“Most conversations take at least seven minutes to really begin.” —Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation

The parent-child relationship is primarily a discipling relationship. And it’s hard to disciple someone without engaging them in real, meaningful conversation. Our hearts and souls were designed to exist in relationship with other people.

If we want to be faithful to God in our calling as parents, we must fight to know and be known— to engage, to pursue, to prioritize.

The hard thing is this: it’s easier to default to silence and isolation, scrolling on our phones.

If we want to intentionally pursue real, meaningful conversation— and therefore relationship— with the people we care about, we must carve out space in our day for this to happen. It will not happen by accident. In order to know and be known, we must dig a little deeper than perhaps what’s comfortable in our hurried world.

Here’s the challenge: carve out space in your home and day that are screen-free so you can cultivate meaningful conversations with the people you love. 

Let’s look at two easy places to begin.

First— the dinner table 

Everyone present at the dinner table— guests included— must leave their phones in a basket or cupboard. Out of sight really does mean out of mind when it comes to our phones. 

If you need to, set a timer— one hour, no screens. Adults and children alike must learn to press into conversation rather than shy away.

The best teachers will tell you that wait time is vital to maintaining a class discussion. The same rule applies at the dinner table. Don’t be quick to fill the gaps— allow a minute or two of quiet after asking a question. Let everyone get a little uncomfortable; it forces the conversation deeper. 

Highs and lows

A good place to start, even for the littlest of diners, is to share highs and lows of the day. 

As we’ve practiced this with our boys, we’ve found these simple starts often lead to hitherto unknown revelations.

For example, our middle child (age 4) recently let us know how disappointed he was that no one took him to the zoo that day. This child had not communicated said desire— like at all! So we were able to have a great conversation about how important it is to communicate expectations. Even four year olds, it turns out, have unspoken desires.

Teach your children how to listen and converse

As children grow, and their communication skills improve, invite them to practice asking good questions. Learning to engage in conversation (and actively listen to the speaker) is a skill that must be taught—and what better place to teach than at the dinner table? 

Our boys are four and six, so questions are of the “What is your favorite… ?” variety. It’s not the most sophisticated, but they’re learning to think of something they might like to know about the other person, to patiently wait their turn to answer, and to listen to each family member as he or she shares. 

The dinner table is sacred space

The breaking of bread bonds us, allows opportunities for connection and conversation, and models for our children the dance of dinnertime dialogue. 

There’s a lot of research out there telling us sharing meals with our kids is important. Family dinner teaches children how to make healthy food choices, lowers their risk of depression, and lowers their participation in risky behavior. 

Learning to engage in conversation is a skill that must be taught

We must push back against the desire to check out and disengage at the dinner table. Seven minutes is not too long to wait to hear from the people we love.

Second— car time

Maybe you’ve mastered the screen free dinner hour. You’re a pro! A champion! 

My next challenge for you?

Car time.

Community space for conversation and connection

Another space where we default to isolation. Instead of handing younger kids an iPad or allowing teens to listen to their own music, reclaim the car as community space. 

This is hard and takes practice. Most of us have turned the car into entertainment time— thus we’ve lost a wonderful opportunity to sow seeds of patience and model intentional conversations. 

As Andy Crouch says,

“The great, deep conversations that are possible in the car after the seven-minute mark grow out of practicing simply staying engaged with each other and the world around us… The tragedy of our omnipresent devices…is the way they prevent almost any conversation from unfolding” (The Tech-Wise Family). 

Reclaim the car. Allow for silence. And if there’s to be music, podcasts or audiobooks, make them communal. Ask your child what he or she wants to listen to—and listen together. 

This is an opportunity to talk, yes, but it’s also an opportunity to discover what your teen is playing in her earbuds all day long. 

“Tell me more”

The car is a sweet time to teach the littlest of children patience, to observe the world around them, and to ask questions about what he or she might see. 

It’s also a time to engage teens, as it’s often easier for them to talk side by side, rather than face to face. 

Settle into the uncomfortable silence after you ask a question. Let them mull it over and resist the urge to fill in the gaps. “Tell me more” is your next best line. Keep at it, and reap the harvest of deeper relationships with these kids that grow up too fast. 

Press in this week!

Seven minutes! Keep this number in mind this week, with your friends and family. 

Be on guard against grabbing for your phone when the going gets boring. Or uncomfortable. Instead of avoiding these feelings and reaching for your phone, press in. 

There is no trading in of our time; it simply passes. But we do get to decide how we spend it.