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. We have always had this rule in our home. It surprises me that others do not, and that this is even an issue. Amazing. Dinner is family time. No tv, and definitely no phones.

    My daughter has never even been told “No”. I guess she knows I would take it. We have never had any problems.

  2. If you don’t talk about this topic, who will? In this day with screens so easy to bring around and hide we are all learning how to teach and train our children in a way we were not raised. It most certinly must be discussed.

  3. I’ve used devices in a restaurant with my daughter when she was 3 but the service was taking abnormally long. I limit device usage for my daughter to one hour a day during the week. That time is for when I’m nursing my son. When she starts to ask for the iPad or TV a lot, I throttle back and they are used even less.

    With all the social media push to not use devices at dinner in restaurants, I’ve made more of an effort to put my phone away. As a result, I have noticed that adults are the worst offenders.

  4. I completely agree with the unplugging while eating. We need to be in tune with our body’s natural signal of fullness. If not this can lead to obesity in some individuals.
    Another reason for me is that dinnertime is family time. All gadgets should not be around the dining area, it would also be a great time to charge our gadgets.
    I raised my children during the 90’s and although it was not as bad as it is now, we all sat at the table to eat and converse and i am happy to say that tradition has been carried on to my granddaughter with my daughter doing the same thing dinnertime is family time.

  5. I completely agree with the unplugging while eating. We need to be in tune with our body’s natural signal of fullness. If not this can lead to obesity in some individuals.
    Another reason for me is that dinnertime is family time. All gadgets should not be around the dining area, it would also be a great time to charge our gadgets.
    I raised my children during the 90’s and although it was not as bad as it is now, we all sat at the table to eat and converse and i am happy to say that tradition has been carried on to my granddaughter with my daughter doing the same thing dinnertime is familytime.

  6. This is something we have always done when it comes to dinner time as a family no phones etc at the table. I support ya 100%

  7. Agree with you 100%. My kids are 10 and 14. No devices allowed at home dinner and definitely none when we’re spending hard earned money eating out. We try not to frequent restaurants with TVs. Why are there TVs everywhere? I’ve complained to management when a child is using a device without a headphone. I also applaud businesses that state they will not wait on you if you’re on a device. Bravo. The U.S. Has become such a rude culture that can’t even enjoy the true pleases of eating and family.

  8. Actually the Kaiser study has the number higher when you factor in the multitasking we all do. Also most kids said there weren’t any restrictions or rules about screen time. Scary stuff.

  9. Im also passionate about this subject and dont believe phones or tablets should be at dinner. However,I do have friends that feel different ( or given in more easily) and so I am challenged with my children now wanting the same as their friends when we are together. My children are younger and so it’s not always easy explaining to them as they feel they are the ones being punished. Im going to stay strong with my beliefs but I can already see it’s not going to be easy.

    1. It IS tough when they see their friends doing/having different things. But it’s not just with devices, it’s all sorts of things. In some families it’s ok to jump on the sofa, in some families you take your shoes off at the door etc. When my kids were little I simply said that other families have their rules, in OUR family, the rule is … Or we do … And I left it at that :) Good luck!

  10. I have two teenagers ages 15 and 18, and our youngest is 9. While they are inundated and connected to media and their devices during the day, Mealtime (any mealtime) is and always has been device free. It has just never been an option. They never bring devices to the table and never ask for them. By not allowing it to start it never became an issue. Mealtimes for us are the best part of our family time, sometimes the only family time.

  11. My kids are pretty much grown up but from the time they had gameboys, phones, or whatever at the time, I did not allow any of it at the table. That is family time and they can use their devices when they are finished eating. I want to talk to my kids and see how their day went, my husband also, and when you are concentrating on other things there is no connection between the people sitting together at all. Even when their friends are over they aren’t allowed to have theirs either. I’m not being mean I just think we disconnect ourselves from everything around us so often that it has become a habit. I’ve seen my kids text the person sitting beside them to keep from having to talk. Seriously we need to go back to having face to face conversations.

