Our Disconnected Families


I promise to write the final part of my series on Christian Education, but that final is long, involved, and taxing. It’s coming along, though.

Wanted to write a brief observation of what I witnessed this weekend. It’s sad, but it’s also critical for us to expose.

Saturday, my son and I attended an enrichment program for gifted children. The program is wonderful, and my son enjoys it immensely.

We broke for lunch and ate in the mini-cafeteria area. At the tables around ours were groups of dads with their sons and daughters sharing a lunch.

I use that word sharing with trepidation, because not much personal interaction occurred.

At one table, the dad got out lunch, then pulled out his MacBook and proceeded to spend the entire lunch absorbed in the Internet or some other computer-based distraction. His son ate his meal in silence.

At another table, a dad got a cell phone call and spent most of the meal talking to someone distant—rather than the young person immediately before him.

At the table beside ours, the daughter told her dad she loved him. He didn’t respond—too absorbed in his book.

I didn’t have a cell phone with me. I don’t have a laptop computer. My book stayed closed. My son and I talked about life over lunch.

This does not make me Superdad. I’m always Clark Kent. More often than not, I’m clumsy with this or that. I make mistakes with alarming regularity.

But at least I’m present in the moment.

What are we doing to ourselves and to our families? How did we get so distracted?

The dad on the laptop really bugged me, and I felt like saying something to him. But I didn’t. He might have responded, “Yeah, well who made you Superdad?”

That I tolerated the dad on the cell phone a bit more says something about what we’ve come to accept as normal. I hope I never become too normal, though.

And the dad so engrossed in his book? I watched that daughter’s response to the ignoring of her simple affirmation of love. She pulled her coat over her head and retreated into her nylon and polyfill cave. It’s not hard to imagine what might go down in her life as she ages and goes searching for someone, anyone, to say, “I love you, too, darlin’.”

I keep wondering what we’re doing to ourselves. It’s not like any of those dads had no choice. No, they selected their priorities.

How sad that in America 2010, we have so much, yet our much often becomes the building materials for the next generation’s hell.

{Note: I wanted an image for this post that showed a dad ignoring his child while he toyed with some electronic device . Sadly, many stock photos of such a scene exist. I say sadly not because I would have to pay to use that image but because so many pro photographers have seen fit to document such a scene.}

15 thoughts on “Our Disconnected Families

  1. I’m writing a futurist/scifi novel for NaNoWriMo on this EXACT theme. Would you mind me sending you a short summary of the major themes/plot points? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

    @Pew Potato, That ad does a great job at evoking an emotional response to this topic, and it would be great if it wasn’t for one problem – it’s a lie. The ad frames the problem as the phone, not the user. No one is complaining that iOS or Android is too slow for getting to what they want. The problem is the users inability to saying no to all of the content that is avaliable. And in that regard, Microsoft is targeting all of the same addictive apps present on the other platforms in order to make it a succesful competitor.

    Would the distant father be any more present to his child at lunch if he was able to log on to twitter a fraction of a second quicker or begin playing a round of Angry Birds that much sooner? No

  2. I’m surprised the kids weren’t on phones and laptops too. I read an article this morning in I think USA Today about how little children, as young as 6 months, are using iphones and ipads. We’re losing the ability to communicate face to face.

    • Lee,

      The previous week, in the same cafeteria, I saw an 8-year-old girl with her own iPad.

      I’ll be honest here: I was furious, depressed, bewildered, and jealous. All at the same time. I mean, I’d like to have a gadget like that, but then I can’t afford it. Worse yet, I know what kind of money black hole those things are. You just keep buying apps and it all adds up.

      My son was jealous of the girl who had her own netbook. He couldn’t stop watching what she was doing on the thing. Made me sad. He’s always wanting to see someone’s phone or high tech gadget. Is always telling us about the iPod Touch he wants for Christmas. You try to fight that and you just feel like a terrible dad.

  3. Diane R

    Frankly, American dads have checked out, including many in the Christian community. In my last church I watched elders’ teen daughters wear outfits that 15 years ago would be worn only by prostitutes. I wonder where these dads are. I know they live with these daughters. Why are their daughter leaving the house like this (and I am talking about what they wear to church–I don’t know what they wear to school, and probably don’t wish to know? Why are parents so afraid of their children today…so afraid of displeasing them, or that their children won’t like them anymore? Good post, Dan.

    • Diane, you pose some great questions! My own musings on this subject have led me to believe it’s because of how much we as a society idolize youthfulness. Adults in our society place so much value on being forever young that being “old” carries no weight or authority to speak into the lives of the young, even their own young, because they are put up on a pedestal to do as they wish.

