We see them doing it everywhere. While they eat, while they commute, while walking, at restaurants, in the stores: Kids and young people staring at or doing something on their phones. But it’s not just them. It’s us – parents, educators, policy makers, pessimists, optimists – too. Before throwing ourselves into judgment as the mature-therefore-more-experienced-and-knowing, let’s consider all sides to ‘table manners’ – or lack thereof – or manners in any social situation for that matter. Of course, I don’t mean that you must excuse yourself to a train-full of people that you are about to dig into your phone.
It’s when we’re with others intimatelly, professionally and in direct proximity – ‘together’ – that can become problematic and annoying. But it’s not kids all to blame.
My previous post stressed that Internet use is more complex to allow us to diagnose it already. To call someone ‘addicted’ to his or her phone may be a quick judgement that may preclude us from asking important questions let alone understand the context or the factors that trigger heavy use.
Here is a situation that tempts those sharp-minded to give a quick (possibly unfair) verdict. A family of four settles at a table in an upmarket sushi restaurant: mom and dad and two teenagers. Mom and dad grab the menus while their son and daughter grab their phones. Each individual examines their object with focus. The parents examine the menu with seemingly so much focus, one wonders if they are looking for spelling mistakes. The teens, unperturbed, continue examining their phones. None of them exchange a word with each other. Not even a glance. All four members of this family sit together, yet alone, each one immersed in their own worlds – in the case with the teenagers – dreaming of being elsewhere, with friends perhaps, in the case with the parents, dreaming of sushi…or maybe of being elsewhere, too, who knows. No one might know because no one of them might ever say. And that’s where the issue might lie. The use of the mobile phone, while we’re at the table with others, might just as well be a reflection of exactly that: The lack of conversation (and not necessarily with words).
Children and youth spend long hours on their phones while they eat, when they commute and so on and it’s easy to judge such behaviour as wrong, rude, or a sign of trouble. But to keep the ‘table manners’ great it takes everyone at the table to make an effort. In the described case – it takes four individuals. The teenagers are not the only responsible ones to lead or maintain a conversation. Parents have equal responsibility. If the parents show lack of involvement – and, in this case, take so long with the menu’s grammar – it’s understandable why children stick to their phones than…the grammar of the menu.
This should hold true for other situations. Everyone being ‘together’ with someone else has a role to play to keep ‘table manners’ nice and good. Maybe toddlers tied up to a stroller, pushed through shopping isles while handed a screen to poke at in order to keep quiet/busy may not have much say in the arrangement they’re cornered.
The point is, I keep hearing many adults and friends who are also parents judge that young people (strangely, it’s always unknown others) incessantly engage with their phones. But they miss to ask: Why this happens? Moreover, especially when children are ‘hooked’ on digital devices in the presence of others, we should ask: Why we allow this? The same goes for wrecking the environment by the way. Everyone is responsible.
It’s ok to answer the call/email
At times we want our solitude. We want our privacy albeit in the presence of others, at the dinner table and so on. Ever more pressured by the dynamics of life and the uncertainties of the future, moms and dads want to check work emails, news, or even unload that pressure by glancing through Ellen DeGeneres’s always uplifting tweets. When we engage with our own technologies in the presence of our children the least – or perhaps basic – thing to do is tell them what we plan to do, even why we have to do it, so they can understand that we are about to become unavailable for them.
Moreover, you could actually check Ellen’s tweets together with your children. Any other ‘thing’ you have to do on your device that takes you away from the physical proximity with others can become the topic of more conversation later on with those same others. It may go like this: “I’m checking out what cake topping to do for your bother’s birthday cake. Shall we check together?” or “I need to write this post, do you want to hear what I’ve written so far?” Most likely the children will lose interest half way through the reading…granting you treasured space in an instant.
Ultimately, if you must take a call, or check emails, get off the table. Move away. Physically transfer yourself elsewhere to where that email or phone call has transferred you already mentally. It will help everyone in your immediate surrounding. Including you. You – because you can focus 100% on the phone call or email. And your children – because now they will know that you are 100% unavailable. Your physical move – leaving the room – is your way of communicating to those you are with that now you are taken up by something else.
We are social creatures and need others’ acknowledgement of our existence. By communicating with others (verbally or in any other way) we show our acknowledgement of them. We also close the gaps of uncertainties. When we don’t signal in any way that we may be preoccupied with or intend to do something it may lead others to misinterpretations. Or to reach out for their phone.