Let’s Commit to a Device-Free Dinner!

It’s no secret that smart phones, tablets and the like have taken over our lives. It’s my hope though that we can all agree to keep one sacred place device-free, and that’s the dinner table! Today’s post is mainly about kids, but parents and other adults – let’s be sure we lead by example here. For some ideas, check out these Easy Dinner Ideas.

Let's commit to a #devicefreedinner on 100 Days of #RealFood

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My Recent Observation

My family and I went on a spring break trip earlier this month and at our one “fancy” dinner out I couldn’t help but notice what was going on a couple tables down from us. Call me judgmental if you’d like, but this was a beautiful setting in a really special place and both elementary-aged children were plopped down at the table with headphones on and i-pads. Props to the parents for ensuring the use of headphones would not disturb others, BUT as a result – they couldn’t even speak to each other! I can already hear some of the comments now, “What if it was just one special night on vacation and they don’t normally do that?” or “What if the parents were having a really bad day full of their meltdowns and desperately need some peace?”

I TOTALLY hear ya. No, I most certainly don’t have all the information and I do like to give people the benefit of the doubt. But, I can pretty much guarantee that not all the kids I’ve ever seen glued to a device at a restaurant (and this would be A LOT) were due to a rare and special occasion/situation. I think it’s safe to say for some it’s more the norm than the exception. And my big question is this…

Is it too much to ask our children to ditch the distractions and simply learn how to have polite conversation during one meal of the day?

Even little toddlers are old enough to begin to learn and participate in this wonderful pastime! A friend and I were recently joking that apparently we are the “mean” parents that make our kids actually interact with us and maybe do a little coloring when we’re out to dinner. I do also sometimes bring little activities in my purse like hangman or glow sticks, but even with these extras I still feel it does not shut anyone out and, if anything, encourages us to interact with each other. The point is – your children (and you) can still have fun!

Screen Time Is Off The Hook!

I think it’s safe to say children these days are getting plenty of screen time even if they were to take a dinner break. “The Kaiser Family Foundation puts media use among 8- to 18-year-olds at more than 7.5 hours a day.” (Say whaaaat???) Some experts are concerned this can cause a host of issues including low self-esteem and even losing the ability to read nonverbal communication. But I also think it simply makes good common sense to know how to function without your phone in your face and instead to know how to hold a face-to-face conversation. I do believe this is an area where lots of practice can make perfect, and our children need us to teach them how!

If you haven’t seen this video yet, it’s funny – and a good reminder that we’re not alone.
FYI – from what I can tell this is not a real product that’s actually for sale at the moment!

Where Do You Stand?

Do you agree this is a growing issue that needs to stop? What do you do to encourage your children to interact with you (and others) at the dinner table? I’ve heard of some people making a “drop box” where they drop their devices before dinner time so it becomes almost automatic, which sounds like a great idea to me. So how many device-free dinners can you commit to each week going forward?

Mollys Suds

On a completely different note I want to make sure you know about a wonderful product I love, Molly’s Suds! I love how much cleaner it leaves our clothes compared to store-bought “green” laundry detergents (that aren’t always as good for you or the Earth as they claim). Have you tried it yet? They now have lots of options to choose from including cloth diapers, all sports, and whitener so be sure to check it out – enjoy :)

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169 thoughts on “Let’s Commit to a Device-Free Dinner!”

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  1. As a teacher for 29 years, I can tell you we are seeing the effects of this constant “screen time” and lack of conversations going on in homes now days. We have an abundance of students, especially in the lower grades, with language disabilities. Please please parents talk, interact and read books with colorful vocabulary and language to your children. Again, please TALK to them, from birth, all the time. It’s so important in helping them as they are forming their language skills.

    1. Martha – This is so important. These children will be at a disadvantage for the rest of their lives if they don’t get a good start learning language and interpersonal skills at home. Study after study has shown that children whose parents don’t talk to them are already behind when they enter kindergarten.

    1. We were never allowed to have the TV on or be on the phone at dinner time. It was family time. When I raised my kids, it was the same. Not so much with my grandchildren. I think that all devices should be put in the middle of the table during dinner. The first one to grab a device must do the dishes…all the dishes even if you have a dishwasher. That means to either wash, dry and put away or load, unload and put all dishes away.
      All pots and pans washed, dried and put away too. This is the rule at our house when we host family dinners. I never lose because I am only attached to my computer and it is turned off and put away at dinner time. If you don’t talk to your kids, how will they develop the art of conversation? They will need this in school, the workplace and in life. Nobody needs to be in contact with someone else 24/7. Put the devices down and enjoy the person/people you are with because they will not always be there.

