The art of conversation is waning in our digital age. Meal times, car rides, and bedtime tuck-ins once provided space and quiet for conversation to blossom. Now, these quiet spaces are punctuated by alerts, rings, and the allure of glowing screens in the hands of both children and adults. It is so common to see families together but disengaged, heads bowed and eyes glued to devices, that we’ve come to accept this as the new norm.
Yet as we attend to our devices with diligence, the intimacy we crave goes unsatisfied. Fulfilling conversation requires vulnerability, concentration, and effort—values that may not resonate in our culture of sound bites and instant gratification. But as parents, we understand that the most intimate moments with our kids arise when the tech is put away and we give our attention fully to one another. Here are a few ideas on how to keep the art of conversation alive with your kids at any age.
Create a culture of conversation in your home
Make your home a place where conversation can flourish. Keep the TV—and music with lyrics—turned off unless you are actively paying attention. Turn computers off when not in use. Leave portable devices in another room during meals or family times. Turn off alerts on your phone so social media or the latest sports stats can’t hijack your conversations. Studies show that even the presence of a smartphone hinders free-flowing communication, so make a conscious effort to keep distractions at a minimum.
Encourage your kids to find their voice
Conversation requires deep listening and thinking on your toes—skills that take time to develop. Give your kids opportunities to practice. Ask open-ended questions to prompt imagination and creativity. Solicit opinions about current events or local happenings. Invite their suggestions about a dilemma you have at work or a home project. Cultivating conversation requires children to learn they have opinions and ideas to share, and then to express them so others can understand and respond.
Use conversation starters
Conversation prompts can help when you just don’t know what to say. Both iMOM and our Q&U app can help you get your conversation started. My kids love to use the prompts we keep in a box in our kitchen to start dinnertime chats. Shared activities can also help you get the conversation going. Reading together is a great way to begin a conversation and works with kids of any age, even with kids who read capably on their own. It especially helps in broaching awkward or uncomfortable topics. Watching a show or movie together can also lead to good talks about characters, storylines, or themes.
Keep it light so you can go deep
Sometimes we so desperately want to know the minds of our children, we actually inhibit sharing. No one wants to open up when they feel pressured to be vulnerable. Quality time together can make space for that sharing without making the time together about the sharing. This makes it easier for children and teens to speak up. Go for a scenic drive and see what conversation develops. Shoot some hoops, go on a hike, weed the yard or paint the spare bedroom. Quiet activities such as these allow for conversation to ebb and flow without the pressure of needing to immediately fill the silences.
Tell us! What is one time of day or family activity where you feel committed to ban technology and preserve family conversation?