The ‘ideal’ family unit in the middle of the last century, is a product of a bygone era. Along with the family norms of saying the grace around the table, and the popular series of ‘Father Knows Best’. These images had a broad popular appeal and were reflections of the family cultures that sadly have gone out of fashion in this modern era.
Today’s family appears to have derailed from this seemingly ideal values and may just be termed quite dysfunctional by older generations. Social, economic, and political trends witnessed since the late 1960s; have greatly altered our conception of what the family unit really should be. Today’s family tends to be very mobile, never staying long enough in one place to put down deep roots within a sustainable community framework. We have a family unit that appears to hardly resemble the one of yesteryear.
The Pandora’s Box of technology has been opened, and there is no going back. The Digital Age has been transformative and extensive and has brought in its wake enormous sweeping changes in how we view the contemporary family. Psychologists and various studies have indicated that eating together regularly has benefits for kids and parents alike. The family meal has largely been replaced by TV dinners, playing video games, surfing the internet and solo eating frenzies.
Unlike the Baby Boomer Generation, today’s young people belonging to Generation Y and Z aren’t familiar with life apart from today’s interconnected mediascape, be it Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. Today’s language interchange between parent and teenager consists of curt and concise abbreviated cyberslang such as CU(see you), or BTW(by the way).
Young people seem to be very much disengaged from their parents, but very connected to their peers and online friends.
They tend to send over 100 text messages per day to their friends; either real or virtual. Unfortunately, they seem unable to forge real and meaningful relationships with their peers or family members.
Eating together as a family unit involves much more than good nutrition; it is an invaluable aid in socializing and bonding with the children. Kids who eat with their family members tend to perform better scholastically than their peers who live apart from their families. Not eating together has a measurable negative impact on children’s health-both psychological and physical. Students who do not partake in sharing meals regularly with their families may tend to have much higher truancy rates than those who do.
There are also issues of substance abuse and problems of overweight. Meals eaten on the run, or at fast-food outlets, are far less nutritious, and only provide empty calories. Check out Miriam Weinstein’s book: The Surprising Power of Family Meals, for some interesting insight as to how to alleviate much of the alienation evident in our society today.
The Digital Age does indeed have its merits as to connectivity between parents and their distracted children. Kids today will often rather text message their parents than speak to them. This communication mode will provide them with ‘optimal distance’ and privacy. According to Dr Gene Beresin, the text message provides for communication that otherwise would not happen. It also gives the parents an instant heads-up, so as to allay any fears as to their children’s whereabouts.
Shared time together preparing meals and cleaning up afterwards; serves as an ideal environment for compromise, pleasant table banter, and learning. The family meal serves as the template for community building and has an important socializing influence. The family should prioritize to have at least one day per week to share a meal together. Not only is this a money-saving proposal, but it can truly be an event to look forward to.
So, unless you want to record or take a family dinner time picture together; disengage at least for the period of the meal, from all digital devices; and enjoy the company of ‘real’ rather than ‘virtual’ people.