  2. I completely agree with you! I have 4 children under the age of 6 and when we go out to dinner no one is allowed phones or tablets even mom and dad. It is hard and hectic sometimes but I feel like in our busy lives we need time to just be with each other and talk. Growing up dinner was my favorite time of day and already if we have a busy day and don’t all eat together my 6 y/o complains that she misses it.

  3. completely agree with you Lisa. The table is a place for building relationships, checking in with each other, and enjoying good food. It’s hard to enjoy what you’re eating when you’re multi-tasking on a device. And you want your kids to remember meals as being sacred and time that brought your family together, even if they don’t want to turn off their phone at the moment, they’ll be thankful someday.

  4. Hey Lisa, I completely agree with device free dinners. We have taken this a step further and implemented device free Sundays, which impact us parents as well. There are no devices allowed on Sundays and we find that time as well as dinner time to reconnect. We have dinner family cards we read and answer. It’s fun and we learn more about our 11 year old son. Family is the core in shaping who they will become. You’re amazing. Thanks for the blog!

  5. We have a game called Rory’s Story Cubes that is the size of a deck of cards and consists of 9 dice with pictures on them that you roll and then use to spark a story. We keep it in the car and play together at restaurants while waiting for the food– and sometimes it comes too soon! We love it so much we’ve given ot to all our friends as gifts.

  6. I couldn’t agree more. We never have any electronics at the table. And since we never have them, it is never an issue. We usually talk, but we also play games when we have the extra time. It’s just fun family time.

    One thing that my husband and I have noticed recently is that all of the restaurants that we go to have TVs in them. This is an issue which is causing us not to want to go out to eat. Going out used to be a fun family get together where we could always just hang out without having to worry about cooking and cleaning up. Now when we go out, the kids just stare at the TV. It’s not worth it. Is anyone else having this experience?

  7. Thank you for the post! I could not agree more. It is one of the most disturbing things I see at restaurants. At our house, meal time is family time….no television, no music, no phones.

  8. I totally agree! In fact I started this rule when my kids first got cell phones over ten years ago. There is something to be gained from learning the art of conversation, when to listen to others, and feeling valuable by contributing verbally! They are thankful for it now ❤️

  9. My total pet peeve… I agree with you 100%!!!! Like we discussed on our super cool uber car ride back to our hotel at Mom 2.0- I travel (A LOT) with 5 kids. We love… no we cherish the unplugged dinners, discussions and discoveries we are able to make. When it becomes your norm you are engaged with your kids… and they in turn with you. You are connected, understand each other and have a greater appreciation for each other. So many benefits I could go on and on and on…

  10. Absolutely agree with this one! I am one of those ‘cruel’ mothers that limit their childrens screen time to half an hour a day! Most days they don’t get any screen time at all, as we are usually too busy with sports and after school activities! :-)

  11. I agree. None of us use any electronics at the table nor would our children be allowed to read at a family meal (that’s just rude!). We don’t answer the phone either. For fun, we play roses & thorns (list a high and low about your day), ask questions from a deck of cards designed to stimulate conversation ( such as: if you could have a different name what would it be and why? or tell about a time someone did something nice for you and how you felt.) and often talk about future plans such as what things would you like to do over summer break or Christmas break etc…. I am always saddened by seeing kids and adults on their phones at restaurants. Another disturbing trend I see every time I am grocery shopping is little children and even toddlers watching a movie on a phone while the parents shop. I wonder how it effects them? How will they be able to get through other situations without stimulation ?

  12. I agree too….it’s a perfect time to reflect on the day and share some quality time together. When my boys were little we used to play the high / low game. Everybody would get a chance to express something good and something not so good that happened to them that day. You learn a lot about each other!

  13. I agree with you. Dinner is a time to catch up to touch base and discuss the day. You won’t find an electronic anything in my kitchen during dinner. It is sad really when those things become more important that talking and associating with people. For me nothing is more important.

  14. Thanks so much for taking this stand!
    I agree 100 % as a mother of 3 boys now in their 30s and 3 young granddaughters. Some of our best times are spent sharing food and conversation around the table. What memories !!

