The secrets to tech-free family mealtimes your kids will actually enjoy

Everybody knows family mealtimes should be a time for connection … with one another, NOT devices. 

But like most good advice, it’s a lot easier said than done. Banning phones is easy (relatively). Cultivating true connection? Not so much. 

Thankfully, there are clever ways you can hack your tech-free mealtimes to ensure a more nourishing experience for everyone.

First, let’s let’s review the case for putting your precious energy into proper, sit-down family meals. It’s a pretty persuasive one.

(And btw, when we say “proper” we don’t mean meat and three veg, lovingly - or resentfully - prepared by mum. We mean any meal, prepared by anybody, including your favourite take-out joint, which family members consume while sitting at a common, screen-free table.)

The impact of family meals on kids has been studied to death, and the range of benefits is as overwhelming as it is impressive. They include

  • Better academic performance.
  • Higher self-esteem.
  • Greater resilience.
  • Lower risk of substance abuse.
  • Lower risk of teen pregnancy.
  • Lower risk of depression.
  • Less likelihood of developing eating disorders.
  • Lower rates of obesity.

For young children, family meals have been linked to better vocabulary, while for teens, a lack of family meals is directly associated with disruptive behaviour, academic problems and an increase in alcohol and drug use.

And there’s more good news for time-crunched parents. Recent research shows kids can reap these benefits from as little as three family dinners a week.

But here’s the catch. First, you need to get kids to sit down long enough to eat healthily and connect meaningfully. 

Recent research shows kids can reap benefits from as little as three family dinners a week.

Because when you ban tech, your good intentions can backfire. In fact, going phone-free may even have the opposite effect - leading kids to race through their meal to return to their beloved screens - and engage in even less real-life conversation.

The solution? A mealtime plan that includes, but isn’t limited to, a ban on screens. Here’s what the experts recommend:

  1. Be sure to disconnect EVERYONE - and that means mum and dad too. If the grownups break their own rules, how can you expect kids to take them seriously? And that includes "just a quick check" of work emails or notifications. No devices means NO devices. 
  2. Keep phones out of sight, as well as out of mind. Research shows that having a phone on the table - even one that’s turned off! - will have a negative impact on interactions.
  3. Extend the ban to a full hour (or more) around the dinner hour. This is probably the most effective tip of all - and the best way to ensure kids settle into the meal, without speed-eating or looking longingly over their shoulder at the gaming console. 
  4. Figure out ways to make mealtimes fun. For many of our kids, enforced time away from screens will feel like a punishment at worst or a chore at best. There’s no sense getting mad about that. Instead, get creative. Play games, invent rituals, grab (or make) a set of conversation-starter cards, create an age-appropriate trivia challenge ...  
  5. Bribe them. Sure, it’s supposed to be a parenting no-no. But the fact is, there’s a very thin line between motivation and bribery. If your kids are super-resistant, give them a reason to participate. Depending on age, this could be a special dessert, a gold star on a sticker chart, or a small “raise” on their pocket money. 
  6. Give it a trial run, and seek feedback. If tech-free family meals haven’t been tried in your house before, and especially if you have older children, you can anticipate pushback. Talk it over and suggest you give the plan a test-drive for a week or two. Then, follow through and de-brief. And don’t be shocked if they tell you they ENJOY the experience!

With Family Zone, you can set your own boundaries around mealtimes, study times and sleep times - for every child and every device.

Create a home where your digital family can thrive, and start your free trial today.




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Topics: Cyber Bullying, Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, Excessive Device Usage, online safety, family meals

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