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How Spending Quality Time Can Really Strengthen Families

There can be significant benefits to shared family activities and traditions.

When children are growing up, what they see in their families is what they tend to consider normal. Whether a child grows up in a large home or a small apartment, a large family or a home with a single parent, they tend to accept their situation because that is all they’ve known.

My family did not own a color television during my entire childhood. During those years we had a small, 12-inch black-and-white television. Did I feel deprived that I didn’t have a larger TV, or that it wasn’t in color? I did not, because to me this small television was just right. It was the only TV we had in our home and as such, I was satisfied to watch shows on it and didn’t worry about it having a small screen and black and white images. It was just our TV and it worked fine.

The point here is that I accepted what we had and was comfortable with it. When children are growing up, they just know what is shown to them. That means family traditions and other activities are generally seen as just normal. If a family eats dinner together, goes to religious services together, or spends time talking with each other, that’s what the child absorbs and internalizes.

More and more, our family traditions are shrinking as we move toward a more isolated society. Social norms seem to be eroding at an ever-faster pace. How many families no longer share meals around the dinner table, instead opting to watch TV or text friends on their phones? How many families no longer sit and talk? This tends to isolate and disconnect family members from each other. It also stops families from communicating and catching up on each other’s lives.

It is this emotional separation that can lead to a lack of connectedness. This in turn can become internalized in children seen as normal. Then when they grow up, they take it with them into their own families and this lack of family connectedness becomes normalized in the society.

For those of us who grew up in a household where families shared meals together and spent time talking with each other, chances are we are passing along those traditions to our own families. The problem is, children today often want to spend their time in front of screens rather than people. Cell phones, video games, computers, and other attention-grabbing devices often mean parents get resistance to traditional family togetherness time. This pressure can lead to parents giving in and letting children do what they want rather than fight with them over sitting at the dinner table.

This creates a new normal that no longer values the idea of families and the society at large, connecting with each other. We are already a society that has fewer and fewer things that are shared societal experiences. While this year things have changed due to the pandemic, events like the Super Bowl have for decades created shared experiences between generations. Unfortunately, events like this are becoming fewer and fewer in their number. Life is increasingly becoming more and more solitary, with people staring at screens rather than sharing experiences with each other.

Children are not the only ones who become lost in their own computerized world. Parents also spend much of their day on their computers or smartphones. Remember, that with each year discussing things verbally gets pushed further and further into the past and is often replaced with texts and emojis. While there is nothing wrong with technology and new ways of communication, there is something that is being lost every time we separate ourselves from the people in our lives. Family and community traditions are important, not just for the current shared experiences, but for the future as well. Since children internalize their experiences which define what they feel is“normal,” that means generations to come may not know what it’s like to sit together around the dinner table and truly connect as a family. We may be trading that connectedness for the isolation of the computer screen.

That is why it is so important that parents and caregivers create boundaries of behavior that help to keep family traditions alive. If you remember the shared experiences you had with your parents and grandparents you know the important bonding that took place during those times. The warmth and love you felt belonging to something bigger than yourself. The security of knowing you were part of a supportive family that cared for you. That is what family traditions give us, the closeness and connectedness of truly having people that hear us and care about us. It is this shared experience that brings people closer together and is well worth preserving.

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