Have you noticed that at Parent Up, we ARE OBSESSED with encouraging families to sit down and eat meals together?! Why the bias? Well, it’s the simple “benefits outweigh the costs” argument: Having-regular, unplugged, eat-whatever-wherever-as-long-as-you-connect-together meals is associated with lower rates of substance use and depression, better peer relationships, more self-esteem, and even better grades! More meaningful meals = healthier, safer and smarter kids!
There’s a lot of things that get in the way of having meaningful meals – activities, school, work schedules – families are busier than ever! Then there’s toddlers and teenagers who might dish out a few servings of attitude, pickiness, and exhaustion too. BUT, if we’re honest, there’s probably another thing that gets in the way of your family sitting down, connecting and conversing over a meal: The Digital Age. The times have been a-changin’ and family meal time looks a lot different now than it did even 20 years ago!
Common Sense Media commissioned a poll of nearly 900 families with children between the ages of 2 and 17 years old and they found that “devices aren’t welcome but often have a seat at the table anyway.” Their research found that even though 88% of adults don’t think it’s OK to use a phone at a family dinner, 47% of parents said they or a family member used a mobile device at dinner in the last week. Thirty-four percent said they had the TV on for all or most dinners.
There’s often a really good reason to have these devices out; you saw something funny today on a post from a friend or there’s details to confirm for tomorrow. But, unless we’re careful, devices have a way of creeping in and taking up more of our meal-time attention than we desire. The consequence of this imbalance of more tech and less-eye contact, according to researcher Sherry Turkle, paints a bleak picture, leaving all of us with less empathy, compassion and connection.
Can you make your meal-time more meaningful by giving devices a seat away from the table?! Once the meal is ready, ask that everyone put their devices on silent or leave them in another room. It will be more likely to happen if you make this an identified spot. We’re encouraging families to make an Unplugged Box: a mobile home for your mobile phone during meals (and any other times you want to unplug)! Putting devices in a place away from the table will ensure that they don’t distract from this important, meaningful time together.
Our goal here at Parent Up is to help parents have the tools, resources, and confidence to raise kids that are healthy and drug-free. We will be around the Kansas City Northland community this fall, sharing the good news about the impact of family meals and providing you with a box and supplies to make your own unplugged box! We are excited to partner in this project and help your family be more intentional about mealtime. Watch out, you might like it so much, you become obsessed with it too!
– By Parent Up KC Staff