My wife, Jerilyn, and I try to lead a simple life centered around our family – three boys, ages eighteen, fifteen & ten – and our home and land – a small farm where we milk cows, raise chickens and grow food for our table. Sounds pretty bucolic, huh? Truth be told, we find ourselves constantly battling the impending doom of our family connection at the mercy of the smart phone. I imagine some of you are similarly engaged on the front lines with your own family. And, if you are not, you better wake up and freshen up your latte because, as a parent, you should be.
More than ever, keeping family (read: community) connected, our kids conversing with us and each other, our dinner table and home a place of refuge from the “must do now” world is requiring serious strategic planning. Our enemy (maybe too harsh) is getting smarter all the time and the pressure to be “on” and available 24/7 is, unfortunately, pervasive in our demented culture.
Sixth graders don’t need smart phones! When we offer adult tools to children, we rush them out of their childhood and push them to grow up before their time. It is a gift to be a child with the space to create, play games and engage with friends, explore the world around you with your own senses, free of outside interpretation and constructs. Let’s help protect their fleeting childhood. Have you ever seen a group of young teens with phones. Inevitably, they are all standing in one big circle….talking, right? Wrong! Take a closer look – they are each having a text conversation with a friend somewhere else. This is connection? I don’t think so. No one is actually talking to each other anymore. WTF!
I know why we get them phones – for safety – so that they can reach us at any time of the day. We didn’t need always to be available twenty years ago, so why do we need to be now. At the high school open house the other day, one of the teachers explained that they did not allow students to use phones during class. Really! That’s refreshing. You mean they are not supposed to be texting friends while they are learning? Now this may be top-secret information to many of you, but (shhh!) our children are texting during class. They know how to type without looking at the keyboard while still appearing engaged to the teacher. I think some teachers just look the other way. It is a charade, a hoax. There is a clear rule against cell phone use in class. Lets empower our educators to get cell phones out of school!
Truth be told, we find ourselves constantly battling the impending doom of our family connection at the mercy of the smart phone.
We succumbed to buying cell phones (the stupid kind) for my sons when they entered high school. We were told, quite simply, that preventing them from texting friends would make them social outcasts. Already concerned for them as they faced the difficult transition to a new school, they caught us at a weak moment – we succumbed.
We soon discovered that, for our boys, the phone became another appendage, most often held in the hand, or if we were lucky, in the pocket. Certainly, never more than a quick draw away. Soon after my oldest son, Kole, entered high school, a few of his friends came over and sat in our living room. Jerilyn and I got a rare opportunity to meet his new friends and sit in on what was going on. What became clear quickly was that there was no cell phone etiquette – at any time, in the middle of any conversation, someone would grab their phone to return a text or call out to a friend. How rude! Right? Wrong! This IS acceptable cell phone etiquette today. OMG!
We instituted a new family rule (credit: Brian Frank, Chicago landscape architect) that requires anyone, adults or kids, in our home or car to “Announce Your Disconnection.” In practice, this means that if you are needing to answer your cell phone or view a text, you need to announce to the people in your presence that you need to be excused to reply to your cellphone, and then you need to step outside the circle of conversation. This is just good manners. How many times have you driven your children and their friends somewhere, and you are engaged in a conversation, and you realize that you are speaking with someone who is speaking (or more likely texting) with someone else? It is so deflating. But, it doesn’t have to be. Lets remember our manners, respect our elders, you know, honor our father and mother. It’s in the good book, after all.
Cell phone use is not permitted at our table – not today, not ever!
With our boys sequestered in their bedrooms, out with friends, on their cell phones, we could go days without seeing or talking to them. But, we have discovered, that they do need to eat every day. Having dinner together as a family each day has always been a basic value in our home, and has ensured that we have real quality time together, and that they eat good home-cooked meals. We share some gratitude before eating and try to keep the conversation meaningful and inclusive for all.
Cell phone use is not permitted at our table – not today, not ever! We don’t even pick up the old land line phone if it is ringing during a meal. Our time together as a family is so short already. Preventing intrusions from outside helps our family stay (more) connected.
At social gatherings and parties, or dinner out with friends, we are experimenting with asking our guests to leave the cell phones off to keep the connection in. In Sunday’s NY Times (9/20) in an article titled, “Step Away from the Phone,” the author describes a game. When you go out to dinner with friends, you can play something called the “phone stack” game: Everyone places their phones in the middle of the table; whoever looks at their device before the check arrives picks up the tab.
In our home, we are also considering raising the ante. We want to leave a bowl inside the front door of the house with a kind invitation to “leave all cell phones here before entering.” We’ll see if that will fly.
In 2004, David co-founded and, today, is the Executive Director of Wild Earth, where he seeks to help regenerate healthy community culture and create opportunities for people to connect with themselves, each other and the Earth. Prior to founding Wild Earth, David worked as a wealth advisor on Wall Street for twelve years before realizing a life dream – fully sharing in the care and parenting of his three children, and creating a small family farm. Today, the Brownsteins raise dairy cows, goats, chickens, bees and vegetables in season. David also maintains an active counseling practice called Root Connections, where he focuses on helping individuals, couples, groups and business leaders identify and manifest their unique vision. More about David's work.