“Please put the cell phone away!” I hear myself say with more than a little irritation to my teenage son as we make yet another attempt to sit at the dinner table for more than three minutes without distraction. Each evening, we try to sit and have dinner as a family, but the distractions are plentiful. The phone rings, music blares, text messages come in, and by the time we’ve finished eating it feels like we haven’t really connected. My wife and I have both had long days. So has our son who was up well before dawn to get to school. We’re all more than a little overdone, and all of our patience is wearing thin.

How long do families typically connect during the day? One study from the United Kingdom found that 19 minutes a day is all that working parents spend with their children. Another study from Family Circle shows that most teens actually want more time with their parents, but most kids spend more time connecting on facebook than they do with their families.

How can we do it differently? When both parents work, food shopping is an afterthought at the end of the day. Then there’s the kids’ homework, some TV, maybe a little quiet time to read, and then an attempt get seven hours of sleep before getting up to do it again.

Here are a few ideas we came up with at our house to better connect as a family. Maybe they will help your family, or better yet, talk together and make your own!

Media free hour! Pick one hour, preferably around dinner time, and have no music, no phones, and no computers. Nothing that has a battery or is plugged in! Just notice the sound of human voices.

Media binge half hour–once a week only! Take a half hour and just go for it! Text, facebook, video games, internet, TV, I-Pod, I-Pad, loud music, all of it! Get it out of your system! You’ll be surprised at how sick of it all you can get when you give yourself permission to overindulge.

Everyone cook together. Even the youngest children can work in the kitchen, and it helps to show how everyone can play a part.

Talk together about how to prioritize homework, cooking, cleaning, and organizing. It’s empowering when everyone has a voice.

Reward yourself and your family–plan an autumn drive in the mountains, a Christmas break event, or even a TV show you all want to watch together.

Don’t be a stranger to your kids or your spouse. Men especially, let the rest of your family in a little. If you communicate with your family, it will feel safer for them to communicate with you.

A website called “Family Education” suggests some important phrases for you and your family. Here are a few of my favorites:

“It’s time to…” come to the table, turn off the TV, do your homework.
“Tell me more…” about your day, about your plans for the weekend, about History class.
“How can I help?” Maybe the most important thing you can say to a child or partner.
“Let’s all pitch in.” You’d be surprised how quickly you can clean a room if everyone helps a little.

If we can really show up for the people we love, put down the electronics, and see and listen to the people in front of us, I believe that families will be stronger, more loving, and more connected. The most important education a child gets is from you, the parent. And one more thing. Don’t forget that other phrase that has stood the test of time: “Would you like a hug?”

Need Help?

If you would like to speak to a therapist about this subject or about any other issue you may be experiencing, contact the Maria Droste Access Center at 303-867-4600.

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by Joel Silverman, MA, LPC