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Co-parents Lead by Example, Quit Screening!

When we put the digital world on pause for these special carved out times, we send a strong message to children: “You matter to me”.
(5 min read)

Hon. Sherrill Ellsworth (RET)
Judge Ellsworth was one of the court's most respected and admired bench officers. She retired from the bench to focus on having a greater impact on today’s families by making our courts more accessible, effective, and efficient.

Recently, I was at a family-friendly restaurant having pizza with the family. You know the kind of place you come after the soccer game to relive the glory moments and laugh at the bloopers, or celebrate a birthday and sing a bit too loud and off-key. But that night was different, parents were silently glued to their phones as children too were glued to their phones, tablets and various small screen personal devices. 

Almost surreal, I realized with all the ‘screening’ going on families, friends, and customers weren’t engaged or speaking to one another… at all. They may as well called in delivery, and ate in the solitude of their home. The dining ‘experience’ I was observing was completely lost to blurry-eyed focus on a screen. Everyone was face down, and thumb drumming, there wasn’t a sound being made at their tables. No face to face interaction, whatsoever. It was a shame, and slightly eerie for someone who knows and appreciates a chatty dining room table.

I remember when my grandparents would swoop me up as a child for a dinner date once a month at our local steak house. The whole idea was to share a meal, catch up, and connect with each other. Those meals I shared with my grandparents were the same ones that shaped my childhood. I realize now this was my loving grandparents’ way of tapping in and seeing how I was doing after my parent’s divorce without ever asking the ultimate question. 

This is where I floated the idea of running for Class President, trying out for softball or debate, and spilling the beans about being hurt by the cute “dumb” boy in band. I showed them my awards, grades and told them about my friends, fears, disappointments, struggles, and aspirations. This was my safe spot to go when I was having a problem and needed advice. By dessert grandma always had things for me to consider while she orders that extra cup of coffee. 

It starts with you. Unplug.

Without an indictment of our new world communication style, I would like to extend a simple challenge to stop “screening” quite so much, be more present at mealtime, at children’s sports or other ”look at me” events. When you walk in the door from work or they come in the door from school put down the phone, turn off the TV, and silence social media just for a bit in order to connect and reconnect with your children. Crazy idea!?  Maybe not. 

Consider unplugging every dinner as a family practice. No devices at the dinner table, period. Talk to one another about the day’s coming and goings. You know, as well as I do, the challenges of getting quality time with your children as a co-parent. The bottom line is dinnertime is quality time, enjoy it. 

It is a combined commitment to engage in a conversation, raise your child’s social IQ and maybe make some memories. That may mean a collection box for phones and handheld electronics, turning the TV off. The rewards can be great, kids when engaged in conversation (not interrogation) give you, as a parent, insights into their lives. This may challenge parents screening habits, understanding that this is modeled -socially acceptable behavior. It starts with you.

Social Media Cleanse

As a family every quarter agree to a one-week, 7-day social media break, a fast from all social media. I assure you everyone will survive. Use this opportunity to discuss important topics as a family. Social media can be a positive thing but, there are important cautions and thought-provoking fodder for important dialogs with your tweens and teens; reputation, self-awareness, esteem, appropriate sharing /posting and safety concerns. This is a chance to remind young people by example that real life is really different than cyber life. We know real-life does not involve ‘insta-gratificiation’, real life is slower, more nuanced and satisfying. Real life is repairable as growing up is fraught with missteps and redos built into the learning process of childhood. Teach resiliency and kindness and how social media can spread or impede both of these positive characteristics. Talk with NOT at your kids. 

Digital Detox for the family

Stepping away from the glow of the small screen is like coming up for air at the deep end. It restores and fills you with perspective and oxygen. We miss the nuances that give rise to stopping and listening to our family members. We miss connectivity and the slim opportunities to help sort, communicate and solve complicated issues that arise in their young lives. We frankly are checked out and fail to be present at a time that may well be a crossroads in the life of your child. Communication through face to face discussion is the very best means to express concern, love, support, and thoughtful correction.

Family Night

Consider having a Family Night once a week. Different than your Family Planning Night, this is focused on good old fashioned fun, which (believe it or not) may include family screen time together playing video games. In a world where our children and our own lives are clearly, visibly over-scheduled your family will come to find solace in the oasis you create for them. That may be a bowl of freshly popped popcorn and a family game night or pajamas and Netflix. It may be a Saturday morning hike and breakfast. Whatever IT is, make it a priority and create a personal device screen-free zone. Collect the phones for those few hours and concentrate on what is important; people talking, laughing, even debating and listening, face to face.

When we put the digital world on pause for these special carved out times, we send a strong message to children. You are more important than me checking the scores, playing games or counting my likes on social media. You are saying, “You matter to me” which every kid needs to hear from their parents.

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