How About An Old Fashioned Family Meal

kid phone dinnerCompartmentalization is obviously a huge challenge for all of us, if we admit it or not. But clearly we have to have limits in our days — mealtime is one place that can be a non-negotiable, device-free space. Meals are gold for families. Breakfast, lunch or dinner…whenever your family is able to come together to eat and connect…the devices gotta go. Even toy companies are partnering with restaurants to help keep families engaged with one another. Here in Seattle this week a company called Fort Boards is providing families a $25 gift card for staying off their phone during a meal at a local restaurant (Phinney Market Pub & Eatery). Kind of nuts that you can get a coupon for toys just for putting the device away! But the gimmick and point is well-taken. While incentivizing our children every meal certainly isn’t sustainable, this is a great attempt to start fresh make a plan to stay off devices during meal time. Clearly it’s not just children who need support staying off phones/devices while eating, we do too.

A study from Boston Medical Center a couple years back comes to mind as it reveals that parents who are distracted on their phones with email, games, apps and texting have more negative interactions with their children & also may make their children feel like they’re competing for attention with these phones. We just aren’t the parents we want to be when failing at compartmentalization (I know this TOO well from experience). I like this TIME recap of the study and this quote from the author Dr. Jenny Radesky:

What stood out was that in a subset of caregivers using the device almost through the entire meal, how negative their interactions could become with the kids. There were a lot of instances where there was very little interaction, harsh interaction or negative interaction between the adults and the children.”

The field notes from her study in Pediatrics (quotes from families and the researchers observations of meals) are stunning. I wrote this post, Balance and Bad Parenting, Maybe about use of these tools and compartments we put them in, as well that includes an amazing PSA from Common Sense Media, too.

Quick Ways For Families To Compartmentalize Digital:

  1. Create a “media diet in your home but also a media policy in your home and then enforce it. Live by the same rules you ask your children to live by whenever possible. No devices at meals is a good and feasible first start…
  2. No devices at the breakfast, lunch, or family dinner table, no matter where you are (home, restaurant, friends). Just let 20 minutes be sacred. The field notes (in the above study) can serve as the rationale for why!
  3. Have media curfew in your home for kids, but also at times for yourself when you can make it work. Consider no email/phone use/device use from 5:30pm to 8:30pm. If that’s impossible, consider just a bedtime for devices that precedes human bedtime by an hour.
  4. Make hard and fast rules for yourself while driving to avoid texting and talking while at the wheel. Easy tip is to get in the habit of always putting your purse or bag in the back seat to avoid the urge to respond to the beep. We’re wired to respond so make it more impossible to grab the device.
  5. Recognize that there are differences in our level of distraction when using the phone. Writing emails, perusing Facebook, or even having a text-conversation while our children sit waiting is not only rude (I do feel guilty about this) but unfair and may cause us to act in ways that aren’t our ideal. If you want to engage with online content while with your children, consider co-viewing things and involving them in what captures your attention rather than escaping the moment in front of you.


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