Is this a familiar sight at your dinner table?
A recent survey carried out by Dolmio discovered that over half of us say that technology at meal times has a negative impact – and it’s easy to see why. Just look at the picture above, every one of us is staring at a screen, even Amy is trying to check out what’s going on on Chloe’s screen. There’s no conversation, no laughter, no interaction full stop. What sort of a family meal time is that?!
As a family, we’ve always been really strict about the kids’ tablets – they always ask before they use them, they’re not allowed them upstairs, they’re not allowed them after tea time etc. Not having their tech at the table has always been something of an unwritten rule, they’ve never asked and we’ve never had to say “no” – the expectation is just there. That said, Mummy and Daddy don’t always follow the same rules. My own mobile phone (which is basically an extension of my right arm at times) is often found on the dinner table, albeit usually face down. Sometimes it’s there because I’m using it to control the music we’re listening to over dinner, which is fine in itself but if it’s there, I’m afraid the temptation to quickly check it if it pings a notification is just too great.
Of course the nature of my job is that I’m almost always connected to the internet, interacting on social media or checking my emails for information about deadlines and briefs or chasing invoices but actually I need to get a grip of that. I need to put my phone down at mealtimes and just be with my family. I can just imagine what my Grandma would have to say if she saw that picture of us all sat staring at screens instead of chatting to each other! Nobody in the world is more important than the people sat around my dinner table so everyone else can wait right?
One in three households have tried to ban tech during meal times and almost half say they feel like they have no way of stopping it! Even celebrity mum, Louise Redknapp admits that “There are times when we say “Right, no devices over dinner” but they gradually creep back in”.
Louise’s top tips for a tech-free table include:
- We all put our devices face down in the middle of the table during dinner – if anyone picks theirs up before we are all finished then they have to do the washing up!
- In the summer it’s great because the Wi-Fi isn’t as strong in the garden so we always make sure we eat outside when the sun is shining which helps avoids any tech interruptions.
- I find that involving the boys in the cooking of their favourite meal (Spaghetti Bolognese) and giving them jobs such as laying the table etc really helps to distract them and get them away from the TV and off their devices.
- Another tip is to put all of the devices in a ‘tech stash drawer’ – if I’m really struggling to stop the boys from picking up their devices from the table during dinner, we all have to put the phones, tablets and laptops in the drawer until mealtime is over.
- It sounds very simple to say but leading by example is key – myself and my husband don’t use our devices during dinner, half an hour of not replying to a message or an email isn’t going to do any harm, so the boys see that and follow our lead.
I would suggest, that if tech is encroaching on your family meal times to such an extent, that a blanket ban might feel too much to start with and perhaps just one meal a week would be a great first step. Tech free Tuesdays or Facebook Free Fridays . . . one meal a week where your tablet, your phone, your tech in general is left in another room – on silent or even switched off – while you all enjoy a family meal together. One meal doesn’t sound so hard does it?
Pleasingly, 82 per cent of parents surveyed by Dolmio said that tech-free mealtimes are happier and 56 per cent said they saw a vast improvement with everyone around the table talking – if that’s not encouragement enough to instigate “tech-free tables” then I don’t know what is!
We don’t sit down to eat at the table together as often as I would like, our mid week evenings are crazy busy with clubs etc and the kids are usually too hungry to wait for Daddy to get home from work and cook. (Regular readers will know that Dave is a proper “man about the kitchen” and does the lion’s share of the cooking in our house!) What we do try to do is make sure we have our weekend meals together, sat around the table. I must admit there are times when I really don’t want to do this as I want to just eat my dinner in peace and not have to discuss whether it’s ok to leave the peas or what the difference is between bacon and ham whilst debating if the food is too “spiky” or not. (Chloe’s term for spicy!) Thank goodness for pasta!
Over the school holidays we’ve been really lax about meal times with lots of living room picnics in front of the tv . . . Come September this will have to stop. I’m conscious that we need to set the precedent of family meal times now though as it will get harder as the children are older and have “better things to do” than sit down with us and eat! Hopefully we can maintain the expectation that we sit together for our meals and that we eat at the dining table, not in our bedrooms or in front of the telly!