Dear Flint Hill School Families,

Do you remember when I wrote that there would be more to come about “no devices at the table” in my discussion about ground rules with our grandchildren in last week’s newsletter? The truth is, this was a rule imposed upon me by our grandchildren. We learned over the summer that I have a problem — I’m addicted to my cell phone.  But as the saying goes, the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem.

I check my phone occasionally for emails, but I love to use it for a million other things. I constantly check to see if our youngest son has posted new pictures of our new granddaughter.  I like to scroll through the pictures that I have on my phone. I like to search the web for whatever topic we may be talking about at the time. I like to look up people that I have heard about in the news or see in movies or on television. I use it to check for books that I may want to add whenever I think of a unique topic or area that I need to know more about. The list can go on and on. And for all I know, some of you may also struggle with this addiction.

On the first night of our “Camp Oma and Opa” this summer, we were sitting at the dinner table with our four grandchildren having a nice conversation, planning our future activities and getting excited about all that was ahead for us. In terms of devices, our oldest granddaughter’s phone was broken and was completely out of use for her entire visit, Henry’s iPad was out of juice and was being powered up, and my phone was appropriately out of sight, buried in my pocket. At some point, a question came up and I said, “Oh, let me look that up for us!” And as I pulled my phone out, our six-year-old grandson Reed wrinkled his face up and appeared to recoil in terror and disgust. His twin sister Ella began to deliberately wag her finger at me as she admonished, “Opa! No devices at the table!” The entire table went silent and Ella was on a mission and wouldn’t stop, “Mommy and Daddy say no devices at the dinner table. You have to stop and put it away!”

My wife Emily was loving every minute of this. She sat quietly but was enjoying the spectacle. It had obviously been a point of contention in the twins’ home, and clearly was an issue that had surfaced with Emily and me.

This is an interesting dilemma in a school that prides itself on its use of technology. Certainly, there are times when it is important for all of us to use our devices appropriately and effectively.  Technology can give us a whole new ability to communicate and can serve as a window to the world. But there are probably a few things we should keep in mind and that together, we should work to teach our children:

No devices at the table. Join me in making this a commitment. It will help me feel less alone and it will certainly make my grandson Reed much happier. It will also be good for dinner table conversation. Have you ever been to a restaurant where you looked around and saw an entire table where everyone is on their phones and no one is talking to each other? We can make a commitment that we are not going to let that behavior be the Flint Hill way.

Limit constant access. If you or your children have phones, try to avoid taking them into your bedrooms at night. We should set up charging stations in the hallway, in the kitchen, or in the den. You name it. We should go to bed without them. If your children have phones and they have gotten into texting, they will always be listening and looking any time a friend reaches out and they will feel the immediate need to respond. This can have our children up late into the night. Help them develop the discipline to learn to walk away from their devices and leave them alone during certain times. Setting ground rules early in the school year can really help make a difference, and it will save you from some emotional battles down the road as they get older.

Create device free times. Enjoy the freedom of being away from your devices and being disconnected. Set up moments or specific times when it is appropriate to use your phones. But at other times, enjoy the fact that we don’t have to be connected every minute of every day, no matter where we are. Believe it or not, we used to survive before the introduction of our cell phones! We need to create some balance in our active, ever engaged lives.

Together, we can help model appropriate behavior for our children and our grandchildren, in my situation. Technology will be with us forever. It is the how, when and where we use it that truly demands our deliberate actions and our committed effort. We are all learning through this amazing process and we need to listen to the voices around us who sometimes see what we are doing far better than we see it in ourselves. Ella was right when she admonished me for using my phone at the table — it could wait. I now try to keep my phone in my pocket or away from me whenever I sit at a table, or when I’m in a meeting or talking with others. It is secondary to the personal contact, the building of relationships, and the ability to really listen to each other. This is critically important for all of us.

As the students are now beginning to realize that school is almost upon us and we as families are beginning to make adjustments to the new schedule and routines, let’s put technology on the list of things that we need to control in the most effective and efficient way possible.

I look forward to the start of what is going to be a very exciting school year ahead.

Best wishes to you!


John M. Thomas