How can we disconnect our phones from the dinner table?

B6 How Can We Disconnect At The Dinner Table 178480980


Sitting down at the dinner table allows families to spend quality time with one another while enjoying meaningful conversations and practicing healthy eating habits. However, a study by Pew Research Center found that 47% of parents reported they or another family member used a phone at the dinner table. With technology use at an all-time high, electronics are working their way into family time and can distract family members from engaging in conversation and interaction with others and can even affect healthy eating habits. While technology has its uses and benefits, parents, teachers, and children must be mindful of screen time during family meal times.

A screen may seem like a savior during meal time when used to calm a crying toddler. It may seem easier to turn on a child’s favorite game, television program, or YouTube channel instead of encouraging appropriate behaviors and engagement. When a parent hands a child an electronic stimulant (tablet, phone, or mobile gaming device) because the child is frustrated or acting out, the child is being positively reinforced for poor behavior. Instead, you can help your child begin to learn how to self-soothe and to develop appropriate meal-time behavior.

Another unfortunate side effect of technology during mealtimes is the effect it has on eating. People who are distracted by technology while eating often eat mindlessly, resulting in overeating or not eating enough. Take the time to enjoy the food that has been prepared; discuss the tastes and textures with your child, focus on chewing without distraction and pay attention to your child’s eating to prevent choking.

Research by Steiner-Adair found that after interviewing hundreds of kids the one repetitive message was how “frustrated, sad and angry” they were when having to battle screens for their parent’s attention. Many parents have demanding jobs that require them to be tethered to phones, tablets, and computers, checking emails and text messages throughout the evening hours. However, the entire family benefits when everyone puts the technology away during dinner time. Family dinner is the perfect time to learn what is going on in your little one’s life, explore various conversation topics with the whole family, and enjoy the meal on the table.

Leverage family mealtime to:

  • Learn what's going on with your child’s school and social life
  • Advance your child’s social and emotional development through engaging conversation; ask how an event during the day made your child feel
  • Develop your child’s conversational skills and encourage self-expression; maybe introduce a word of the day and talk about what it means
  • Share your own personal values with your child, but listen as much as you talk (depending on your child’s age)
  • Allow your child to feel secure with your dependable presence – let him count on you being at the dinner table with your attention on him and the meal every night
  • Foster and nurture healthy relationships 

Send the message loudly and clearly to your child that listening to people is a sign of respect. Set the example and reinforce the message by putting away your technology during dinner. Family meals offer valuable time when your child can practice skills like taking turns, listening, sharing, and being attentive to whomever is speaking.

During your next family meal, consider the following:

Be a role model
Put away your smartphone, tablet, and laptop. Don’t even bring it to the table! Show your child that your child and family time are important.

Set goals and expectations
Have open and honest conversations with your loved ones about the significance of quality time. Explain the importance of not placing priority on technology in an effort to create more meaningful meals together. 

Be explicit in stating the rules, whether technology use is off limits or limited.

Set a no-tech zone
Sometimes it’s best to just remove the temptation altogether. Shut off all computers, televisions, and cell phones. Place the cell phones in a different room and leave the television off when eating.

Limited glance policy
If you are expecting an important message or a potential emergency, allow one glance at the device per meal.

Make it a game
Set the rule that whoever is first to look at their device has an extra chore (like washing the dishes or cleaning the table).

Let the whole family help
Involve your family and children in cooking dinner, setting the table, and cleaning up. The more involved and engaged your children are the less likely they will want to use technology.

Connect with the tech
Use technology to help start a conversation with your family. If a short clip, recording, or news story will start a meaningful conversation, try it! Be sure to use discretion. If you the presence of technology results in less focus on family time, then leave it behind.

Technology is good for so many things in our lives, but it has made it more and more difficult to connect with the people around us, our families and children included. Incorporate some of these ideas to leave technology off of the dinner menu or to restrict the use of technology to help your family connect.

Visit to learn more about child care and development, search for a child care provider and learn about the state’s voluntary quality rating system. ABC Quality is administered by the SC Department of Social Services’ Division of Early Care and Education.

By ABC Quality Team at 2 Oct 2018, 11:00 AM