{Guest Post by Thomas P. Farley} Thanksgiving Unplugged: We’ll Get Together Then

When I consider the way technology has encroached on precious family time, I’m reminded of the folk ballad “Cat’s in the Cradle.” Way back in 1974, singer-songwriter Harry Chapin could not have dreamed of toddlers sitting at a table while both parents tap away at their cell phones. Or the youngster who needs help with homework only to be told “in a minute” by a guardian who sits immobile at a laptop. Should we be surprised, then, when those same kids grow older and decide that a Game Boy, Xbox or iPad—let alone Facebook—are all far more interesting than conversations with parents? Will all of us someday turn around and realize that the years of paying such enormous attention to electronic devices has paid off in the form of grown children who treat us exactly the same way?

Of course, in a household where children are homeschooled or afterschooled, quality interaction between parent and child occurs on a regular basis. But what a shame if after both parties have committed so deeply to furthering the learning process that additional opportunities for connection are lost amid the distraction of our devices. First and foremost, I’m talking about the dinner table.

These days, on the rare occasions that some families sit down to eat together, the LCD screen is also an invited guest. (And yes, that includes the TV set!) Have you been able to keep electronics away from the table? If you haven’t, you’re missing a golden opportunity to connect with your offspring.

It was with kids and families in mind that fellow etiquette expert Diane Gottsman and I announced last month a brand-new, nationwide campaign called “Thanksgiving Unplugged.” If there’s one holiday when family takes center stage in just about every household, it is Thanksgiving. And if there’s one block of time on that day when we can surely survive without the football games on TV and the Facebook status updating, it’s dinnertime….a commemoration of the very first Thanksgiving, a time and place when there was no app for anything…just hard, pioneering work, rewarded by a bountiful meal shared with family and newfound local friends.

Diane and I encourage you and yours to capture a bit of that pilgrim spirit by visiting “Thanksgiving Unplugged” and downloading and signing our pledge to turn off your electronics during Thanksgiving dinner. You’ll be amazed at how liberating a couple of hours away from Foursquare check-ins and Instagram uploads can be. Your boss will not fire you for waiting till later to answer her e-mail. You will not lose all of your followers because your Twitter feed goes silent as you talk turkey with your family. Trust me: the web will still be there when you return.

It’s our fervent hope that once families learn the process of disconnecting to reconnect, that they start to doing so on occasions besides just Thanksgiving. And to encourage kids and schools to help us get the ball rolling, we’re even holding a Thanksgiving Unplugged Art Contest, inviting schools around the country to create projects around the concept of “Thanksgiving Unplugged” and to submit photos for posting on our website and Facebook page.  The school with the most creative interpretation of the “Thanksgiving Unplugged” concept will be announced after the holiday.

I’d consider it an honor if you would help Diane and me spread the word. Follow us on Twitter. Like us on Facebook. Take the Pledge. And then, unplug. Nothing would make me happier if—in this regard anyway—our kids did not turn out to be just like us.

Thomas P. Farley (a.k.a. “Mister Manners”) is an author, blogger and frequent media commentator. He teaches classes for school kids and corporations, and believes that good manners hold the key to solving and surviving most day-to-day aggravations. You can follow Thomas on Twitter @MisterManners, and his Thanksgiving Unplugged co-founder Diane Gottsman @DianeGottsman.

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8 comments

  1. Unless we’re waiting on some kind of emergency phone call (rare, but it does happen because hubby is a computer person and I’m a minister), there are NO electronic things at our dinner table. We start dinner saying thanks… and by that, I mean we say, “Thank you for…” and add something about our day. It’s nonsectarian prayer, something that any guest at our table can join in without worry of offending their God. It reminds us forcibly that *something* good has happened each and every day. So… I suppose that makes every day “thanks giving day” for us. 🙂

    But I do enjoy unplugged days. We sometimes turn off the power at the main junction box and go a whole evening without power, just because we can. We break out the popcorn and the metal corn popper to use in the wood stove, and we toast marshmallows, drink hot chocolate, read to lantern light, and cuddle up together.

    It does help that our kids have grown up with this… they don’t yet really realize other people don’t do what we do (they’re 7 and in first grade). 🙂

      • LOL Thanks! 🙂 We try to make power outages “special times” (and where we live they happen at least once a year, sometimes more). They’re not scary, but more an opportunity to pull out the cast iron and hidden provisions for a fun evening.

        We’re also not new parents. There are three of us in our relationship (the adults), and two of us (me and hubby) who have kids who are grown or almost, living elsewhere. We went through his older kids’ angst throughout their teens, and we fought with the stupid video games and such. We made an informed decision that these twins (sis’s and his, and we worked at getting them for years!) were not going to grow up that way. They know what video games are – they play them at friends’ homes and at their older siblings’ homes. But they also know that here, they get an old “plug into the tv set” battery operated thing that allows Galaga, PacMan, and Pole Position. LOL… There is no DS here, no Xbox, no Wii. And there won’t be.

        We play endless board games. We make home tasks into schooling (this morning, they were counting their birthday money, and learned that “counting by tens” is the same as counting by dimes, for instance) to supplement what they get at school. We introduce concepts to them (our boy twin got introduced to double digit addition today, and the concept of “carrying the one”). Sometimes they run with it and sometimes they stumble and we wait a few weeks before coming back to it. 🙂

        But I grew up in a household where dinner was something eaten while sitting on the couch or floor, staring at the idiot box. We didn’t talk (retrospectively that was probably a good thing, considering). We didn’t discuss. They didn’t teach me much of anything. I vowed that would not be the norm at my house, and I enforce it with an iron fist. Once every couple of weeks we’ll have pizza in front of a movie, a special treat for everyone, but that’s it. Dinner is served at the dining room table, with plates and forks and drinks and such. The kids set the table and the kids clear the table. We don’t do phones or ipads or anything else of the sort (though between Thanksgiving and Christmas we do tend to have a radio or other musical device going quietly in the background most any time of the day, including dinner).

    • Thanks Thomas! 🙂 I read this blog all the time, and am always thrilled with what Pamela comes up with. I loved reading this today. I’ll be sharing it with my family and friends, of course!

  2. Pamela & Thomas & Diane — this is a VERY important issue and I am so glad you are sharing this message.

    Our family has a no-screen rule at dinner time. Everyone sits at the dinner table. It’s a very important time of day. I can’t imagine living any other way.

    I hope your pledge catches on, and more families unplug at mealtimes.

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