  15. We always have no devices at meal times. We do ‘Highs’ and ‘Lows’ and just talk as a family. We actually don’t allow our kids media or devices during the school week. They get to have those things on Friday-Sunday. Instead, we read, play outside, play board games, go for walks, or generally spend time together. I think Andy Stanley said it best when he said, “Our kids today are ‘experience rich’, but ‘relationship poor’. We make it a priority to prioritize the relationships in our family. In addition, we have no device zones for mom and dad (bedroom)…

  16. My son is 20 now but when he was little we had a “no toys at the table” rule. Now that he’s older it’s a little harder. Thanks for the reminder-we could all use a tech free dinner, even us!

  17. We also try to keep dinner as a time without other interruptions or distractions, so nothing else at the table but us and our meal. I completely agree with what you’ve written in this post.

  18. We take it as far as NOTHING at the dinner table. No electronics, toys, books. Nothing. It’s the one time of day we get to spend together as a family with no running, rushing or distractions. It’s time to talk about how the kids did at school, lessons, practice. While we didn’t have electronics as a distraction, my mom always made sure that we sat down for a dinner every day. I hope that my kids pass the torch when they have a family.

  19. My son (now 18 years old), and I talk during dinner. The other day, my son had a friend over who ate dinner with us. My husband had the TV on to listen to a sports game. Then, my husband had enough nerve to ask my son’s friend to put away his cell phone ! So, sometimes the adults need reminding to unplug from electronics too !

  20. I recently saw a quote by Albert Einstein: “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots”. Idiots may be too strong of a word, but we definitely have a generation of people that are totally disconnected from each other. I have seen whole families sit in restaurants playing on some sort of device and not one of them are talking to each other. How sad.

  21. We have always had a no technology rule for meals, no matter if we are at home or eating out. This includes the adults too. Our children will even make guests put their phones away! :)

  22. We have a really hard time with this because my stepdaughters are allowed to be on their phones everywhere they go (except school) at their mom’s house, in addition to having a TV, computer and tablet in each of their bedrooms. We get texts from them saying they’re at dinner, at a movie, etc., and they just keep texting through whatever they’re doing, or they face time with us while watching TV or playing on their computer in their rooms, so trying to pry them away from them when they’re here is a constant battle.

    My oldest stepdaughter (13) is by nature an introvert, so letting her be on her phone so much has made it even more difficult for her to have face to face conversations, identify her and others emotions, know what she wants to do (other than be on her phone), etc. I’ve offered to arrange a day long job shadow for her this summer for a job she thinks she may like to do some day, and she doesn’t even know what she would like to try but she thinks she needs to go to college as soon as she graduates high school in five years (she will be paying her own way if she doesn’t know what she wants to go for when she gets to that point but still chooses to go!) :-p

    But every meal time they have with us, whether home or at a restaurant, phones are banned. If they take them out of their pocket/purse, they lose them for the rest of the meal. We often get a lot of silence and pouting the first few meals, but after a couple days with us, they will start engaging more, and it’s great to see. We also only have one TV, so if they want to watch, they have to watch with us. I love the summer the most because we get eight full weeks, so we see a lot more openness and growth during those times. Then it’s sad because there’s a big gap between then and the next visit (they live across the country, so only major school breaks), so they tend to lose that by the next visit, and we have to start all over. I just keep praying they make the decision for themselves to step out from behind their screens and spend more face to face time with people.

  23. For me I think it depends. I am pretty strict about “screen time” and monitor like crazy, which is increasingly difficult since kids on play dates are pulling out ipads now too. Even at the park! We are very committed to family dinners at home, making sure they are device free and we talk as a family, but when we go out and are waiting for our food we do allow the kids to play with our phones. The deal is after we order, they can play until the food comes. Here’s the thing, sometimes my husband and I would like to talk to each other. On the rare occasion we are out, it is so nice to order a glass of wine and have a conversation for the twenty minutes it takes for the food to come. I don’t expect the kids (5 and 7) to sit by quietly while we talk about his work or my SEO blog problems. When our food arrives, they hand back the phone and we all enjoy each others company:)

  24. Not only do I not allow eletronic devices at the table, the television is off as well. We all sit at the table and carry on a conversation. My 2 boys, 13 and 11, do not take electronics to restaurants to occupy their time. They have learned thru the years how to act and behave out in public.