  12. I agree completely and am having trouble that I now have a legitimate need to have my phone on my person & turned off silent at all (almost) times. My daughter recently gave birth to our first grand baby, very prematurely (26 weeks). We are 7 hours away and need to be able to be reached 24/7 in the event of an emergency. I’m always thinking people are watching me carrying my phone around like its attached to my hand!
    I understand that most people are not in this or a similar situation but I’m trying to keep my perspective when I see others with theirs.

  13. Agree with you 200% Lisa. If you get any flack from anyone it’s probably because they can’t even imagine their lives without it. ACTUALLY having a conversation with their family is so foreign to them that YOU seem like the goofball.

  14. Yhe only time we use our phones is when a question comes up that we need to google. That way, we don’t sit there talking about “I wonder why…”, but we can avtually look up the answer! The best is when I can prove my husband wrong.
    My family actually did this when I was a kid, except we had to go to the shelf and pull out an encyclopedia.
    I think pen and paper activities or small toys (toddlers) are fine in a restaurant.

  15. The reason so much judging goes on between families is that we are judgmental creatures. It is how God made us. We are constantly making judgments all day long. We judge what is right and wrong. We judge what is good and bad for us to do or say or think in every situation that we encounter. WE JUDGE. It is what we are supposed to do. We are supposed to look at the family who allows their children to be in front of media 7.5 hours per day and judge whether that would be a good thing to allow our kids to do. Especially when they are doing it in public in front of our children. I look at the family across the way allowing their children to be on social media during dinner time and I think to myself, “Is that a good thing for kids? Would it be a good thing for my kids? Does it teach them how to converse with others? Does it teach them good manners? Is it healthy? Does it promote learning and growth?” I am required as a parent who is responsible for the eternal souls of my children to make these kind of judgments. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes and poor choices. But that comes from doing our best to make good judgments for our children. And we have every right to make those judgments. I’m not going to tell a family that I don’t know in a restaurant that they are making a poor judgment for their kids. But I will judge them. I will judge the example that they are setting for my sake and for my children’s sake.

    So, to answer your question Lisa…I think you are right to make judgment calls. Should you write an article about it on your site? Your call! It depends if you desire to tackle hard, controversial issues that may cause you to lose followers? Is the venture worth the price to you? Only you can answer that. ;)

  16. Most people I know who have kids don’t usually let them use devices at the table, whether they are at home or at a restaurant. Exceptions are judgement calls that are made depending on the circumstances. Our kids aren’t allowed to use devices at the table, but if we are out with another family and want to have conversations with our friends, we will OK the use of phones and tablets just until the food is served. The kids usually end up watching videos or playing games together, so they are still interacting with each other.

    Around the dinner table, tech is a no go and the tv is off. I was raised eating TV dinners and Happy Meals off a TV tray in the living room while watching Dukes of Hazzard and The A Team, so I think eating as a family almost every night of the week gives us a little wiggle room with the devices when we do go out and decide to let the kids entertain themselves that way.

  17. Wendell Holland


    Basicly I agree with you. However, there are a couple exceptions that I am very familar with.
    I have a grandson who is autistic. Loud noises, especially crowds, are very difficult for him to handle. Using an electronic device with music or some other soothing activity enables my daughter and the rest of the family to go out to eat and my grandson to survive in that environment. He does not use a device at home during meals.

    The other exception I make is this: My wife and I are both on a relatively strict eating plan. We both just got plain fat and needed to do something to combat it. When we are home with just the two of us, we each keep an eating diary and it is convenient to have our tablets at hand to record things during the meal. But we never do this when anyone else is with us.

    We are also both information junkies. Again, when we are home alone, often subjects will come up in conversation where we would like to verify the facts immediately. Again, this is only when the two of us are alone.


  18. I totally agree with you. My kids are grown…….my daughter has 2 boys, 7 & 10 – (my angel grandsons) ❤️ – they never, ever are allowed to take along their electronics to a dinner or an outing of any sort and believe me, they go a lot! They do not use them at all during the school week either, only weekends at home. #smartdaughter

  19. My kids are grown and while they were growing up we sat dow to eat dinner. Just us and conversation…sometimes tears but never any other distractions. We didn’t have as many devices but had we they would not have been allowed at the table.