      • David,

        You’re right about age. I turn 48 this week, and I feel pretty beat up, even though I’m not that old. Getting old is no picnic. I think people idolize being young because the body doesn’t keep pace with the mind or the self-image. I mean, I’m still 22, aren’t I? And isn’t that how most guys still picture themselves? You get a few surgeries under your belt due to injury, though, and it takes its toll. Twist that ankle a few too many times. Wrench that shoulder once too often. I used to lie on the floor during small group meetings or while watching a movie on my TV, and today I had a hard time getting up! Even your head isn’t quite what it was. I play a lot of board games with my son, and he just kills me lately. It’s because his 10-year-old brain is tack sharp. Where it bothers me is that I was once like that. What happened?!

    • Diane,

      I’ve mentioned this before, Diane, you may have even read it in one of my old posts, but at one time the Pornstar brand was a popular brand of clothing among teens. Unbelieveably, I’d see teen girls, whose parents I knew were Christians, whose daughters wore that stuff. And you knew that’s what it was because the logo was huge and readily visible. What the heck kind of message does that send?

  4. Great post! This is so sad to me! At the same time, it made me think about how my husband and I will be sitting over a meal with our four year old son only talking to him and not talking to each other! I think this is a bit of an age thing as I have noticed that he and I do actually converse over meals more often than we did a few months ago. It’s easy to get sucked into what the little ones are doing though! My church is currently doing a series called “Pause” where we are being inspired to slow down the pace of life and rely more on family togetherness than technology and activities!

  5. ae macha

    Okay, so I was sorta self righteous when i first read this. As I find myself in a world where there is a hyper-focus on our kids,I often feel entitled to continue “normal adult interaction” through being on the laptop,texting, etc. BUT today at the playground I was urged to get up from my usual resting spot, and play with my kids and the other kids there. It was really fun, and I can’t believe how much I don’t do this, so thanks for the urging,

  6. After reading this at Desiring God,

    “… from James Davison Hunter:

    The very nature of modern life is its fragmentation and segmentation into multiple constellations of experience, knowledge, and relationships with each constellation grounded in a specific social and institutional realm of a person’s life. Under such conditions, we experience a fragmentation of consciousness—what someone has recently called, “continous partial attention.” This fragmentation is often reinforced by a world of hyperkinetic activity marked by unrelenting interruption and distraction. On the one hand, such conditions foster a technical mastery that prizes speed and agility, and facility with multiple tasks—for example, using e-mail, I-M, the cell phone, the iPod, all the while eating lunch, holding a conversation, or listening to a lecture. But on the other hand, these very same conditions undermine our capacity for silence, depth of thinking, and focused attention. In other words, the context of contemporary life, by its very nature, cultivates a kind of absence in the experience of “being elsewhere.” Faithful presence resists such conditions and the frame of mind it cultivates. (To Change the World, 252)

    and then this from John MacArthur:

    and remembering my family has a file of pictures of me, “Mom at Play” in which I am wholly absorbed in a magazine or book while the children are occupied at the playground, I find myself totally convicted. It’s Me, It’s Me, It’s Me, oh Lord! standing in the need of Faithful Prescence.

    Thank you for this finishing blow. Now to shut off the internet and pray.

    • Suzanne

      Interesting that a study was done recently (not sure where or how) that concluded that people who aren’t living “in the moment” tend to be quite unhappy. Could part of this be there is no “moment” anymore because we live with continuous partial attention?

  7. ccinnova

    Dan, what you wrote about is sad but not surprising. However, dads who check out are not a new problem, although the tools have changed. In my childhood it was newspapers and TV.

    Careers also were a factor. My dad, like many other professionals of his generation, thought that he showed his love by working long hours to provide materially for his family. And indeed I never lacked for food, clothing, shelter, or other material amenities when I was growing up. But what he didn’t provide in terms of not being around when I needed him, or not being in the moment when he was physically present, still haunts me even though I’m now in my early 50’s.

  8. If this will cause those who are so neglected to seek the face of the only One who is capable of meeting our truest need for relationship, then, as sad as this is I(and it is indeed sad), I praise Him for it. Why? Because, if parents, siblings, friends, lovers, could fill the need of our hearts, why would we desire Jesus?

    And that goes for all of us… not only children and all the singles out there looking for Mr or Ms Right, but all of us. There is no such perfect creature, except for Him. If there were, I believe we’d find ourselves right back to the Adam/Eve story.

    As dark as our human relationships can be, the brightness of the glory of being in relationship with Him only puts that to shame. As simplistic as that might sound, I believe it’s not more psychology/education and application that we need, it’s more Jesus. He is our wisdom and our strength. Our All in all.

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