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Dear Aude and Bruce: Can you help? Our cell phones are ruining family time

Posted in : Q&A with Aude and Bruce on by : Around DB Comments: 0

I can’t stand it anymore… when we sit down together as a family to eat, no one talks, we’re all too busy on our cell phones. Airplane mode is all very well, but what we urgently need is meal mode. What can I do to get us off our phones and back to being a family? DISCONNECTED IN DB

BRUCE:
This is such a pressing issue and one that we are all facing, so thanks for reaching out. According to the Washington Post, teens are spending close to nine hours per day connected to their phones, while tweens are spending fully six hours per day on their phones. And the New York Times states that 33% of people would rather give up sex than the use of their phone. So given this, and the urgent need to take a few steps back, how can a family begin to reclaim mealtime?

AUDE:
Firstly, congratulations on having meals together as a family. Even with the use of phones or screens, having this space established is already a huge step towards connection.

BRUCE:
Indeed. To break bread together – to sit together, relax and share food is so important. It is a cornerstone of our society.

AUDE:
We are social creatures at our core and we’re hardwired to connect, talk and share. We all need to feel as though we belong to a group, a family, and that we are connected to our loved ones. Given this, we need to take a moment to think about the message we are sending to those in front of us when we are busy on our phones. As Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh said, “When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?”

BRUCE:
There is no doubt that we all live very busy lives and because of this we carry tension with us, often on a daily basis, until we are able to release it. The interesting catch-22 in regards to mealtime is that, finally, in our day, we have a space to slow down, or stop all together and just be present. But in this state of momentary relaxation a space is also opened for our stress and tension to come to the surface and thus, meals can often be a sour time, characterised by fights, arguments and disagreements.

AUDE:
During mealtimes, we have the opportunity to sit with our partner and/ or kids and ask them questions. But, as Bruce says, in that moment of connection, all the burden from the day may spill over and onto your loved ones. We’ve all been there. You’ve had a long day, you finally get to sit down, and your partner asks you how you are, and it’s just too much; you don’t have the strength to even begin that conversation. Your partner may really desire this conversation but what you need is a quiet moment to relax.

AUDE:
It’s the same with our kids… for kids reading this (bravo by the way), how annoying is it always to be asked, ‘How was school? What did you do today?’ As adults we need to learn to listen to our children, and to let them express themselves without judgment or preconceived ideas about what they should be thinking, saying and doing. Often children will stop talking because they feel they are being criticised or judged, so we need to start to open up, listen and discover our children. This is listening to understand… not listening to respond.

BRUCE:
Given Aude’s point about lack of meaningful communication, and given that the last thing we want is to regurgitate this stress from our day at mealtimes, it’s no wonder that we retreat back to the non-questioning, nonjudgmental arena provided by our phones. The instant gratification of the phone or tablet is so much more alluring than the prospect of opening back into the stress of the day. So how can this be remedied? How can a family work towards healthy and flowing conversation and exchange?

AUDE:
This is no easy task to be sure. It is so much easier to grab a phone and get lost in it, than it is to establish a genuine connection to others. However, the very nature of our phone is taking us away from our humanity, our needs and our happiness. These are all aspects of a connected family, and the first step to reconnecting as a family is to work towards open, honest and sincere conversation. Instead of simply asking how someone’s day went, find a way to make this a more direct and meaningful exchange.

BRUCE:
If you don’t know where to begin with that (perhaps communication is so detached that this is unfamiliar territory for your family, and that’s fine for now), then limit your conversation to light topics (discussing upcoming holidays for instance, or how your kids’ friends are doing). Note that this is not idle small talk. What you are doing is finding joyous, stress-free common ground from which to begin building connections during mealtimes.

AUDE:
Once the family is reassured that mealtime conversation can actually be relaxed, and that it can provide instant gratification via meaningful  connection in a way phones cannot, then you’ve re-established trust. Everyone can begin to look forward to sitting down together and being in peace together. When such a connection is established, it is easily felt; everyone knows that they are being truly heard, recognised and understood.

BRUCE:
So, with that trust established, what’s the next step?

AUDE:
One simple and efficient idea is to have everyone come to an agreement that all phones will be turned off and kept in a separate room during all meals. Importantly, the ‘mealtime phone ban’ needs to be fully supported by all members of the family, meaning that parents must practice what they preach – it’s no good saying that you need a phone with you at all times because of work demands.

BRUCE:
This point is really critical as kids should not feel that the rules of the house only apply to them, and that their parents are exempt. Such a dichotomy of power would create a split within the family, thus bringing you back to square one.

AUDE:
With the phones out of the way, you have an opportunity to reconnect as a family and reestablish productive mealtimes. As discussed previously, try to keep the conversation light and open. And make time to really enjoy the food (practice mindful eating, allowing the pleasure you gain from the food to flow into the conversation and vice versa). Soon the family should be back on track in a loving and cohesive space. Use this moment to be fully grateful for the family, the love, the home and the food.


Aude Garderet is a Practitioner of Psychotherapy and Bruce Taylor is a Reiki Master Healer, both are DB residents. You can contact them at A and B Therapy, [email protected], www.aandbtherapy.com. For more on Aude, visit www.brieftherapyhk.com; for more on Bruce, visit www.brucechi.org.

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