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.