On February 20, 2015, The Family Dinner Project partnered with Common Sense Education for a Community Dinner at the Waring School in Beverly, Mass. The dinner was a time for parents, educators, and students to come together for a shared meal and meaningful conversations about social media usage, Internet habits, and practicing good digital citizenship.
We asked participants in the event to share some of their thoughts with us, and were struck by the overwhelming positivity we received in the comments. Many attendees reported that they have been continuing the conversations that were begun at the dinner in their own homes, while others say that the opportunity to experience a family dinner event has inspired them to try harder to bring their families together around the table more regularly.
"I was surprised by how willing and even eager the kids at our table were to straighten out the adults over misconceptions of social media usage and the Internet. They actually wanted to talk to us about this topic!"
-- Parent of 10th- and 12th-graders
Research shows that teens enjoy spending time with their parents and talking with them over dinner, and that perception was strengthened by our experiences at the Community Dinner at Waring! This event was a wonderful reminder of the power of inviting our kids to share a meal and share their thoughts with us. Below are some of the questions and responses we received from both parents and kids after participating in the dinner, which show the surprises, learning experiences, and lasting impressions made on both generations.
What was something about the dinner that surprised you?
"I was surprised by the level of interest and participation of many of the families, and by the fact that some of them were at the dinner with their kids after a long school day and week." -- 6th-grade parent
"The most surprising thing I learned about is the great lengths some kids are going to in order to bully other kids online." -- 7th-grade parent
"I was amazed by how kids and adults were able to engage in an interesting, well-informed, productive and constructive discussion about technology!" -- 12th-grade student
Describe an interesting conversation you had during dinner.
"It was interesting to hear that many of the people at my table shared our own family’s commitment to have dinner together as many times as possible during the week. It confirmed our own commitment and made it feel less lonely." -- 6th-grade parent
"It helped me to see that many other parents share the same concerns that I have about our kids and social media/presence online. I’d say that the biggest thing I learned was that modern kids’ threshold for boredom is virtually nil. They are so used to turning to devices anytime they have to wait for anything." -- 7th-grade parent
"It was exciting to see what other people thought – we discuss the effects of technology quite a bit amongst my family, but I’ve never been able to hear what my peers have to say, let alone their parents." -- 10th-grade student
Is there an issue that has stuck with you, that you’ve continued to wrestle with?
"I got a better sense of the tremendous pressure social media puts on kids and how much I'm going to need to work as a parent to stay on top of it. I also got helpful ideas about what other families, and what Common Sense Media, have done to deal with various issues, so I came away with tools I hadn’t had before. That made me feel hopeful, not just worried. That was nice!" -- Teacher and parent to 4th- and 6th-graders
"How to build in the family dinner model as a regular habit in my life." -- Teacher
"The issue of balancing trust in our kids with their own protection." -- 6th-grade parent
Have you continued conversations started during our community dinner at home, during dinner or at other times?
"Yes. When my grandson comes over to my house for meals, I have tried very consciously to move us from the ‘bar’ model, where he sits in front of me and I work, to a sit-down model where we both eat and talk and reflect." -- Teacher
"It spurred our own family to discuss how important we feel our dinners are together…Our tradition is having friends over for Sunday dinners. We have enjoyed this in the past with some regularity and have fallen from it since we moved to MA. [The dinner] prompted us to invite our neighbors over for dinner with their families, and to date we’ve had two such dinners." -- 9th-grade parent
"It has opened the door, which I think is most important. Now we just need to keep that dialogue going." -- 7th- and 9th-grade parent
"The sticky notes where each side of the equation wrote down something they wished the other side knew were my favorite part of the evening. I went back and read those several times, and got a lot out of them, and even used one of the phrases in a conversation with my own child this week." -- Teacher and parent to 4th and 6th-graders
One of the highlights of the evening for both facilitators and participants was the use of sticky notes to help dinner guests reflect on what they wished the other generation in the room –- either the parents or the kids –- understood about Internet usage and social media. The exercise was so helpful and the responses so insightful that we’ve compiled them into a graphic that we hope you’ll use to start your own conversations (maybe even around the dinner table) about how families can work together to make sure that everyone practices safe and responsible Internet use in a rapidly shifting digital world.
If you are interested in bringing a similar event to your school or community, contact The Family Dinner Project!