No Distractions at the Dining Table

When I was a child, there were rules about the telephone and they went something like this:

  • you don’t call before 8am or after 9pm unless it’s an emergency
  • you don’t take calls while you’re at the dining table
  • you don’t take calls when you’re with people
  • if you do have to take the call during a meal or when you’re with company, you get off the phone as quickly as you can

When mobile phones entered our lives, the rules became:

  • if you need to get a message through but it’s out of the “regular” hours for calling, you sent an SMS
  • if you receive an SMS while you’re at the dining table or when you’re in the company of others, you ignore it until you have time to deal with it
  • if you get a call while you’re at the dining table or when you’re in the company of others, you get off the phone as quickly as you can

The rules may have varied but the main thing was that you gave priority to the person who was present with you. The only reason you would ever pull out your phone – if it wasn’t an emergency – would be to hint to the person you were with that you no longer wish to be in their presence. It wasn’t exactly polite, but it was a way to get the message across if the other person was oblivious of your need to be engaged elsewhere.

These days, however, it seems like anything goes. We talk to friends and family, and eat our meals while we SMS, surf online, check facebook and/or our emails. If we’re not simultaneously doing more than one thing at a time, we are being unproductive. It’s become so “accepted” that few people think twice or even feel offended any more when someone else interrupts our company in order to attend to someone else who isn’t even present over a matter that isn’t even important. We don’t get upset that we are only getting a fraction of the other person’s attention as they speak to us in between their facebook status updates. Why? Because we are probably doing the same thing.

Whatever happened to our manners? Social grace is dying. It’s slow demise began with the advent of smart phones and tablets.

I will confess that I didn’t always feel this way. There was a point when it did seem kind of cool to be able to multi-task so “easily”. I could get so much more done in a day – or so I thought. Little did I suspect the real cost of multitasking. But that’s not the only cost of this invasion of smart technology into every aspect of our lives…

We have been so obsessed with recording our lives this “instant” (there’s a reason it’s called “Instagram” and not “Latergram” or “Yestergram”) that it feels like we’re forgetting to be present. When we spend time with people we care about, we should be 100% present because it screams louder than any words – “I am completely focused on you because you are important to me”. If we’re trying to SMS, surf online, check facebook and/or our emails at the same time, then we’re not really present. It becomes akin to switching between radio channels, only stopping to tune in when something “interesting” is spoken.

As I ponder over this, I am acutely aware that my boys have begun to follow suit and that bothers me. So we have added a new rule in the house:

No distractions at the dining table.

I would have said “no devices”, except that the boys love to bring their books to the table as well, and when they are reading, they are just as anti-social as if they had a device.

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Why the dining table? Here are a couple of reasons why we picked meal times:

  • Because eating is a social activity and that’s why so many special events are always held around food. Think Christmas, weddings, birthdays, reunions, Mother’s Day, you name it – if it’s important, there will be food. Teaching the children the value of being social during meal times is good practice for life when they will be spending many events being social over food.
  • Meal times are a time when the whole family is together (especially if you make it a practice to eat together). It presents the perfect opportunity to share our lives with each other and show interest in each other.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be meal times, but I think it is important there should be a moment in the day where the family spends time together when every member is fully present.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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