Parents: Put Your Smartphones Away During Dinner

Dad on smartphone during dinner

Teens aren’t the only ones absorbed in their cell phones. Parents are also wrapped up in the smartphone era and it could be hurting their kids. Research is drawing attention to the need for families to connect with each other, not their phones, during meals.

A Study at Fast Food Restaurants

As part of a Boston Medical Center study, researchers went to 15 fast food restaurants and observed 55 families. More than two-thirds of the parents used their mobile devices periodically during the meal; one-third used their phones throughout the meal. Here’s a sample of what they saw:

  • Some children ate their meal in silence or wandered around the restaurant, seemingly without any awareness from the parent engrossed in the device.
  • Other children displayed clear attention-seeking behaviors, like singing loudly and repeatedly.
  • Some parents interacted negatively when interrupted from their cell phone use, telling children to be quiet or kicking them under the table.

What Does it Mean?

Given the relative newness smartphones, we don’t know the specific effects these interactions will have on children. Researchers in this small study did not attempt to draw conclusions from their observations or make predictions about the implications of their work.

Previous data, however, clearly demonstrates the importance of interaction and conversation around the dinner table as a time for families to communicate, reconnect, and share.

Children Who Participate in Family Meals:

  • Regularly do better in school.
  • Are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.
  • Eat healthier meals and are less likely to become overweight or obese.

Furthermore, face-to-face interactions are important building blocks for social and emotional development and help a child to feel valued and “heard.” Common sense should make most of us understand that “device distraction” is not beneficial to the parent-child relationship and may be detrimental.

Make Your Dinner Table a No-Phone-Zone

Try to gather for a family dinner at least a couple of times a week to listen to each other, share stories and reconnect. Keep cell phones away. Make sure children know that during meal time your entire focus is on them, and that dinner time is an open time for communication and family.

Check out the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website for interesting tips on managing screen time, cell phones, and other electronic issues.

author name

Jennifer S. Ammons, MD

Jennifer S. Ammons, MD, FAAP, is a pediatrician with Roseville Pediatrics. Dr. Ammons is a graduate of the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and completed her residency at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. Her special areas of interest include child safety, infectious diseases, and immunizations.

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