Put down the screens

It’s funny how a delightfully simple and seasonal tradition can help bring families back to the basics of one-on-one communications, reminding them of the importance of real quality time together. That’s what happened to dozens upon dozens of suburban Detroit families last month, including my own, when we showed up for an annual Easter egg hunt outside our local parish.

I read about the event in our parish bulletin and right away thought that my niece and her two adorable children, 6-year-old Eli and 3-year-old Elyse, would really enjoy it. While I was really looking forward to seeing my niece and the children, little did I know what a valuable lesson the afternoon would provide, especially for yours truly.

The Easter egg hunt was slated to begin at 1 p.m. The parents, grandparents and children began gathering about 30 minutes before. That’s when I noticed something interesting. The children immediately and instinctively made a beeline for the playground and began climbing up the jungle gym, down the slide and having a grand time. Not one of them was looking bored or scanning the area for the nearest TV or video game. The parents were talking — not on cellphones but actually to each other. And there was a lot of pleasant conversation going on — real face time and not the FaceTime of iPhone fame. It was genuine, cordial conversation.

Maybe you’re wondering, “So what’s the big deal? People talk to each all the time, right?” Well, not so much anymore, and that’s just the point. On any given day, most of us, myself included, practically suffer the shakes if we can’t find our phone, check our email, post, tweet, text or pin something at a moment’s or nanosecond’s notice. We worry that our children or grandchildren will somehow be in need of therapy if they don’t have the latest electronic device. But as was evidenced on that wonderful Saturday afternoon, that’s just not the case.

After the Easter egg hunt, the parish sent everyone inside for snacks, arts and crafts, and pictures with the Easter bunny. Not a TV or a piece of technology was in sight, unless you count the phones that were being used to snap photos. Volunteers set up tables filled with stickers, glue, paper plates, crayons and other items to make Easter cards or a variety of festive Easter decorations. Who needs a laptop or a tablet when you have construction paper, a box of Crayolas and your imagination?

It was the kind of family experience of which Pope Francis would be proud. In his World Communications Day Message entitled “Communicating the Family: A Privileged Place of Encounter with the Gift of Love,” the pope reminds us how the media are an essential part of life for all — and in particular for the young. He said families need to make sure that parents and their children allow for some media-free time in order to regularly reconnect.

“Today the modern media, which are an essential part of life for young people in particular, can be both a help and a hindrance to communication in and between families. The media can be a hindrance if they become a way to avoid listening to others, to evade physical contact, to fill up every moment of silence and rest.”

I don’t know if anyone else noticed how there was so much enthusiasm for such simple, nontech-related activities that day. Maybe it was just me. But for one glorious afternoon, everything old was fresh and new again. I, for one, was pleasantly surprised to see that we could not only survive but even prosper when we unplug and tune into each other.

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.