    Back when I was growing up there were no devices (60’s/70’s) but we had tv and it was NOT allowed on during meals and absolutely no phone calls. While I wasn’t happy at the time to miss a phone call (plus no answering machines so you weren’t sure what you were missing!) I am SO grateful now. I also wasn’t allowed to eat at fast food resaturants. My dad believed in fine dining only. No getting up and running to the bathroom either! Again, I am SO grateful for the lessons I learned. May sound terrible to some but believe me a little etiqutte goes along way! I work at a high school and I am SOOOOO thrilled when a student is polite and courteous! It makes my day because it can be a rarity. I always make a big deal and tell them their mom would be proud! Thanks for sharing this important topic. Be kind, courteous and mind your manners!!

  20. Here’s another thing to blow holes in this whole thing: when the phone rings/buzzes/chirps/vibrates, a novel idea would be to NOT FREAKING ANSWER IT.
    Wow. what a concept. We used to have these things called regular telephones with cords, no less! And even some people had cordless phones! But guess what? If it rang during dinner, no one answered. Ya know why? Because it was dinner time!!! With FAMILY! They could either call back later or leave a message.
    So, why is now any different? It shouldn’t be.
    As to the going out with your phone/ipad (yours or for your kid), didn’t have those then either. Learn to deal with life. It’s kind of your job as a parent. Instead of thinking you can just coast through it by handing them off to a device because you want “adult time”. Then have adult time on your own & get a babysitter. If you can’t find one, guess what? You don’t get to have a date. Why is that such a crime? My parents & millions of others did it before all this. This shouldn’t be anything new.

  21. I agree. I’m guilty of allowing this from time to time, but just last week I told my husband we need to stop it and start eating at the table together as a family, device free.

  22. Here is something to think about…Steve Jobs, the inventor of the iPad, NEVER allowed his teenage children to use or have an iPad. Many tech executives send their kids to schools with no technology (computers/iPads, etc) because they have seen the first hand result of the use of too much technology. If the INVENTOR of the iPad would not allow his kids to use an iPad, why would I allow my kids to use one? He must know something I do not. If you doubt what I am saying, google it and you will find articles quoting Steve Jobs on this issue.

    The American Pediatric Association strongly suggests kids have less than 2 hours of total screen time a day. Again, what do they know that I do not? Clearly something.

    That being said, my kids, like most, want to use an iPad or their Leap Pad devices. They are hidden during the week and are only used a couple times a month. My kids want them when they see them, but when they are out of sight my kids play out side. We don’t use devices at meal time. Is it a challenge to get them to totally behave at times?? ABSOLUTELY, but my parents did not have an iPad to give to me so I would be quiet. They had to deal with it and in doing so, I learned how to entertain myself, or that boredom is sometimes part of life.

    1. Love that comment – boredom is sometimes part of life. So true. We cannot entertain our kids 24/7. They have to learn as we learned that sometimes you have to sit and be quiet when waiting for your food or when adults are talking. It isn’t punishment but good manners.

  23. Hey is anyone here old enough to remember the days of NO personal technology? I would think most of us. What did your parents do with you as a kid at dinner, be it at home or in a restaurant? That’s what’s blowing my mind about this. It should be a no brainer. I think people use technology as a babysitter now. They don’t want to actually take the time to have a conversation with their children, which in turn teaches those kids about interaction, verbal communication, manners. I don’t care if your kid is 4 yrs old, you can have a conversation with them. And I bet it will be interesting. And even more so if your kid is a teenager. There’s less parenting going on, and more “just make the kid shut up so we can eat in peace give him the phone.” So yep, I’m all on board with the “No tech at the table”…ever. And anyone getting all mad or saying Lisa & those of us agreeing with her are being judgmental & “you don’t know our situation”, um well, millions of families coped/dealt with/had actual family time at dinner for YEARS…DECADES, before technology came along. Maybe you should give it try?

