Several years ago, I was dining out with my son when we noticed a family of four seated across from us. Now, a family eating a meal in a restaurant isn’t anything unusual, but what caught our eyes was the penetrating silence at their table. No one was speaking, and I doubt it was due to a family rift. Why?

Because they were all on their phones! My curiosity got the best of me, so I went to the restroom and took the opportunity to peek at their screens as I walked past them. Mom was on Facebook, Dad was watching a sports game, one child was playing a game, and another was texting. I had never seen such a thing! Even my son, a professional techie whose phone may as well be a third arm, just sat there shaking his head.

Sadly, I have seen these scenarios more and more in the last few years… more than I would like to see. There have been the couples who don’t talk at restaurants, preferring to sit silently and communicate with others over the WiFi or cellular. I walk out of the gym at my local recreation center, and I see the parents of children taking swim lessons, all hunched over their phones and not watching their sweet children learn to swim. I often wonder how I would have been if I had a cellular phone when my boys were little. I can state with certainty that no such devices would have been allowed at the Walton dinner table at any time- at home or elsewhere. Actually, when my younger son turned sixteen, he announced to me that he was the only student in his high school of over 1,000 pupils who did not have a mobile phone. What did I do about it?

I wrote a newspaper column about how he was the only student at his school without a phone (wink, wink), and I dug my feet in and didn’t budge! Alas, too many soccer practices with him on the road got the best of me, so I got him a phone… but it came with a few mom-set rules.

Please parents… unplug! Teach your children to actually have conversations-a skill that will carry them much farther in life than being technically savvy- and carve time into your week for nature, learning, and family togetherness… UNPLUGGED!

How do you do this? It’s simple! Here are 5 activities that cost little or nothing, and you can start one today! Talk to each other, get some exercise, and expose yourselves to literature and culture the old-fashioned way (or, as I prefer to say, the timeless way!)!

VISIT A PARK AND PLAY! Go to a neighborhood park or nearby park as a family. Be a kid again, and go down that slide! Swing, climb, talk.  Play with your children. And please… no phones!

VISIT YOUR LOCAL PUBLIC LIBRARY. Local public what? Yes, the library, that building that’s loaded…LOADED with passports (aka, books) to take you and your children where you have never gone. I got my first card at age 6 when my Daddy took me to our little town’s two-room library. The first book I checked out was the Caldecott winner, The Big Snow. I have been a fan and patron ever since, and my sons and I made regular visits when they were growing up. It’s fun to pick up books, glance through them, and either take them home or place them back on the shelf. Most libraries offer free story hours and social programs. Get your library card, and GO!

TAKE A GROUP WALK, RUN, OR BIKE RIDE.  My kids and I used to hike at the local state park, and we all learned to roller blade together on their elementary school’s basketball court. Talking, laughing, falling down and getting back up… we did it together, and we had a blast! My older son and his sweet family do weekend morning family run/walks that involve four pairs of running shoes (two adult pairs and two children’s pairs) and a jogging stroller. I love how they are committed to good health habits and family activities!

MAKE DINING OUT AN OCCASION, AND DO IT ON THE CHEAP!  I am still a huge fan of gathering around the family dining table, enjoying a meal and talking about everyone’s day; but I do think families should designate one or two nights per month as dining out events… yes, make them events! Use coupons, patronize venues that offer free kids’ meals, or just indulge in everyone’s favorite meal (pizza?!). Making these meals special events helps everyone to look forward to them. A different setting, having someone else to cook and clean, and just being together… pure sweetness. And, yes… leave the phones in the car. Your messages will be awaiting you!

ATTEND A CULTURAL FESTIVAL OR MUSEUM. Most festivals are free of charge. Art festivals, children’s festivals, and seasonal festivals abound. Give your children an allowance to purchase something small, and pack a picnic lunch to enjoy. The autumn season is packed with such events! Many museums are free, too, or offer generous discounts for children, students, and military personnel. Scan the newspaper or a local website that lists events and museums. Most museums do not allow phone usage in galleries, so you’re good to go in the phone-free zones! Indulge in culture, learning, and family togetherness all at once!

Families are better TOGETHER! The family-whether the traditional nuclear family or a different makeup- is the heart and foundation of our society. It’s the base, the foundation, from which our children are launched into that society. Help your own children launch successfully and grow your family communications by unplugging on a regular basis and doing life together…FREE and UNPLUGGED!

 

Amy Walton is a Virginia Beach-based women’s life coach and Christian life coach who loves to play, frequents the public library, and enjoys group walks with her granddaughters when she visits them. At age 57, she still goes down slides and swings high, and her cellular phone… well, she often forgets she has one. She is happy to connect with YOU, though, at www.amywaltoncoaching.com or at amywaltoncoaching@gmail.com. View Amy’s coaching programs (each tailored to the individual client) at http://www.amywaltoncoaching.com/coaching.