By Teresa Tomeo
Eye on Culture
When picking up that fork, put down the phone. Those words of wisdom came from Pope Francis just in time for all of those holiday meals families will be sharing (or at least trying to share) this holiday season. The pope’s strong comments about the importance of getting back to family conversation at the dinner table came during his general audience Nov. 11.
“When children are engrossed with a computer at the table, or a mobile phone, and do not talk to each other, this is not a family; it is like a boarding house.”
To some, it seems quite obvious, especially during the holiday season. Whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s Day dinner, why should Grandma bother to make her special stuffing if the grandchildren — and even some of the adults — spend more time texting and tweeting than talking and catching up with relatives. Pope Francis said he fears the family meal is disappearing in some societies.
“Its symbol, its ‘icon,’ is the family gathered around the dinner table. The sharing of meals — and thus, in addition to food, also of affection, of stories, of events — is a common experience.”
Here in the United States, the issue of family mealtime going the way of the dinosaur was such a major concern that several public service campaigns to raise awareness were developed, including The Family Dinner Project (thefamilydinnerproject.org). This campaign echoes the pope’s concern about mealtime getting lost in our busy, high-tech world. Research shows that the time together around the table, minus the media gadgets, has a major impact on child development and the strength of family relationships.
According to the project’s website, “Recent studies link regular family meals with the kinds of behaviors that parents want for their children: higher grade-point averages, resilience and self-esteem. Additionally, family meals are linked to lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, eating disorders and depression. …”
The pope during his general audience took the opportunity to remind Catholics that there is a connection between the way we view the family meal and the way we view the most important meal of all: the Eucharist.
“The Lord Jesus gladly taught at the table, and sometimes portrayed the kingdom of God as a festive banquet. Jesus also chose mealtime to consign to his disciples his spiritual testament — he did so at supper — embodied in the memorial gesture of his sacrifice: the gift of his body and of his blood as salvific food and drink, which nourish true and lasting love.”
The pope’s message is right in line with a new study confirming the importance of connecting in person versus via technology. Shortly after the pope’s audience message, The Happiness Institute released a new study showing the more time people spend on Facebook the less happier they are. They surveyed more than a thousand people in Denmark and found that 94 percent use Facebook daily.
They then split the group into two, with one of the groups backing away from social media for a week. At the conclusion of the seven days, nearly 90 percent who had kicked the Facebook habit at least temporarily expressed stronger feelings of happiness and contentment compared to the other group. They also had a richer social life and less trouble concentrating. Those who continued using Facebook had higher stress levels at the end of the study.
There’s no time like the present to turn off your phone, put down the iPad and start talking as we pass the mashed potatoes.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio, Sirius Channel 130, and KFHC-FM 88.1 in Sioux City.