Technology During Dinnertime? Mother Says NO! IV: Mealtime Rules, Meaning, Reflections on Technology, and Conclusion
The purpose of this paper was to investigate and analyze reasons mothers do not allow the use of technology during mealtime. The motive chosen to proceed with this paper has to do with the observations concerning the use of technology among parents and children during the mealtimes when they are at home or in public places. The interaction among people often has been replaced by the interaction with a screen, and family mealtimes are no longer a place that fosters togetherness, as it used to be. This interaction with technology has been increasing rapidly and it has been changing people’s behaviours, social relationships, and daily routines.
The constructivist paradigm was chosen for this study because it used the theoretical lens of attachment theory, which maintains that the parental/child relationship is fundamental to build positive emotional ties in families. This bond between family members is a social construct that may have a different interpretation depending on individuals’ perceptions.
Qualitative methods were selected to conduct this research. Attachment theory provided the theoretical framework for this research proposal. Phenomenology was selected as the most appropriate approach, as the objective of the research was to investigate the different reasons for which parents disallow the use of technology during mealtimes.
All methods of the phenomenological approach were followed when analyzing the data. The study focused on exploring the reasons why mothers disallow the use of technology during mealtime. The study also investigated the participants’ views about how disallowing technology at mealtime might benefit the family relationship. Two in-depth individual interviews were conducted with five mothers or female legal guardians of children aged 5 to 18 years. Once data were collected and when interviews appeared to be saturated, the interviews were transcribed prior to data analysis. Then the transcripts were studied and the researcher placed significant statements into “horizontalization.” The researcher used Quirkos (Student License), a qualitative data analysis software program, to assist with the transcription analysis, the coding, and the interpretation of the texts.
The findings from this study suggest that mealtime is likely to increase attachment between mothers and their children as there is an increase in their responsiveness and availability to each other during mealtime when technology is not present.
Mealtime is perceived as a positive experience among mothers. It is part of the family routine and it is the center for connection between family past experiences, present life, and future aspiration. As Fulkerson et al. (2006) and Ochs and Shohet (2006) described, it is essential to support children’s development such as socialization, social expectation, language, and custom. It is a gathering place for families who relish family time. This lively fun experience is appreciated among all participants, even when the meal is over and plates are empty. It is an expected family tradition.
The children, adolescents, and husbands of the participants have been aware of dinner rules and are in agreement with it. This imposed rule by the parents is now seen as a conscious effort and choice by family members to interact with each other instead of their devices.
Mothers embraced technology, but also embraced appropriate limitations. Even though technology was seen as a very positive tool for learning, entertainment, and productivity, these mothers believed that there need to be limitations and rules around when and where to use it. Mealtime for them was one of those times when technology must be put aside. The study conducted by Moser et al. (2016) about attitudes about mobile phone use during mealtimes reports that “having a child present at the meal decreases perceived appropriateness of adult phone use” (p. 7). There are different reasons for disallowing technology during mealtime. Those reasons were: to increase communication, to promote special moments, to develop healthy eating habits, to engage and bond, to promote safety, to learn and to teach social skills and table manners, to parent, and to share information. Mothers believe that this has been benefiting their family relationships by providing attention during mealtime to family members, giving each other their full presence and awareness, promoting closer relationships, providing entertainment, increasing communication and social skills, and providing a quiet atmosphere conducive to conversation.
Mothers believed that not having technology during their mealtime contributed to their relationship with their family members by positively creating special moments among them and by increasing communication and bonding by being present interacting with each others. As Havinghurst et al. (2010) suggested, through this relationship, children will learn about understanding the world, regulation, and appropriate emotional knowledge.
When the family is together relating among themselves, without any technology distractions, family members can focus on each other’s needs, being more available, more aware of what is going on in everybody’s lives, more sensitive to provide the necessary support for each other, and to help each other understand the world. Communication is key to this family dynamic. As Fulkerson et al. (2014) also reported, “parents whose adolescents did not frequently use media during meals had significant higher scores on family communication and scores reflecting a greater perceived importance of mealtimes” (p. 1055). At this time, a safe environment is created where a secure attachment can be visible throughout this emotional tie. So, the present study finds that mealtime is likely to increase attachment, as mothers report there is an association between better family relationships and no technology during dinner.
Mealtime has been seen as one of the few places to reconnect after a busy day. Mothers interviewed in this study reported that during the week, they have the busy routines of working parents and/or busy schedules with children’s after-school activities. On an individual basis during the week, those mothers connected with their family members by playing with them during car rides, doing chores around the house, and helping with their homework. Also, weekend activities were reported as other opportunities for the family to interact. Those mothers see dinnertime during the week as the only opportunity to connect, to talk, and to find out details about everybody’s day, to facilitate comfort, and to deal with daily situations that appear challenging by family brainstorming solutions together.
Also, mothers have the belief that by not allowing technology during the mealtime they are fighting for their family unity by promoting the closeness and better understanding their children. By having this time for themselves, they believe they are connecting and bonding, and they are truly valuing the relationship. This maternal responsiveness is described by Bornstein and Tamis-LeMonda (1989) as a “mother’s prompt, contingency and appropriate (not simply contiguous) behaviour” (p. 50). And contingent responding is associated with secure attachment and happiness (Clarke-Stewart, 1973).
The study is limited by interpreting these findings of a small sample of five mothers or female legal guardians who disallow technology during the mealtime, which is a small representation of this population; however, it does provide a snapshot of the reasons why they disallow technology during mealtime and their perception of how it has benefit their relationships.
Future studies would benefit from assessing more mothers who disallow technology during mealtime and who do not have a busy lifestyle. Also it would be interesting to investigate the fathers’ perceptions about how not having technology during mealtime has been contributing to the family relationship. Furthermore, research on how attachment is perceived among families who do allow technology during mealtime would be another area to investigate.
The study indicates that mothers with a busy life routines encounter mealtime as one of the few opportunities not only to bond with their family members, but also to make those special moments a memory for their families. They are using those few minutes of dinnertime as a way to connect, to increase communication, to introduce health habits among them, and to create a safe space that promotes social skills, encouraging togetherness.
Mothers who disallow technology during mealtime see this rule as one that provides an opportunity for them to increase their attention towards their family members and vice versa. They believe they can focus on their family needs, being more available for what they are demanding, more aware of what is going on in everybody’s lives, and more sensitive about providing the necessary support when needed.
Mothers perceived mealtime to be a time for engagement with their families, a safe place where they can tell their stories, pass on their traditions, and get together while learning from each other. This study found that mothers noticed that disallowing technology has made their families closer and tighter, and that the simple act of turning the electronic devices off for few minutes of their day had increased the bonding between the members of the family.