This post was provided by Michelle Nogueira, Addictions Counselor specializing in Problem Gambling and Technology Use at Homewood Health Centre in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Michelle has been in the addiction field for 29 years and is passionate about promoting a balanced use of technology at home and in her clinical practice. One of her foremost clinical recommendations is encouraging families to eat together and engage in device free meal times.
In working with many families throughout the years, my observation is that there has been a declining trend with families eating together and an increasing trend in the use of technology. Family life is busy and everyone is trying to juggle school, work, extracurricular activities and all the other mundane tasks on the never ending “to do list.” If we only had more time, more hours in a day …sound familiar?
This never-ending business comes with a huge cost. As we take on more and more responsibility and become more and more connected to technology, we become less connected to others and ourselves. There is certainly an irony to this cause and effect relationship. The quantity and quality of time we spend with those that are near and dear to us is suffering.
Every day we are handed 24 precious hours. Since we can’t save up or store these hours, we must consider them sacred and use these 24 golden hours in a way that best supports our values. What is truly important to you? When it is all said and done, what matters?
For many of us, the richest part of our lives comes from the value we get from sharing a meal together. Think about what you remember after you walk away from the table. Of course the food is memorable…but isn’t it the conversation that is truly the icing on the cake?
Research reveals that engaging in family meal times has a myriad of healthy benefits. According to a study in Pediatrics, “eating at least three family meals together each week is associated with healthier kids” (prevents excessive weight gain, promotes healthy food choices and improves social-emotional health). These results may seem basic, but I’m always surprised by the number of families that don’t eat together or rarely have family meals. In my clinical practice, I’m also noticing an unsubstantiated correlation between rogue technologies and a decrease in the amount of time families spend eating dinner together.
Some of the common message I hear in my clinical work are as follows:
- We don’t eat meals together
- We eat wherever and whenever
- We eat with the television on
- Everyone uses their devices at the dinner table
- We are just too busy
- Everybody does their own thing
- We grab something on the run
- Everyone rushes through the meal
- Kids eat in their rooms
In helping families manage technology, two of the most significant recommendations I make are based on the aforementioned research: To have at last three meals together per week, and to have device-free dinners.
A device-free meal is void of distractions, which truly allows us to connect with our loved ones. Tech free family meals aid in building connections and attachments. It is difficult to accomplish this goal if devices are present at the dinner table. A study published in the journal of Social and Personal Relationships suggested that “Mobile communication devices such as phones may, by their mere presence, paradoxically hold the potential to facilitate as well as to disrupt human bonding and intimacy.”
While the quantity of engaging family time may be on the decline, enjoying the quality of these interactions is even more important. With the holiday season fast approaching, we have an opportunity to enjoy the traditions of family meals passed down from generation to generation. Even though a lot is changing in the world, what hasn’t changed is that holidays and celebrations are still centered on people joining around a dinner table and sharing a meal together. The meal is still the core of all of our celebrations and eating with others is still the tie that binds us together. Remember, it is the whole family meal experience, filled with love and laughter, that becomes etched in our memories.
So as we come together over the holiday season, I challenge all of us to put down the tech…talk…and enjoy the turkey!