  25. Electronic devices have become the most intrusive and detrimental toy of the century. Families have forfeited true communication/ interaction to engage in an unreal world unfortunately. Meal times are a good place to have real communication with one another. Life is short and family is important so put down all electronics and have a conversation!

  26. I totally share your opinion on this one. We do eat out sometimes too, and I think it’s really sad to see so many adults and kids glued to their respective devices not having any interaction with eachother whatsoever. To begin with, my girls, 5 and almost 7, don’t own any kind of video games, sometimes they are allowed to play educational games in my ipad, but NEVER at meal times. For me meal times are sacred, we give thanks for our food and have conversations. I plan on sticking with this rule until they’re grown, and I sure hope more parents do the same.

  27. Today I see too many of my daughters’ friends and my friends’ daughters not even having a dinner time. They let their children eat something from the microwave any time of day and each child kind of eats whenever and has no sense of nutrition or of what constitutes a family dinner. Their kids play sports that usually occur at dinner time – soccer, skating, football, etc. My granddaughter, who babysits for many of these parents, says they never have food in the house. The moms are usually doing something like Nutrisystem and the kids get mac and cheese. or take out almost every night. So never mind having devices at the table. How about having a family at the table!!!

  28. This is one of the most important conversations we need to have as parents and families these days!! I could not agree more that the dinner table should absolutely be a device free zone!! My kids are now 21, 19 and 13 and no one has EVER been allowed to bring any device to the table (among other places). Dinner together every night was our chance to talk and laugh and discuss the day. It was and, when they are home, still is our time to really connect. My 21 year old daughter initiates the same device free zone when she is out to dinner with friends. They put their phones in the middle of the table and, if anyone picks up their phone before dinner is over, they have to pick up the entire tab. I am shocked at the number of parents that put no limits on their kids and cell phones and other devices.

  29. I have a 2 year old son and he is allowed to play games on a Nook when we are out to eat. He is not allowed to play the Nook at home and never has any technology at dinner time (we always have family diners, no technology). However, he is very difficult when we are at a restaurant despite our best efforts. Therefore, we don’t go out often but when we do the Nook works like a charm and keeps the peace. Could we come up with other ways to keep him busy? Yes. That’s what we did in the past. In fact, I would never have bought him a tablet as a 2 year old but a family friend handed this one down to him for his birthday. It is a special treat for him when we go out and I don’t see a problem with it. When he is a teenager of course I would expect him to be off his phone etc and having conversation with us…but my 2 year old is a little harder to reason with at this point. Anyhow, to each their own. We all need to stop judging each other.

    1. You are setting a precedent with your two-year old. At what age are you going to take the device away? What’s your long-term plan?

      1. I don’t feel the need to share my long term plan and I am comfortable with the way we are doing things. I would rather he gets to play with it for 15 minutes while we wait for a meal at a restaurant then non stop at home like a lot of other kids I know (and that’s my preference, I’m not speaking out against my friends for that decision.) When the food comes of course the tablet goes away. I just think everyone can make their own choice and don’t need to feel judged all the time by everyone else. We eat more meals together as a family than most because I am a stay at home mom and my husband is a fisherman and our schedule allows it. My son gets less than the recommended TV time and no other screen time at home. But that’s besides the point, no one should feel the need to explain themselves to you or anyone else, worry about your own kids and be thankful mine is not screaming at the table next to you and throwing toys,because he happens to hate coloring and is a very busy boy.

      2. I’m so sorry that I came across as so judgmental. That was not my intention. I should have been more thoughtful and framed my question better. I was just curious and fired off my comment too quickly. Again I’m sorry.

  30. We eat out a minimum of once a week and we are constantly amazed by how often we see an entire family glued to individual devices for an entire meal. On very rare occasions, we have allowed our daughter to play a game on the phone before food arrives but even then we interact with her by having her show us what she’s doing. Devices are never allowed at home during dinner.

  31. Not only is dinner screen free in our house, but we have a charging station where everyone has a draw to drop off their devices at bedtime for charging. My son is 16 and my daughter is 11. And they are only allowed basic kindles at bed/reading time (as well as real book!!). They both have laptops for school, iPads and phones – so all get left downstairs at bedtime. Also, saturday and Sunday from 9am-1pm is screen free for everyone.