The Case for Taking Family Dinner Off-Line

Why its more important than ever to detach from technology and reattach with family.

By Edward A. Taub | M.D. from Managing Your Stress in Today's World

Human beings crave variety, and technology offers just that. Who’s going to send the next text message? Who’s going to fire off an e-mail to you? Who’s on your Facebook? The only way to find out is to plug in. And yet, all that disconnection, one family member from the other, is a major source of stress within many families today.

Family Dinner© 2009 Jupiterimages CorporationTake family meals outside and give TV a break. There's nothing to lose but a half hour of news.

Would it be possible for your family to set aside specific times for family meals? It may take a little bit of effort, but it is possible to align the schedules of family members to create a single dinner hour. This may be an uncomfortable option at first. But when a family dines together on a regular basis, and truly has the opportunity for conversation uninterrupted by a cell phone that must be answered or a wide-screen TV that refuses to be ignored, the benefits are enormous.

This applies just as much to empty nesters and retirees as it does to those engaged in the challenge of raising children. If anything, a couple’s need for communication and face-to-face time only increases when the children have moved on to college or other coming-of-age activities. And as for couples who don’t have children, it’s all too easy to allow for technology to become the modern version of the newspaper sections behind which married people hide. Lovers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but a half hour of TV news.

Nowadays, practically all forms of communication, photos, and video can be reduced to the “zeros and ones” code transmitted wirelessly into our homes. Love, however, cannot be reduced to a digital transmission. There is a power that comes from individuals sitting in a room together, looking into each other’s eyes, and telling each other about what’s on his or her mind.
How do we thaw cold or even frozen relationships within families? By sitting down at the dinner table, by looking each other in the eye, and by screening out all the screens that have come to dominate our lives.

We live in a time of unparalleled individual freedom, which is great, because now people can live, work, marry, and raise children pretty much as they choose. The problem is that as a society we may have swung a little too far in the direction of individualism. We aren’t thinking enough about the fact that the building block of any successful society, from ancient times to our day, is the family. Stress and loneliness are often bound up one with the other. Certainly some choose to live alone, and they cannot be faulted for that choice. But studies show that the happiest people, and the longest lived people, are those whose families and marriages are healthy, vibrant, and strong.

Even in families where love exists and the TV and the Internet do not dominate the social discourse, it’s still possible for family members to feel unloved. It’s our responsibility as parents and spouses always to remind our loved ones that we do love them, and never to assume that, “They know I love them.” There are some messages that cannot be delivered often enough.

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