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Newsletter: October 2021

Phones at Dinner? Rebooting Tech at the Table

Phones at dinner have always been a hot-button issue for families. 56% of people say that it’s at least mildly annoying when others at the table use their phones during a shared meal, and 77% of parents think their families would benefit from at least an hour of break time from screens every day. That’s a lot of people who are less than wild about the idea of bringing technology to the table.

But despite the level of public frustration with screens at dinner, they seem to be everywhere. Fast-casual restaurant chains have even taken to installing tablets at tables, so kids don’t have to bring their own devices to distract them from the wait time for their meals. And it’s not only the kids who tend to sneak a peek — in fact, parents are likely to be the worst offenders when it comes to phones at dinner.

Adding to the challenge, the COVID pandemic has only complicated our relationships with technology at the table. For some families, too much time together at home may have blurred the lines of their usual tech boundaries, especially if they used devices to engage in virtual meals with loved ones during lockdown. Others found that technology quickly became such a pervasive part of daily life that it was futile to try to keep up with the old rules about screen time. And still others ran entirely in the opposite direction, setting up even stricter boundaries around technology than they might have had before the pandemic.

Which leaves us…where? Certainly in need of a fresh look at what we think about phones at dinner, among other things. Maybe, in light of everything that’s happened recently to change our relationships to our screens, it’s time for a technology at the table reboot.

That’s why we’ve created a new, fresh Technology at the Table resource zone on our site. Since screens are here to stay — and increasingly becoming necessary for activities of daily living — we want to guide families to consider their personal comfort level with devices at dinner, and make smart, informed choices about what’s allowed. Here are some of our thoughts on phones (and other screens) at dinner:

  • We’re not the technology police. The Family Dinner Project is here to provide expert advice, tips, tools and resources so you can enjoy food, fun and conversation about things that matter. We can’t tell you what the rules should be in your household, but we can give you good information to help you make up your mind.
  • Families are different, and so are their rules.
    You don’t have to feel bad or allow yourself to be pressured by the different rules that other families have about phones at dinner. Also, your family might be different now than you were a year ago; rules can flex and change as people grow and change.
  • Technology can be a vital resource.
    For some families, devices are a must-have. A child with special needs might use assistive communication apps, or need a certain device for self-soothing purposes. Broad statements like “phones should never be allowed at dinner!” or “Only lazy parents let their kids have a tablet at the table!” don’t consider other people’s very real needs. For that reason, and many others, you’ll never hear us say that we believe all devices should be banned from mealtimes in all households.
  • Picking your battles can be a wise move.
    Some parents find that a flat-out ban on phones at dinner causes more ongoing strife and drama than peace and harmony. Since the goal of family dinners is to feel more connected and enjoy each other’s company, it might sometimes be more productive to approach the issue with a spirit of compromise.
  • But technology at the table should ALWAYS be used to enhance communication, not distract from it.
    All that said, if you do allow phones and tablets to come to dinner, it’s important to be really clear about what they can be used for, and what’s not okay. For example, texting a friend who’s not at the table with you is an activity that could best be saved for later; but using the phone to look up trivia questions to share with the family while you eat can be a fun way to boost your interactions.

Whatever you decide, our new Technology at the Table page has tons of creative ideas to help you balance screen time and family time in the way that feels most positive to you. Try one of them at your next family dinner and see if it changes your point of view!


Autumn Chicken

Now that fall is here, try this easy chicken recipe with apples and cranberries to make the most of seasonal flavors.

Autumn Chicken


Selfies reign supreme in this fun family dinner game that makes great use of phones to build stronger bonds!

Selfie Hot Potato


If you’re worried about how technology affects real-life communication skills, try these questions to open up an honest conversation with your family.

Talking About Connecting With Others