Technology During Dinnertime? Mother Says NO! I: Introduction, Lit Review, and Methodology
by Camilla Moreira, MPsy
This series was originally completed as a Major Research Project in partial fulfillment of Adler Graduate Professional School’s Master of Psychology degree.
This work is dedicated to Sophia and Henrique Furtado, Sylvio, Maria Dulce, Thiago, and Martha Rangel Moreira, who have supported me with love, patience, motivation, inspiration to follow my dreams, and encouragement toward my goals and achievement.
I also dedicate this to my grandfather, João Pinheiro Lins, for inspiring me to continue growing.
In our daily routine, children of all ages have access to technology through mobile phones, tablets, computers, portable media players, wearable computers, and handheld game consoles. The ownership of those technological tools has increased rapidly, and there is a general agreement that the use of technology has a negative impact on communication (Kraut et al., 1998), social interaction (Kraut et al., 1998), and family relationships (Huisman, Edwards, & Catapano, 2012). There also appears to be an increase in rates of depression (Kraut et al., 1998), poor sleep habits (Hill et al., 2016), distraction (Hill et al., 2016), neck and head pain (Ning, Huang, Hu, & Nimbarte, 2015), delayed child development (Hill et al., 2016), and obesity (Hill et al., 2016) associated with the increased use of technology.
Today’s children play differently. Generations ago, children used to play with their neighbours for the whole day; they were outside riding bikes, playing ball, interacting with each other, and creating their own activities with little parental supervision. During that time, “the dining room table was a central place where families came together to eat and talk about their day, and after dinner became the center for baking, crafts, and homework” (Rowan, 2013). I believe that with the increase of technology in the modern society, the family values and beliefs have been showing a rupture in their own foundation. The use of technology is observable among parents and children during mealtimes when they are at home or in public places. Interaction among people often is replaced by interaction with a screen, and, for some families, mealtimes are no longer a time that fosters togetherness.
Purpose of the Research
For some families, the dining room table still fosters a place for interaction, bonding, and social development. Those families demonstrate a resistance to technology use during this time of the day. In social settings, I have noticed adults and children playing with their own devices during mealtime instead of interacting with each other. This tendency has been affecting me personally, since I am one those parents who does not allow screen time during mealtimes. I believe that this special time around the table promotes bonding, creates memories, and fosters togetherness, and also supports the children to develop social skills, emotional regulation, and language. Like me, there are other parents who do not allow the use of technology during meals.
The intent of this research was to explore mothers’ perceptions around not allowing the use of technology during mealtimes and how this might benefit the family relationship. Fiese and Schwartz (2008) reported: “Shared family mealtimes have been associated with such diverse outcomes as academic achievement, language development, physical health, and reduced risk for substance abuse” (p.1). Taking a phenomenological approach and using the attachment theory as a framework, the researcher focuses on two questions:
- What are the reasons mothers disallow the use of technology during mealtime?
- How might this benefit family relationships?
The researcher analyzed the results with the aim of identifying:
- the motivation and reasons for not allowing technology use during mealtime, and
- the impact of not allowing technology during mealtime on parent–child
Relevance of the Research
This research aimed to explore parental awareness around the choices they made in order to promote a better relationship between family members. By using the attachment framework, the hope was that family members turned their devices off and interacted with each other in a more humanistic way, providing a deeper rationale for parents to turn their devices off in order to build a stronger family relationship.
Some research has been conducted focusing on attitudes towards using technology devices during mealtime, or how technology is integrated into the mealtime activity. Ferdous, Ploderer, Davis, Vetere, & O’hara. (2016) identified one study where a “domestic circumstance reported a background technology being raised to the foreground, visible devices are hidden, unwanted distractions become desired, and ordinary technologies are integrated into mealtime experience” (p. 1). While there is a growing interest in the benefit of technology during the mealtime, little attention has been given to understanding the impact on the relationship between families that are resisting using technology during that time of the day.