When Maria Shriver hosts dinner for her family every Sunday, she has one rule – no phones at the table.
All the scrolling, she says, is just a distraction from having to actually look each other in the eye and have a conversation about how we’re really feeling. And it’s making us sick.
“People can sit down and find common subjects, find common ground,” Shriver tells CNN, adding, “I’m a big believer that we’re in desperate need as a country to find things that we can talk about, then we can listen and form relationships. Everybody’s obsessed with their phone. Loneliness, anxiety, depression, trauma, all these things, I think, is coming from the lack of talking.”
The journalist, author and mom to Christina, Patrick, Christopher and Katherine Schwarzenegger, who she shares with ex-husband Arnold Schwarzenegger, has been including conversation starters in her newsletter for a couple of years, and says “there’s no substitute for the human connection.”
“I get in an elevator and people don’t even look up,” she says. “There’s no denying that is all coinciding with these epidemics of anxiety and loneliness across generations. We’re technically connected, but we’re not connected.”
She wants to get people talking, to gain back what we’ve lost in the age of TikTok and Instagram. Shriver even signed up with Ancestry, the massive family history and genealogy company, in order to spread the word about face-to-face conversation. The company was working on a campaign to “spark meaningful conversations” because they discovered many people are avoiding going home for the holidays, mostly due to fighting over politics, and they reached out to her. Shriver jumped at the chance to team up.
“I think we have real mental health challenges due to our lack of connection,” she says. “[Talking] makes me feel understood, makes me feel I’m looking at someone and I’m finding common ground. I’m hearing them, I’m listening to how they got to where they are. And I think I’m having a shared experience. So to promote that at a company that big, I was like, yeah I’m trying to do that too.”
Having meaningful conversations at home can help us all, she says, and with her own children, she reminds them often that family is everything and that social media is not.
“My guidance is, you know, these are your siblings are what’s real is this,” she says she tells each of her kids. “So let’s keep our eye on what’s real. Let’s have a life of faith. Let’s have a life with purpose. Let’s find something. I always say to them, you have to do something. You don’t have to work with what I’m working with or what your dad’s working with, but you have to find some way to be of service. That’s real. And they listened to that.”
Shriver also stressed the importance of manners during a time when no one’s even making eye contact anymore.
“I’m big on that,” she says. “When you go to someone’s house, call and thank the parents. Write a note, stand up when the parents come in the room, bring something. It’s polite to look people in the eye, shake your hand. I just always say if you go up to a person my age, reintroduce yourself all the time.”
While Shriver tries to instill manners, she accepts that she can’t keep her family off social media. But when they return home for visits, she is a stickler about her no phone at the table rule – and that includes new son-in-law Chris Pratt.
“They know when they come for Sunday dinner, they don’t have the phone,” she says. “It’s down in the kitchen. And if I see it, I say ‘phone’ and they put it away.”
Shriver says she will continue to talk more about human connection and what she’s hoping to accomplish in her weekly newsletter, “The Sunday Paper.”