Ditch the devices and reconnect with these tips for a phone-free family dinner

No doubt, you've seen it. Romantic partners, friends and even whole families sitting around a restaurant table with their heads down, silently engrossed in electronic devices.

Whether the individuals involved are scrolling through cat memes, sliding into Twitter DMs, reading highbrow think pieces or endlessly solving dot-based puzzles doesn't matter. Technology can create a lonely space where users feel neither truly alone nor truly together.

We here at GuideLive love the internet; virtually everything we do — from helping North Texans Plan a Fun Week to letting parents know where to find the best Christmas lights — depends in some way on our readers having access at their fingertips.

But, ultimately, we also want our readers to get out from behind the blue light and into the light of day. That's where one reader put us to a challenge:

Address the "terrible habit" of using electronic devices — especially by families with children — in lieu of practicing the art of conversation around the dinner table.

"This habit has destroyed good manners and the purpose of enjoying one another's company during a meal," the reader writes.

Our readers are fabulous. They regularly help us know where to find hidden gems and about can't-miss upcoming events. When they drop a note into our tip-line or send a letter, it is frequently in our interest to listen. This particular reader's point was no different.

My family — inspired by restaurants offering incentives for phone-free dining and cutting Wi-Fi connections — recently attempted a weekly evening, just one night per week, dedicated solely to in-person human interaction at home.

It was met with, shall we say, resistance.

Such challenges are further complicated in cases of blended families. Different homes have different rules, and sometimes only certain adults are authorized to enforce them. Often, the only hope for stepparents lies in providing influence through example. It can be maddening.

Reframed, however, it can also be a call to creativity.

Smart conversation can open or reopen lines of communication. Phones often become an escape to defect from uncomfortable or boring situations. Texting and social media present an opportunity, for better and worse, to always feel connected to our passions and interests with an ever-present, captive audience. Here are some of our favorite ways to stoke those fires, in person.

A note: We know some parents, especially those with very small children, sometimes use devices to help impatient, and at times loud, little ones deal with misbehavior in public. You'll find no judgment here. Instead, we hope to help out with a dinner set who can, generally speaking, chew bites bigger than a fingertip.

Dig deeper into fleeting obsessions

Staff meetings can be boring. But, at GuideLive, we use that time as an opportunity to talk about newfound "obsessions" — fun, interesting or bothersome things we can't get out of our heads. As a result, story planning regularly uncovers intriguing revelations about the co-worker just one cubical over.

Last month, we learned where to get coffee served in a coconut, why a man who writes about technology loves antique fountain pens and how free samples at Central Market transformed one writer into a self-described "rabid cheesemonger."

The rules are simple and can be replicated around the dinner table both at home or in a restaurant. Each member is asked to come to the table prepared to talk about their favorite current "obsession."

Pro-tip: Take a cue from this Chick-Fil-A location in Georgia and have a communal place for devices to temporarily reside. It cuts down on temptation and ensures everyone stays engaged.

Obsessions can — within reason — be anything from the best Mario video game in decades to whether or not ketchup enhances the flavor of a corny dog, so long as it is appropriate for polite company.

Don't worry about topics being too trivial. Instead of devolving into a lecture on the demise of highbrow culture, the conversation can instead be an opportunity to ask questions and draw parallels. Everyone is growing and learning at his or her own pace. A mention of the distraction du jour — a "controversial" meme, like the blue and black dress, for example — can spark further curiosity about neuroscience and human perception.

Set the mood with a musical collaboration

Before sitting down, each member chooses a song to be added to a Family Playlist. Songs can be from any genre or time-period, as long as they are meaningful to the person who has nominated them. One family member is designated to control the device that plays the music. All other devices go into the coop.

Before each new track begins, the member who nominated it is invited to offer an introduction of the artist or song, and why it was chosen. It can be a good way to gain insight into musical tastes and common ground.

Not sure what "Bodak Yellow" even means? We're not sure your kid does, either. Do they? And, why doesn't it have a chorus?

On that note, does a pop song ... even ... need ... a chorus? Queen seemed to think it was optional. So did REM, Springsteen and Dylan ...

Back to "Bodak Yellow," one of 2017's most wildly successful songs: Individual families should, of course, make additional rules about things like content and profanity, but we'd offer the gentle reminder that parents can only offer positive influence over troubling lyrics and badly behaving artists when they actually know what's streaming through their children's ear buds.

Family media club

Reading with a child can be a deeply joyful experience. It's hard not to burst with pride hearing toddlers repeat new words or watching young readers master a challenging text.

But, as students grow book reading tends to become a solitary experience. Use family dinner as a way to talk about shared interests. Consider checking out multiple copies of a young adult novel and reading simultaneously, if separately.

If that's hard to coordinate — or, if it feels too much like another "assignment" on already-packed school/work schedules — drop back to something everyone can handle. Perhaps that's a favorite show, movie, video game, or article.

Adults prepare a few discussion questions ahead of time to keep the conversation rolling. Here are 13 general book club questions for any type of conversation from the website Bustle.

Plan Your Weekend

You didn't think we'd forget this one, did you? We have an entire team dedicated to digging up and promoting the best ways to have a good time in D-FW. They are human databases of fun places and events, in addition to their other fabulous talents.

Before sitting down to dinner, each member is charged with coming up with their vote for a family outing. Phones stay in the coop — anyone who isn't prepared to sell their pitch must abstain until next week, and further logistical research should be saved until after the dishes are washed. Here's a good opportunity to talk about attention to dates and details. It's hard to make plans without them.

In round-table fashion, each member pitches their pick, and the whole family votes on the weekend's plans. As long as time and funds allow, there can be more than one winner. Why not hit up a cool food truck park and Free Play Arcade on a single trip to Richardson?

Bonus: Any suggestions that are a little too pricey or can't be worked into the immediate weekend can go down on parents' secret little list of birthday surprises and holiday gift ideas.

Here's where you can find:

Upcoming events that are kid-friendly
Editors' favorite events this weekend
Festivals throughout the year
Free things to do every day of the week in Dallas-Fort Worth
What to do in the Dallas suburbs
Discounts for family outings

A final note:

Our reader friend who inspired this post also generously offered to make a donation to our favorite charities. As journalists, even the entertaining type, we mustn't accept gifts (or gifts in our names) or use our platform to raise funds for personal causes. But, we're grateful for and inspired by the kindness. Happy Thanksgiving, all.

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Hey, moms and dads: Join our Dallas Parents Facebook group for fun tips and friendly discussion

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