Should Family Time Stream?

Should families live-stream their holiday celebrations to those off-site?

Dear Ms. Smartphone: My Mom asked if I would stream video from our Thanksgiving dinner. Sh wants to see the kids in real-time and say hello, find out what I am making for dessert, and view the place-settings. I put out her Mom’s (my grandmother’s) special china plates and serving pieces just on Thanksgiving. These are all good reasons. Yet I am still reluctant to turn on the video during our holiday meal. Irma, Boston

A multi-generational family gathered around an oval shaped dining table that is set with formal place settings, candles, and wine glasses.
Photo Credit: Lillian Penner, author, “Grandparenting with a Purpose”

Dear Irma: First of all, what would the turkey say! There is no question that the holidays strain our digital etiquette, and that seems to begin here in November.

The good news is that when you run video, say on the phone or Ipad, you might have less contentious dialogue and more “instagram” perfect moments. We act differently when we know we are on camera. Here I am citing a review paper by Harvard Professor Ethan Bernstein. In work settings, when employees know that they are on videotape, there is less petty theft and more emphasis on customer sales and service. This is called technology based monitoring.

Do families behave differently when they are being filmed? Well, maybe on reality TV and when it comes to talking politics and sharing those skeleton-in-the-closet family secrets!

But seriously, I share your concerns about running the camera during your holiday. You didn’t say why your Mom can not come to Thanksgiving…is she very ill, serving overseas, or does she want to avoid holiday travel? The reason might matter (to some….)

That said, I worry for the future that ‘video holidays’ may become a new norm. Why spend money on three-day travel trips, burn excess fuel, and experience the inconveniences of holiday crowds if we can participate vicariously? Something will be gained, and a lot will be lost.

Is Texting Wrong Here?

If you have relatives who don’t say much, is texting the wrong thing to do?

This image shows an imaginary text box with platitudes like "love you" "feel better"
Is Texting the Way to Reach Family?

Dear Ms. Smartphone: It is a holiday, Yom Kippur, and I find that some of my relatives are not involved with our family’s cherished routines. These relatives, who have moved away, seem totally disconnected from the family except for texts they send plus birthday cards. Usually I have to text them first. Should I text my disapproval? Marcela, Swampscott

Dear Marcela: You ask a contemporary question! As technology changes so do our interpersonal relationships. Based on what you wrote, your lament is not a one-off. The texts you exchange are fragile, both in number and in content.

No doubt, it is hard to pick up the phone and dial these relatives, but that would be my advice. If you continue to rely on text it will magnify your differences. When you send a text, you don’t know how it is received (is the person alone or in a group, focused, reading carefully etc.) nor where (e.g. in the bathroom, in the car, etc). That could account for some of the misinterpretation, but not all.

If you converse on the phone (presuming they answer your call), you can speak your mind, and convey more emotions and explanation. Importantly, you can listen to their viewpoint and gain some clarity. This is a very good article describing all the things that are lost by texting and gained by using a phone call instead.

If you have not seen these relatives in awhile, you could propose a Skype chat, but if you do so, be prepared to have a subliminal moment processing how they look, their surroundings, and whether they are reacting to your call as an intrusion or as a nurturing intervention. I would be concerned that the additional visual cues could hamper your reconnection. Good luck!

How Often to Call?

Do daily phone calls to college kid interfere with independence?

Mom and Daughter talk on phone. THis is a tattoo.
source: staygram and moxietattoo

Dear Ms. Smartphone: My daughter started college this month and her school is about 3 hours from home. I am in the habit of calling her everyday and texting too. We chat about everything. Most of my friends think this is OK but one of them says that I should call less- because I am not letting her grow up. What do you think? Vivian, Sausalito

Dear Vivian: When I went to college my parents and I agreed to speak with each other on Sundays, and I had to wait for their call at the dorm’s payphone. New technology brings us new expectations and new etiquette! I have boys and sometimes there is less chit-chat. I miss that.

That said, many girls now report that their mothers are their best friends. Perhaps your daughter feels less need to reach out to new people in college as she bonds with the people back home. Importantly, if you are giving advice to your daughter and helping her make important decisions, she may not be developing the self-sufficiency she needs to navigate the world on her own.

Today’s teens seem less prepared and more fragile. In 2011, the American College Health Association reported 31% of female freshman reported anxiety or panic attacks. In 2016, the rate was 62%.

I am not saying that phone calls and staying-in-daily contact will be harmful. I do recommend that you not get in the way of her judgment and decision making…even when you find that to be sub-optimal. She needs to become independent and resilient. Note that at the other end of the age spectrum it changes: many older people ‘live for‘ the daily phone call and encouraging words from their adult children. This is a short answer to a long tailed issue.