Media is Taking Over Our Dinner Table

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Families today are finding it more difficult to eat dinner together, and when they come to the table, it’s often the TV that’s doing the talking. A recent survey conducted by Eckrich, a product of ConAgra Foods, found that 40 percent of American families eat dinner together only three or fewer times a week, with 10 percent never eating dinner together at all. However, 88 percent of families would like to increase the time spent with their family at the dinner table rather than time preparing the meal.

On average 11.4 million tech devices such as smartphones and tablets to laptops and iPods are brought to family meals. Almost a quarter of families who bring tech to the table feel they are prevented from having proper conversations with each other at meal times, seriously impacting on what should be quality time together.

Children and young teenagers are the worst offenders, with a third of 5-to-15-year-olds regularly bringing some form of tech device to family meals. According to the new research, technology is also limiting the amount of time families spend together during meal times.  For one in five family’s dinner has become a functional and rushed occasion frequented by regular arguments.

Once at the dinner table, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter (56 per cent); and messaging apps and emails (48 per cent) are the biggest distractions. The result is that conversation with nearest and dearest is killed, in favor of digital communication with friends further afield.

Moms are also so fed up that they have resorted to forcibly removing technology from the dinner table by either banning it, or completely hiding it. Mothers believe that spending meal times together is important for family bonding, but find that getting their family to the dinner table challenging. The effort that goes into preparing dinner, combined with a perceived lack of appetite and interest from the family, leaves mom’s feeling both frustrated and upset.

Technology has been in family homes for decades; but mobile tech means it comes with us everywhere we go – and, sadly, that often includes mealtimes. Previously nobody would have brought a television to the dinner table, or eaten their breakfast while on the phone in the hallway.

Meal times are absolutely vital for family bonding, developing social skills, and sharing stories from the day. Making them a little bit different and fun are great ways to keep everyone’s focus in the room and rediscover the pleasure in just spending time with each other.

Media can bring us messages from advertisers—aiming to sell us products that can keep our family from ideal wellness or even harm our health. For example, fast food advertising can make eating right very difficult. And, eating in front of a screen can lead children and adults to take in excess calories and promote obesity. Too much sedentary media time can also displace healthy physical activity and play.

Digital Media & Babies: Studies have shown that excessive TV watching is associated with obesity and overweight in children. One way to avoid this outcome is to limit digital media/screen time to no more than one hour a day for children ages 18-24 months and beyond.

What Parents Can Do: Digital media is not appropriate for children younger than 18 months, because babies need 3D, real world interactions with you and other family members to learn and grow. Avoid using TV, digital media, or apps as a babysitter. Instead, look for ways to interact with your child face to face.

If you are going to use digital media with your 1 ½ to 2-year-old and beyond, co-view the programs or play the games with your child. Children learn better when they hear a parent or caregiver repeat an electronic word or message.

Media-Free Meals: There is plenty of unconscious eating that can take place in front of a TV or other screen. It’s easy for kids to simply eat their way from one program to the next. Distracted by the TV or the app, they’ll often eat long beyond when they’re full. The result? Weight gain. Plus, too much screen time is likely to keep your child from engaging in active play and important face-to-face communications with friends and family.

What Parents Can Do: Make your meals media-free. Put all devices aside and focus on food and each other. ​ Serve your meals at the kitchen table with other family members as often as possible. Meal time is an important time for family conversations and sharing the day’s experiences without media getting in the way.

Media & Obesity: Here’s another important reason to limit your child’s TV watching: the steady stream of ads for high-sugar, high-fat foods aimed directly at children. Studies have shown that children who watch a lot of TV have a greater likelihood of becoming obese. The commercials targeted at children are one of the reasons why.

What Parents Can Do:

Do not allow children younger than 18 months to 2 years to watch TV or use digital media.

Develop a Family Media Use Plan that ensures that media do not displace other healthy activities such as active play.

Talk about the ads your child sees on TV and online and explain how they encourage unhealthy eating or behaviors.

Stay strong when your child begs for the latest food or candy advertised. Explain why you think it’s not healthy and offer a healthy substitute such as a vegetable or fruit if he or she is hungry for a snack.

Even if your child doesn’t eat in front of the TV, you still need to develop a Family Media Use Plan that allows enough time for healthy meals, adequate sleep, and enough physical activity. Develop your own Family Media Use Plan today!