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Families unplug for dinner

Update: November, 27/2013 - 10:19

by Thu Van

Recently when I asked a relative about the use of digital devices in her home, she invited me to dinner. "What a coincidence!" she said. "Come, I have something special to announce tonight," she said, not revealing what it was.

When I arrived, the table was set. A yellowish light made the home look cozy and sweet. The smell of the food was also entrancing, so I sat down expecting an ideal dinner. Well, it was not so.

When we took our seats at the table, my relative and I began to talk while eating. But her husband and 17-year-old daughter, Lan, stayed silent.

Lan was eating while looking at the screen on her iPhone, gliding her fingers around continuously, unaware of us looking at her. Meanwhile, the husband kept his eyes pinned on the television. Sometimes Lan giggled uncontrollably. At other times, she pouted or frowned.

"Lan?" her mother said.

"Yes?" Lan answered, not looking up.

"Honey?" my relative said to her husband.

"Uh huh?" he replied, still staring at the TV

"We're going to take a technology sabbath every day from now during meal time," she said.

"A what?" Lan looked up. Her husband turned around, looking at her.

"A technology sabbath," her mother said, "which means none of us can use our phones, or iPads, or even the TV during meal time."

"But why?" Lan cried out, dropping her phone to the table.

"So that we can talk to one another again, like before," she said, looking serious.

My relative, a 49-year-old woman, decided on banning electronic devices at the dinner table after noticing that family members rarely talked to one another. After dinner, Dad and daughter went to their rooms, often still toying with digital devices.

I think my relative's idea is brilliant because she's willing to go against the tide of pressure to endlessly watch displays from the electronic world. She is like a doctor trying to heal her family. And she is determined dinner is not going to be stolen by technology any more.

As life becomes busier, most families only manage to have one meal together - dinner. However, with the development of TV, smart phones, then tablets, many complain that the meal is overwhelmed by outside influences.

"My husband can't keep his eyes off his smart phone during dinner. He has many excuses for doing so, such as checking the price of a new camera," said Minh Phuong, a friend of mine.

"But it was even worse when we lived in our previous house as we did not have a dining room. My husband would sit by his computer and ask me to bring his dinner to him," Phuong said.

Recently the American Academy of Paediatrics released recommendations that parents should ban electronic media during meal times and before bedtimes to restore connections between family members.

"If you go to any restaurant, Family 3.0 is Mom and Dad are on their devices and the kids are on theirs," Donald Shifrin, a paediatrician in Washington and also an academy spokesman told the Wall Street Journal. "Who is talking to each other?"

In the United States, young people often rent their own apartments by the age of 18 because family relations are much looser than in Asian countries, where two or three generations of a family live together. But when an American doctor has to make such strong recommendations, shouldn't we also be concerned?

Many of us recall with nostalgia how dinner time used to bring our families together at the end of the day. Mum and Dad spoke about how good or bad their days were, children explained why their T-shirts were covered in oil paint, and actually made eye contact while they spoke. Dinner time was a time to converse, a time to laugh, a time to share, a time to connect. It's a tradition.

Shouldn't we Vietnamese be worried about the disappearance of such a bonding tradition? More explicitly, shouldn't we be worried about letting our families drift apart on their own "technology boats"?

Family implies a deep relationship. But to have such a relationship, you have to spend time and focus on each other's needs and achievements. And you can't focus when one part of your mind is wandering around an on-line shopping website, on-line newspapers or on-line game.

Technology relates more to the future. Families relate to what is happening now. When you unplug your iPad at meal times, you'll find yourself much happier debating with your son what creatures may live on Mars, while exchanging big smiles with your partner.

As for my relative's technology sabbath plan, it went pretty well. One week after that meal, she said everyone had started enjoying dinner time more than ever. "We talk to each other more, and we now seem like a family. It feels right," she said. — VNS



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