Being ‘Smart’ with Family Phone Use

Being ‘Smart’ with Family Phone Use

My wife was out grabbing a sandwich on a beautiful March evening, sitting outside just enjoying the time when she spotted a typical American family – two parents, a boy and a girl – but – and this struck her as atypical – not speaking to one another. She thought a bit odd, especially as we recalled our two sons – now grown with their own families – finding it difficult as adolescents sitting still at restaurants.

In fact, there was an inverse relationship between sitting still and the fanciness of the restaurant – the fancier the establishment, the more fidgety they would get. At least that’s how it seemed through the lens of parental memories decades old.

But back to this family. She was curious as to why the kids, let alone the parents, weren’t speaking to one another and were sitting at three different tables. Was it one or both of the children being disciplined or was anger getting acted out – albeit passively?

She finally realized it was because each family member had a smart phone that they were either e-mailing, texting, app searching, Facebooking, tweeting, catching up with a news or sports site, gaming or any number of other activities.

The silence was finally broken as she was completing her meal, when the 10-year-old son announced to the family, “Let’s go. My battery is low.”

This is the second such event in recent memory, with a family of five – two parents and three teenage or even 20-something family members – we ran into in Pittsburgh were in the same smart phone stupor. They never said a word to each other – and we know because in the crowded restaurant we were at the next table. So silent were they that, when the father rose without a word and walked out the door, the other four – eyes still glued to their phone – followed behind.

Now, I want to be careful how far to go down the morality-of-technology road, especially as an iPhone and Kindle Fire user myself.

Parishes are blogging, on Facebook, tweaking, blogging, creating YouTube videos, have homilies, songs and prayers available on iTunes. Pope Benedict XVI has been texting (or at least those in his name) since 2008 or before. So, let’s say upfront that social media is not inherently immoral and, in fact, can help connect with young people and adults that gives the Church unprecedented opportunities to extend their message to a world that more than ever needs it.

Now, the but. I have to ask the question whether parents are actually doing their due diligence in being aware of what their children are receiving and sending as messages, as well as attempting to set up boundaries – like the sacredness of dinner table – where usage is and is not appropriate. Are we parents so concerned with being connected ourselves that we fail to identify limits for our children?

“It is important to stay connected to friends, family and associates,” Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl told the graduating class at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md., May 15, 2011, recounting how one young man told him that he receives or sends hundreds of text messages a day in order to stay connected. “It is also important to stay connected to the deeper reality of our existence – our relationship with God.”

Not to mention relationships with family.

We have a long-standing rule in our household, that forbids the use of any electronics or even taking of land-line telephone calls during meal time and time of family meetings. These are times where we try to find the center focused in Christ that we can celebrate and find he whom ultimately brings and keeps us together.

Resources parents might be interested in from Franciscan Media’s Servant Books include Dr. Ray Guarendi’s audio “Discipline That Lasts a Lifetime: The Best Gift You Can Give Your Kids” and book Discipline That Lasts a Lifetime: Dr. Ray Answers Your Frequently Asked Questions, and Kimberley Hahn’s Beloved and Blessed: Biblical Wisdom for Family Life.

How do you keep technology in its appropriate place in your family?

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Photo top: A young woman replies to a text message on a mobile phone in Washington. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Photo middle: A young woman uses a mobile phone in this 2005 file photo. (CNS photo/Simon Corinne, Catholic Press Photo)

Photo bottom: The Angelotti family prays before diving in to a meatless meal of baked potatoes and salad at their home in Centreville, Va., Feb. 4, 2009. Parents Terry and Neil, along with their children, Brendan, 9, Emily, 11, and Kyle, 13, have made Operation Rice Bowl a centerpiece on the family table during Lent. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)


About the Author

Mark Lombard, director of the product development division, has worked throughout his career in Catholic publishing. He is married, a father of two and a grandfather of two. Mark is an avid jazz lover, traveling with his wife to catch jazz performances throughout the East Coast.