A Boy and His Dog? No, a Boy and His Phone!

By James L. Casale
James L. Casale
James L. Casale
Dr. James L. Casale is a state and national award-winning educator. He is a former Florida Teacher of the Year and was the principal of Purchase School in Harrison, N.Y., when the school was cited as a National School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education. He is the author of three parenting books, a family cookbook, and two brief memoirs about growing up in the 1950s, all available on Amazon.com.
October 12, 2021 Updated: October 12, 2021

Are there still bonds of love and loyalty between a boy and his dog? Do teens even have time to spend with their pets, or are they too busy with their electronic devices? I’m an unlicensed and uncertified undercover observer of how parents and their children interact in different settings.

My most recent observation occurred in a restaurant on Aug. 5. I covertly witnessed and took mental notes on the absence of any interaction between a boy and his parents. He also ignored his brother, who was sitting across from him.

Unless you live the monastic life, everyone has witnessed teens, pre-teens, and adults obsessed with their phones via an invisible umbilical cord. It’s so commonplace it hardly deserves my attention—except when this cordless monster appears at a dinner table, at home or away. Electronic devices and toys are verboten at a dinner table.

My wife and I were excited about trying a highly recommended country food restaurant, Julie’s Place, in Murphy, North Carolina. We were delighted when our fried green tomatoes, homemade onion rings, collard greens, and fresh trout arrived. At about the same time, a family of four, including a mom, dad, and two teenage boys, strolled in and were seated a few tables away from us.

My PCIA (Parent Children Interaction Antennae) was immediately activated when one of the boys, seated next to his mom, had headphones attached to his ears, and that entertainment thing was mysteriously gorilla-glued to his left hand. I could hardly eat my dinner. Observe I must. This article began forming in my head. Why didn’t I have notepaper?

For the next 15 or 20 minutes, the teen never looked up and interacted with his family, shoving a biscuit in his mouth with his right hand. When his mom tried to talk to him, he did face her with a puzzled “why are you bothering me” look on his face. Still, it took him a moment or two to eventually remove his headphones and respond.

This minor interaction was over in less than a minute. Then the boy resumed his devotion to his electronic pet, grabbed another country biscuit, and started munching. What was he viewing? What was he listening to? As the dinner continued, no one interacted or smiled, and the dad was fingering his phone. What’s wrong with this picture?

There’s a universal recommendation from every parenting expert in this galaxy: No electronic devices at the dinner table! Dinnertime is sacred. At home or in restaurants, dinnertime provides the time for happy talk among family members. It should be used as an opportunity to laugh, discuss, review, compliment, praise, bond, make plans. Dinnertime is one of those family routines that should never be canceled or ignored, because regular family discussions are benchmarks of effective parenting.

Dr. James L. Casale is a state and national award-winning educator. He is a former Florida Teacher of the Year and was the principal of Purchase School in Harrison, N.Y., when the school was cited as a National School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education. He is the author of three parenting books, a family cookbook, and two brief memoirs about growing up in the 1950s, all available on Amazon.com.