Seventy-two per cent of parents say family arguments at the table stem from technology while two in three parents say it ‘has a negative impact on dinner time at home with the family’.
Parents Plus charity CEO and adjunct senior lecturer at UCD’s School of Psychology John Sharry says the Dolmio-conducted research matches his own clinical experience.
“What’s really emerging is how technology can be an invasion into family life. People are struggling to connect but technology often wedges them apart.”
The research found parents daily battle technology at mealtimes, with an average of 12 internet-connected gadgets/devices per household.
Sharry says all this online connection can lead to disconnection in real life, especially when it interrupts communication during the family meal.
Shared meals, he points out, are “an important centre point of family life and connection” and “one of the best opportunities to bring us together”.
Almost half of the families surveyed feel they have no way of stopping tech at the table.
And it does take effort, which can seem like a tall order in the evenings after work or school when you’re “tired, want to unwind, Dad’s online, Mum’s watching a soap and the kids are on another device”, says Sharry.
Over one-third of parents have tried unsuccessfully to ban technology when eating. So what’s going wrong?
“Parents are busy and stressed. The whole household isn’t organised enough. There are no regular meals and they haven’t prioritised it. They’ve got into the habit — phone on the table, TV on,” says Sharry.
In fact, one in five parents acknowledge they’re the worst offenders.
The best approach, says Sharry, is to gently persist with putting a boundary on tech at the table.
“Rather than suddenly imposing a rule, talk to your children: ‘you know we don’t have much time to chat and have fun, let’s stop using devices at the table’. Children will often say ‘fair enough’ when you talk it out with them.”
And if you currently have few family meals, start small: commit to just one a week. Make this fun and expand to have meals on other days.
Sharry urges parents to set up times during the day to connect with their child.
“This could be on the walk to school or a few moments at bedtime to sit beside their bed. Make these rituals, where connection happens, central to family life.”
* Explain importance of family meal time – sell it positively as time to relax, share news and chat together.
* Let lids help prepare/cook meals. Plan meals everyone enjoys.
* Agree simple ‘no technology’ rule at dinner time. Be 100% present at mealtimes.
* Create good routine around family meals (fixed times, certain duration).
* Aim for one special family night a week, when meal is followed by treats/family games.