  24. Celeste DiSciullo

    When I first started reading your post I completley agreed with you! That is our dinner table every night, no electronics we simply talk. However sometimes when we all have to go to dinner together out, which is very rare, we will allow them the devices so 1. Mommy and Daddy can actually have some adult conversation and 2. so the youngester who is 3 isn’t whining and complaining and being disruptive to the other folks who are enjoying themselves. It isn’t always possible to get a babysitter and sometimes we have to eat out for necessity and believe me this is the best alternative so everyone at the restaruant including us can enjoy the meal!

  25. Spend time with your kids whether it be in a restaurant, grocery store, park, dinner table. Engaging is how they learn, if they see us sitting with our phones or tablets ignoring the world around us then that’s how they believe it should be. Society is disengaging from itself. We only care about what is happening on our gadgets. I am pointing fingers here, if you have to use a device to keep your kids inline while out then obviously there is something missing. I am far from a perfect parent but when we were out and if they acted up even after being asked to settle down or try and find a game or subject to talk about we left the restaurant and we didn’t give in or have long drawn out discussions about behaviour in the restaurant which ultimately lead to screaming matches. Outings are a special time/treat and should be fun. Dinner time is social time with your family, find out how school is doing especially teenagers who can be so elusive and subject to mounds of peer pressure and bullying. It boggles my mind how some parents are not aware of how their kids are treating others or what is happening to their kids by others. If my child was bullying then not one computer, phone, tablet would EVER be in their possession while under my roof. As parents we need to engage and be aware of their world and technology. My rant.

    Have a good day!!

  26. I 1000% agree with you Lisa! Electronic devices, AKA handheld computers, have become way too important to people! Majority of society acts as if they must be entertained or involved in something every moment of their time. Face to face conversations and proper etiquette are not being taught to our children anymore. Why does a child need to play a game on a device in the car, in a waiting room, store, etc.? Can patience not be an alternative? Even back in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s being on the phone (or doing other distracting things) while in the presence of company was considered rude, so why now is it not? People skills are a must to have a career and be respected in this world, and if there are no boundaries and anything goes chaos is created. (Sorry I’m off my soap box)

  27. I really don’t care what anyone says this is ENTIRELY possible if the parent is willing to parent. My aunt and uncle have 9 children from the ages of 6-18. One of them has Down syndrome. I have never had a dinner with them where the kids got up as soon as they were finished, the kids never have electronics, and there is rarely a melt down. I’ve been close to the family since the eldest was a baby. They have always been taught to stay engaged at the dinner table until everyone (or most everyone) is done. They even join in on the adult conversation as kids.

  28. I’m apparently in the minority here, and I have a lot of issues with these comments.

    First – when we are at home, there are no devices. We sit at the table and talk. There are occasions when we have pizza & movie night and sit on the living room floor and eat pizza and watch a family movie. But, that happens maybe ever 6 weeks.

    When we go out to eat, which is less than once a month, my kids (7 & 5) have electronics. Whether it is their LeapPads or our phones, after they pick out what they want to eat, they play until the food comes. Once it comes, the phones go away and they eat. After they eat, they can have them again. My husband and I talk and reconnect during this time.

    What bothers me is there so much accession from everyone. I thought this site would lift everyone up. No one knows what each family is going through. Perhaps the parents are on the phones trying to figure out if friends & family are doing OK in Boston Riots. Maybe before they walked in, they got a text saying that a parent in another state was taken to the hospital. Maybe a friend was just diagnosed with cancer and needed to reach out to someone. Maybe the kids have special needs, Maybe they are working on their ABCs, colors, or homework. (My son can actually do some of his homework on the phone.) Maybe, the kids are chatting with a friend who just moved across the country. This could be the parents “date night” because paying a sitter in addition to going out to eat (and being able to tip) doesn’t fit in their budget. So, they save $30-70 by not paying a sitter.

