March 11, 2014

Misty Watson: No technology at the dinner table

It wasn’t quite that stereotypical 1950s, the Cleavers, everything looks perfect, we use linen napkins and we have roast every night kind of dinner. It often involved paper plates, cats begging for food at our feet and tater tots. But the important thing was we were sitting down together as a family.

It’s where we talked about what was going on in our lives and reconnected as a family.

My mom created what we called “goodthingbadthing.” That’s not a typo. We ran all four words together like that.

We went around the table and had to say one good thing and one bad thing that happened during the day. Sometimes our days were so fantastic the bad thing was simply “the day is about to end.” And sometimes our days were so terrible our good thing was “I like corn, and we’re having corn tonight.”

Usually, though, our days held a good mix of legitimately good or bad things, “I had a hard test today and I hope I passed” or “I got a 100 on that horrible test I thought I failed last week.”

We weren’t competing with technology in quite the same way we are today. We got a computer with the Internet when I was a junior in high school. Watsons are notorious for their love of TV, but even my dad turned it off during dinner and talked to us, even if it was because Mom made him.

As soon as Sophie is old enough, Chris and I plan on carrying on the tradition of “goodthingbadthing” as a way to encourage her to always talk to us about whatever is going on in her life. She’s only 2 now.

We’ve already started putting steps in place to make sure our household isn’t overrun with technology. Our rule is “no technology at the table.” (Because of my work schedule, I’m not always home for dinner. So it’s even more important we sit down together when we’re able.)

We don’t answer phones, look at texts, play on Facebook, etc.

When I go to a restaurant and see families playing hand-held video games and using tablets, smartphones, whatever they have instead of reconnecting, it makes me sad. (I’m not talking about the mom and dad, who are exasperated sitting on a park bench while the kids play as they desperately try to take a few rare moments for themselves.)

I wasn’t surprised to read about a study published recently by the Boston Medical Center that showed parents on their smartphones leads to negative interactions with their children. Researchers went into 15 fast-food restaurants in the Boston area and observed parents’ interactions with their children, especially when the parent was playing on a smartphone.

Forty of 55 parents observed were on a mobile device. The study showed they seemed more distracted, leading many children to attempt to get their parents’ attention, and often the parent was harsher with their child.

While that may not seem like a large number involved in the study, I don’t think we need thousands of people being observed to tell us that smartphones and tablets consume us, make us ignore our children, our spouses and our responsibilities.

Even though I don’t have a smartphone, I know that if I have my mind set on sitting down to read, even doing a Bible study, talking to a friend via Facebook chat or seeing which “Golden Girl” I am, it’s hard for me to be positively engaged in Sophie if she decides she wants my attention.

I’ve been guilty of snapping “Can I not have 10 minutes to myself?!” Or if she is getting into something she shouldn’t, it’s easier to get frustrated with her and snap than it is to walk over to her, remove her from the situation and redirect her to a safer activity as I would do if I were washing the dishes instead of playing on my laptop.

The solution isn’t living in a world without technology. But maybe we could all make more of an effort to put down the gadgets and pick up our children.

Murray County native Misty Watson is a staff writer and photographer for The Daily Citizen. You can contact her at mistywatson@daltoncitizen.com; facebook.com/MistyWatsonDCN; or on Twitter, @mistydwatson.

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