Meal time matters. It’s a widely acknowledged fact. Researchers have found that families that eat their meals together have children who are 35% less likely to engage in disordered eating, 24% more likely to eat healthier foods and 12% less likely to be overweight.
Family meals are associated with a variety of positive outcomes for our children. When we eat together regularly our children show a decreased risk of substance use or delinquency, higher social and emotional wellbeing, they do better at school, have more friends, and are happier.
The Trouble With Tech
Unfortunately technology is interfering with the benefits family meals normally offer to parents and their children. A recent survey conducted by Dolmio (the pasta sauce company) showed that we have an average of 12 internet connected gadgets/devices per household. And that tech is coming to the table. This means that we aren’t disconnecting (with tech) so that we can connect (with each other) nearly as much as we used to – and those benefits from meal time could be diminished.
In the Dolmio survey, 59% of parents said that technology at mealtimes has a negative impact. 63% of families said they have fights in the family because of tech at the table. And one in three families said they had tried to ban devices at dinner – unsuccessfully. A full 38% said they feel like they have no way of stopping screens from interfering with supper.
While children were the primary instigators, about a quarter of adults said they were in conflict with their partner or spouse for bringing a screen to dinner. And the reality is that when we’re investing in relationships via our screens by staring at, swiping, or typing on screens, we are missing out on the relationships right in front of us.
To put it bluntly, when we pay attention to our screens, we ignore our kids. That’s an issue because, as a from Virginia Tech tells us, “Individuals are more likely to miss subtle cues, facial expressions, and changes in the tone of their conversation partner’s voice, and have less eye contact.”
Getting rid of Gadgets
The best dinners are the ones when we talk with each other, learn about one another’s lives, listen, and share. (It helps when the food is tasty too!) And around 80% of families agree that tech-free tea- times were their preference. Most of us know this.
And we’ve all had that conversation about those families who go out for dinner and then stare at their screens rather than one another.
So what do we do?
1. We’ve got to be a good example. That means we don’t bring devices to dinner. We turn off the TV. We make dinner time a family experience.
2. Ask your kids to tell you about the differences that they notice on nights when there are screens at the table compared with nights when there aren’t any.
3. Create rules together. If your children are younger, buy-in and compliance should be easier. As they get older, discussions become more complex so be prepared to listen, and give-and- take (unless there’s no room for negotiation, in which case listen and understand – and then stand your ground.)
4. Try to avoid being punitive and controlling. It will make meal-time feel horrible.
5. Make sure that family meals are good quality, and that the time you have together feels nice.
Meal times provide a strong sense of stability and safety, even if they feel chaotic and frenzied at times. Whether we eat dinner together, or breakfast, or lunch, what matters most is that we’re together, and that we disconnect devices to connect with one another.