In a world where we are always connected, it can be hard to unplug for family dinner. This is true for both adults and kids.
While it may often seem that kids will fall apart if they can’t check the latest text from a friend, adults are often just as guilty of technology addiction. “What if it’s work?” you may think, glancing quickly down at your cell phone. This behavior sets an example and sends a message that the biggest priority is your phone, not the family members sitting next to you.
To make dinner a relaxing, bonding experience, it may be necessary to put the technology on hold while you’re eating. Have a conversation with your family, and see if you can get everyone to commit to limited (or zero!) technology at the table. Here are some tips to help you achieve this:
- Tech-Free Zone: If technology is a serious crutch in your family, the “zero tolerance” policy may be the way to go. Turn off nearby computers and televisions. And then (deep breath), turn off your cell phones. Everyone might even want to put them in a different room, so they won’t be tempted to sneakily turn them on halfway through the meal.
- One Glance Policy: Tell your kids/spouse that they are allowed one glance at their cell phone per meal. This will cut down on any “but what if there’s an emergency?” complaints.
- First to Look: Institute a policy that the first person to look at their cell phone has to clear the table or wash the dishes. (Or, for each glance, the person has to put a quarter in a jar.)
- Dinner Involvement: The more involved your kids are in cooking dinner and setting the table, the more likely they are to forget about their phones. Encourage kids to chop veggies, stir ingredients, set the table and pick out music. And check out our conversation starters to encourage lively dinner conversions, which also cut down on the impulse to check phones.
- Use Technology to Connect: If you think watching a video clip on the computer will spark conversation at the dinner table, by all means, go for it! Just keep in mind that the focus should be on family connections. Use your discretion: if you suspect that the computer will dominate the table, then it’s probably best to leave it in another room during dinner.
We hosted a community dinner last spring at an elementary school and when the parents gathered to talk about their biggest challenges to family dinner they all wanted to talk about cell phones – how to get their kids to put them down and be with the people across the table.
One mom, Joanna, who had kids ages 7, 9, 12, and 14, shared what she does in her house. She had a discussion about why it was so important to limit screen time at the table. Her kids promised to leave their phones in the living room for the duration of the meal – as long as she did the same – although they could get up to check them before dessert was served. If they make it through the whole meal without checking their phones, the kids get to pick a special dinner for Friday night (pizza, Chinese food, etc.). This motivated them to leave their phones alone, and helped the family focus on just being together.