One of the very, very easiest ways to combat the complicated and concerning effects of the cyber world on ourselves, our children and our families is dinner.  Yep, dinner.  You know…that meal we eat sometime after work or school and before we go to bed.

While we are fretting over how much social media, gaming, cyber time is too much, and for what ages, and how we can monitor the internet, and can we resolve the problems it has already caused…lets set the table, put on some water for pasta, heat some sauce, and throw a salad together.  Let’s pour a few glasses of water and yell my two favorite words…. “Dinner’s ready!”

Because sweet, small (or large and stinky) feet will come running, and what happens next is sort of magical.  While we put napkins in laps, butter the bread, and scoop mouthfuls of food into our mouths everything changes.  Teens get into less trouble, small children’s vocabulary increase more than by being read to, chances for obesity reduce, and children and parent’s relationships strengthen.

All while we’re passing the potatoes, gulping milk and answering the perfunctory “how was your day?” sorts of questions.

This simple thing…5 to 7 nights a week helps combat every dark fear we have about the cyber world.  How?  Because we are getting into the habit of talking to each other.  Talking together helps us reduce the time spent online.  It helps us talk about the glorious and the disturbing things we may bump into in the cyberworld, and this is one of the best ways to keep cyber use healthy.  It fills us with ten times more endorphins than thumbs-up likes or the ringing bells of video games.

Now there are a few things we must remember in order to conjure such high good from our nightly meals.

  1. All technology off…. TVs, phones, tablets, computers, and anything that requires ear buds.  Unless someone is waiting for an organ donor or a family member is on-call these need to be off. It changes the whole mood of the meal. The good news is that pulling out one’s phone during a meal, especially with children present, is becoming as socially unacceptable as smoking at the table, (yes, people used to do that.)
  2. No discipline during meals.  None.  There will be plenty of time to ask if their homework is done or if the dog got fed.  During meals our stomachs and conversation should be kind, calm and relaxed.
  3. Take a holy pause before you dig in.  Prayer, a toast, thanks to the cook, a moment of silence.  They all help us digest better, have more interesting conversations, and honor our gathering.

That’s it…dinner. Happy New Year….

Elizabeth Clark

About the Author

Elizabeth Clark has been a mental health therapist for teens and families for thirty years.  She is a presenter for CyberStrong, a collaborative community effort, funded by the Western Colorado Community Foundation, to raise awareness and give skills to parents and educators about the influence of technology on our children, families and community.