    I was flabbergasted at the comment someone made about “don’t judge the mom in the grocery store who gives the child a phone.” Why not? She should be teaching the child to shop, count, read and where real food comes from. If it’s OK for “you” to sit there and judge about what goes on in a restaurant, why not a grocery store?

    There is so much judging other families that goes on. Maybe I’ve never read the comments here before. I get that technology can be a distraction. But, so are so many other things. But glaring at another family because they don’t do what you believe is right to me, is worse than most anything that family could actually be doing.

  29. Agree! Its our family time not our screen time. Ironically, its my husband (who claims to not even need a cell phone) that has the hardest time putting it away!

  30. Amen to that!
    My oldest is 11 and I have noticed this trend increasing over the years. it is so sad to me. When kids spend all their time in front of a screen, they are not learning to participate and enjoy meals (and other activities) with friends and family. I belong to the mean mom club as well – we don’t allow electronics use at mealtime and my kids don’t have any of their own handheld devices either.

  31. I am a server. In my many, many years of serving, I have worked in different types of restaurants from banquet to casual to fine dining. In the past ten years, the electronic devices have taken over dinner time. I have literally watched couples, out to dinner for their wedding anniversary, barely look at each other and barely speak the whole time because they are glued to their phones. I have seen many children, from toddler to teen, engrossed in video games via phone, tablet or gaming device, who don’t even look up to speak to me or their parents and who barely interact at all. It is an every day occurrence to see people on their phones for a majority of time, taking pictures of their food, scrolling through social media, and basically not speaking to each other. It is very, very sad. And to think this behavior is also taking place in the home actually makes sense as to what is happening in our society. Oh, and btw, tip your servers. We work really hard and only make $3.00 an hour on average, so our tips are our income. And we have to put up with rude people who ignore us to scroll through facebook.

  32. I find it interesting that parents feel their children need to be entertained all the time not only when dining out in restaurants, but in the car, the doctor’s office, etc. I understand than many parents are trying to be respectful of those around them by keeping the children busy and not making noise or bothering others around them, but children don’t learn to entertain themselves unless they have the time to figure out how to do it on their own. This was evident in the classroom when I was teaching. The very children who complained they were bored had never learned to figure out what to do on their own. We used to take our children on vacations where the drive was 6 hours plus. We didn’t have digital devices to keep them busy, but they learned to entertain themselves by reading, drawing, playing games, sleeping, etc. There were fights especially when the trip was winding down and they were tired of the car but they learned to deal with it because they loved vacations. They weren’t in camp all summer and learned to make their own fun by building bike ramps, learning to play the guitar and drums, self-publishing comic books, rebuilding a car engine – all skills that helped them become productive adults. We need to get back to letting kids be kids and boredom and how to handle it is something they need to learn. Our society has become so fast paced and families need to find time to reconnect. ‘Dinner is the perfect place.

  33. Absolutely agree! Only time my phone is at the table is when hubby hasn’t gotten home yet. All devices off and put away at the table, please.

  34. Christina Miller

    I absolutely 110% agree EVERYone shoukd be device free during meal time period!! Life is so fast paced. Families dont have much quality time!! Slow down! Enjoy the moment and most of all each other!!

  35. I completely agree with you. However, I have to give you our story. I have three kids, one of whom has autism. Sometimes we have to use technology to keep him calm when we’re out to eat. As he has gotten older, he is more able to handle public settings, but sometimes we still have our moments. So, though it’s not our preferred dinner option, sometimes you do what you gotta do! Our experience has left me much more hesitant to judge other families because you just never know what they are dealing with. Certainly not every child you see glued to a tech device has special needs. But, it irks to me to think of how many times my parenting has been judged because my son looks like a “normal” 6 year old, but he’s not. You just never know.

  36. That’s also our rule. Also if whatever they are playing on dies, they are not to plug it in and keep playing.

  37. Mean mom here as well! Actually my kids only get 10 min of screen time a day and family movie nights most weekends. During mealtimes, I don’t allow anything that distracts from conversation: book, flyer, cellphone, newspaper, etc…