Technology During Dinnertime? Mother Says NO! IV: Mealtime Rules, Meaning, Reflections on Technology, and Conclusion
Mealtime Rules and Routine
Participants described some similar rules and routines around mealtime. Dinnertime is the only meal they eat together as a family. Eating at the dinner table was part of their family routine even before the children were born. Even when they had finished eating and their plates were empty, they continued to sit. They described why it was important to them that no one in the family was using any technology during dinnertime. This can be seen in the excerpts below.
Monica provided further information about her rules about technology during mealtime.
So for breakfast, we do allow it, just because we’re never, we never sit at a table for breakfast, especially during the week. So I allow the kids to watch it, um, but with my, with me not being there trying to get everyone ready for school. But for lunch and dinner, uh, technology is not allowed, and that’s only because it’s the only time where we’re around the table where we can talk, laugh, tell stories, um, joke, uh, and just kind of have that special moment, that quiet moment between all of us while we’re eating. (Monica, 1st interview)
She even reflected about her mealtime routine before her children where born.
Uh, even before children, we sat together and ate together. (Monica, 1st interview)
Monica’s family is aware of the mealtime rules.
Um, they just know, for lunch and dinner, there’s no technology. Don’t even bother asking. Um, uh, and they know the rules, so . . . I guess it’s not a rule. It’s just what, it is, it is a rule (laughs). It is a rule. Yeah. And it applies to both myself and (husband name) as well. Um, there is no, uh, there’s no cellphones at the table. We don’t even answer the phone. People know if it’s urgent how to get a hold of us. But we just, we just turn it all off. This is the most important thing at the moment. Everything else, we’ll get to once we’re done. (Monica, 1st interview)
Monica also reported staying at the dinner table when mealtime has finished.
Um, and he just loved it, because there was that one moment where we just, sometimes we would be finished eating and we would still be around the table 30 minutes later, you know, not worried about putting dishes away or cleaning the dishes, but because we were having a great discussion. (Monica, 1st interview)
Sally also described staying around the table after all the food is gone.
If it’s, finish the meal and stay around the table and connect and talk. (Sally, 1st interview)
At her house, she described the rules being the same for everyone.
Um, so my husband and I don’t even put our phones on the table as we’re eating. Um, we do not, there is no call that is urgent. Um, so the children see us do that and it’s actually, it’s not, it’s a nonconversation, yeah. (Sally, 1st interview)
We don’t put our cell phones on the table. All right. Our cell phones are um more than an arm’s length away for us. And we do not answer them. And that’s not just to model something positive for the children, its our house rules. (Sally, 2nd interview)
Sally reported on her expectations about how the family members would engage with one another around the table when they finished eating.
At dinnertime, after eating, the children are not allowed to excuse themselves immediately, so there is . . . I mean, we’re, we’re very aware that they’re children and can’t sit there forever, um, but they know that there’s, our rule is after you finish eating, you kind of have to sit there doing nothing per se, right, which means engaging with the family. (Sally, 1st interview)
So there’s a five-minute, seven-minute period where they’re sitting with us and we’ve all finished the meal, just sitting around, and we talk. And the kids now are the ones who remind us, uh, “So, what’s, Mom, what’s the best part of your day?” (Sally, 1st interview)
Allison described her house rules around mealtime.
So it was more, um, old-school where we had dinner and everything together. And I, I don’t know if it’s necessarily, uh, that it was a conscious, like a strict rule, no technology, um, at the table, or anything like that, but none of the kids, like I think when we have dinner, they’ll all come and they’ll sit, and we’ll just talk about whatever, and they just, they just don’t take it out and, and play or whatever. Um, they’ll do that afterwards. (Allison, 1st interview)
She reflected about her family’s perception of what mealtime is without technology.
Um, so like I said, I think it kind of just, it came about that way, like I think they also make that choice not to do it, um, because I think it’s, technology, so, I mean, they have, they have their, um, iPads and their, their phones now, um, but I think it’s just, like I think they’re, they themselves kind of have, have developed that as well, like they just, um, when it’s time to eat, they’re hungry and they realize that (laughs) . . . they have a specific time and they come and they, they all get their plates and they sit and they eat, so I think it’s, and I think they enjoy themselves talking to each other. And, um, I think that they’d rather talk to one another . . . than do something on their phone. So I think that they’re fine with it because they are, they sort of, um, I think they’re kind of, it’s sort of their idea as well. (Allison, 1st interview)
Allison described the importance of having one meal together as a family.
It’s important have like the-the at least one meal together. (Allison, 2nd interview)
Olivia described having a dinner as an important meal most of the days.
First of all, I think that mealtimes are very important. We have dinner together almost every night. We don’t usually manage to have breakfast and, at lunch, we’re all in different places, so we really make a point of having our dinners together. (Olivia, 1st interview)
She described her children absorbing the house rule rapidly.
They learned very quickly that mealtimes are not a time to have their phones. (Olivia, 1st interview)
She reflected upon dinnertime at her home and described it as an energetic event.
We have lively fun dinners that sometimes can go on for an hour or more. (Olivia, 1st interview)
She described her children’s curiosity about rings and tones from the technology when they were at the table, and her rules about responding to those signals.
Um, sometimes a phone rings and we don’t answer it and it causes stress or anxiety on . . another member of the family if they’re waiting for a call, or if they, they really, um, they’re dying to know it. My kids don’t like to let the phone ring. They wanna know who it is and want to at least look. We don’t have caller ID on our home phone and they do get stressed out about that, um, but I hold firm. (Olivia, 1st interview)
We, we don’t answer the phone during mealtimes and say they can wait. They’ll call back. Um, we have missed a few calls from extended members of the family or friends. We have, we have missed some phone calls. Um, nothing ever has been urgent. (Olivia, 1st interview)
At Olivia’s house, dinnertime is one of the few opportunities for her family to get together during the weekdays.
All together at the same time is just about only at dinner and maybe just after dinner doing the dishes, or perhaps, um, watching something on the news. (Olivia, 2nd interview)
She reported stretching mealtimes out, as it is one of the few times they are together as a family.
We, um, we just try to really enjoy the meal. The meals usually take, take a little while. We don’t just eat and leave. We, we try to stretch it out. (Olivia, 2nd interview)
She reported that imposed rule at the beginning is now seen as the family members’ choice.
That’s how I can see that the bonding is happening, when nobody’s ready to leave, even when the food is gone. (Olivia, 2nd interview)
For one participant, mealtime has a special meaning. During Monica’s interview, she reported growing up around the table, and as her comments below indicate, she reflected on its meaning and importance.
Means life, it does. It means like the life of but not only the family spirit but also the home. Um, it’s always been the center. (Monica, 2nd interview)
It’s the way to connect to people, find out about their past. Um, you learn so many things even from people that you live with everyday, including my husband, it’s amazing the stories from their childhood that will all of a sudden come up just through a conversation and it’s just a way to connect more deeply with people. Um, I-, and it’s something that’s stuck with us even as we have our children we can sit around the table all day, especially if friends and family come over. Um, yeah so. (Monica, 2nd interview)