. How was recess? Good”… You get my drift. Some of our best conversations have started with questions like: “If we could go anywhere in the world, where would you pick? If you could pick a superpower, what would it be? If you won the lottery, what would you do? If you could be on the cover of a magazine for something, what would it be? For teen and adult family members: Who would play you in a movie?” Or talk about what they’re interested in. Sports, art, music, movies… Kids really open up when they’re keen on something. So do adults! You can talk about current events (as long as they’re age appropriate… I’ve done some creative explaining). You can plan your next vacation or day off. One of my favorite things to do is spread out the weekend newspapers over breakfast, and check out what’s interesting in sections like Travel, Life, Arts, Sports, etc. The sky really is the limit.

10. Plan a special outing with someone, just so you can catch up. Every once in a while, my son and I have a milkshake date. He’s the oldest, and at one point it seemed like I wasn’t getting to just connect with him. My daughter loves to go shopping. (Yes, I know, dangerous!) But it can be window shopping. Kids love having special time with you. It can be going to the library, shooting hoops or playing Frisbee, going for a smoothie, taking your dog for a walk together… Anything.

And here is the a bonus tip, one that may be the most critical:

11. Set an example. At home, remember, you control how much time you spend on your phone, computer, or tablet. When you’re out, don’t be focused on your phone.  Even if you’re in the grocery store checkout line, it is so easy to connect with people. Smile. Say hi, how are you. All of these simple interactions give us a little (or a big) boost on a daily basis.

Look up. Have some real face time. You’ll see: Your day will be so much brighter.