The Secret to Family Togetherness: Eye Contact


When Oxford Dictionaries chose “selfie” as the word of the year in 2013, they weren’t just describing the moment. They were documenting the present and forecasting the future. And increasingly, it’s a future many American families are hoping to change.

Devices everywhere. Gizmos at every turn. Eyes looking down and glued to electronics at arm’s length. Even if everyone in the family is at home, they’re probably not really together because too often it’s all about me – my screen, my social connections, my constant flow of texts, snaps and #OMG moments.

Now some families are saying enough is enough. They’re reclaiming family time in small chunks, intentionally putting away their devices and looking at each other instead of their screens.

A mother of three, Jen Waller McDevitt of Burnsville, Minnesota speaks for a lot of parents when she says, “My husband Dave and I love dance parties, and our kids do too. But guess what? Some of the dances are spontaneous. One of the kids comes home with a good report card? That’s a danceable moment. Unexpected snow day? Why not take 15 or 20 minutes to work on that moon walk instead of watching someone else on a tiny screen?”

Small chunks of time are the key. While extended, classic family events such as week long road trips and holiday getaways still hold appeal, even then electronic devices can intrude on what should be quality time together.

Fifteen minutes is a good start – at home or away. That’s enough time for a card game. It’s enough time to pop up a batch of popcorn. It’s enough time to head outside and relearn those ace frisbee skills.

Magazines abound with advice. Family educators facilitate discussions on the topic. Even companies are weighing in.

Take JOLLY TIME Pop Corn, headquartered in Sioux City, Iowa. JOLLY TIME is led by two cousins – Garry Smith and Carlton Smith – who are the fourth generation of the Smith family to run the company.

“I think we all wish it were a little easier to put down the screens and pick up where we left off with our families. It seems like every time I blink, I’m a little older, my kids are a lot more grown up, and the time that’s passed isn’t quite what I pictured,” says Garry Smith.

To help bring families together, JOLLY TIME started the Unplug. POP. Connect. Campaign, which asks families to take a pledge and create POP Moments – fun, easy ways of spending time together with some tasty, wholesome popcorn.

A special online gallery – – collects POP Moments to inspire other families with tips, stories and photos. When people share POP Moments, they’re eligible to win JOLLY TIME prizes, including a cinch sack to remove phones and devices from view during electronic-free family time.

Can something as simple as a spontaneous dance or a bowl of popcorn counteract a dominant trend of the day? The McDevitt family, Smith cousins and a lot of other parents intend to find out. By looking at each other over snacks, games and quick family activities, they’re seeing new alternatives to a world of tiny screens. – BPT


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