Meal time matters. It’s a widely acknowledged fact.
Researchers have found that families that eat their meals together have children who are 35 percent less likely to engage in disordered eating, 24 percent more likely to eat healthier foods, and 12 percent 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. One survey conducted by the pasta sauce company Dolmio, 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 (from technology) so that we can connect (with each other), nearly as much as we used to. And we could be missing some of those benefits we should be getting from our meal time.
In the Dolmio survey, 6 in 10 parents said technology at mealtimes has a negative impact, and 6 in 10 families said they have fights because of tech at the table. A third of families said they had tried to ban devices at dinner – unsuccessfully. And nearly 4 in 10 said they feel like they have no way of stopping screens from interfering with dinner time.
We Are Ignoring Our Children and Partners
While children were the primary culprits for bringing tech to the table, 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 our online relationships, 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 one study led by Shalini Misra of Virginia Tech University 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.”
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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 8 in 10 families surveyed by Dolmio agreed 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.
But then we end up doing it ourselves!
So What Do We Do?
Here are five keys to help you begin changing the culture in your family, and become tech-free at dinner time.
1 – Be a Good Example. We have to start setting the example. That means we don’t bring devices to dinner. We turn off the TV. We make dinner time a family experience.
2 – Help Your Kids Become Aware. Ask your children 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 young, buy-in and compliance should be relatively easy. As they get older, discussions become more complex – so be prepared to listen, and do some give-and-take. But, if there’s no room for negotiation, listen and understand – and then stand your ground.
4 – Avoid Systems of Punishment. Try to avoid being punitive and controlling. It will just make meal-time feel horrible.
5 – Make Meals Something to Look Forward To. Make sure that your family meals are good quality, and that the time you have together feels nice. Set a positive atmosphere. Re-learn the art of conversation. Even if it feels awkward at first, you – and your kids – will be glad you made the change.
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, in order to connect with one another.
Article supplied with thanks to Happy Families. About the Author: A sought after public speaker and author, and former radio broadcaster, Justin has a psychology degree from the University of Queensland and a PhD in psychology from the University of Wollongong.