Not At The Table, Dear

May 8, 2013

By Gabrielle. Anti-Loneliness Ramen Bowl via MisoSoupDesign.

Do your kids try to sneak their iEverythings to the dinner table? It’s tempting to allow it some nights, especially when you’re in desperate need of adult conversation without interruption! But I worry that it’s a slippery slope; allowing Minecraft once during dinnertime so I can get Ben Blair all to myself for a few minutes could turn into a regular expectation. And I really enjoy the conversations that happen when we’re all away from our electronics. I guess I’ll have to steal away Ben Blair another way.

What are your screen time rules at the table, at home or in a restaurant? (Have you ever seen an entire family on their devices at the same time while dining out? Me, too! And it kind of makes me sad, yet I totally get it.)

P.S. – If I’m out by myself, I admit, I feel more comfortable with my iPhone in hand. The Anti-Loneliness Ramen Bowl would be more than welcome! How about you? Can you eat in public without catching up with everything happening online?

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tere May 8, 2013 at 9:12 am

That makes me sad too! We have a basket where phones and Ithings go while we eat. Plus my husband does something fun some days with his office mates: they make a pile with their phones at the center of the table during lunch. If anyone picks it up, has to pay the bill!!!


2 Kristen E May 8, 2013 at 9:28 am

Oh man, watching people on their phones and devices while they’re with other people drives me bonkers! I feel like we’re not valuing the time we spend with friends and family as much. It makes me sad. :( When I’m dining alone, I often get out my Nook and read, but husband and I don’t touch our devices when we’re eating or spending time together unless he’s on call for work.


3 Susana Melo May 8, 2013 at 9:41 am

At our house (2 adults and 2 children, 6 and 3 years old) the TV is off when we are eating (exception when our soccer team plays…)
The girls don’t have mobile or PSP, so for now it’s easy to control them.
We leave our cell phones far away. Also no toys at the table.
We talk to each other and very few times I can have 30 sencond of an adult conversation – we leave them for after the girls bed time.
I sometimes travel alone – professionakl reasons, but surprise, surprise… my cell phone is not connected, unless I get an wi-fi for free.
I hate eating alone (like going to the movies alone), but I enjoy observing and wondering about other people life (do not fear! I’m not a psico!). I also take a book and read at the table when alone.


4 Barchbo May 8, 2013 at 9:56 am

I spent years confiscating ipods/cell phone in the classroom, so I am a bit of a hard-nose when it comes to our household’s no-tech policy at the table and during other defined times. Our kids are only 8 months and 2, but even now our 2 year old can say: “TV only in the morning. Just Sesame Street.” We already have a place for our cell phones to go so my husband and I can model the behavior. Watching a video on an iphone or ipad is a huge treat…I hope we can keep it that way for a while.

We are transitioning to books on the ipad/kindle. It will be interesting to see how well we do with the flexibility on that. Wish me luck.


5 Kim @ May 8, 2013 at 10:34 am

Argh – as I type this my husband just walked by the window on his iPhone!

That said, I’ve been trying to institute the rule that we aren’t on our iDevices when anyone else is present. It just seems rude to be ignoring other people in the room and staring at a screen instead, you know?

The kids are absolutely not allowed to have screens at the dinner table. And I am *really* trying to cut down on the amount of time I sit at the screen. So, off I go……



6 Jenny May 8, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Hi Gabrielle,

Our kids are just 2, 5, and 7… So they don’t have much experience with electronics yet. I do have a no TV rule Monday through Friday for the older kids. I make exceptions once in a while (ie. school breaks), but for the most part we are unplugged during the week. That way Saturday morning cartoons and a family movie night really feel like a special treat. My 5 year old daughter has zero interest in anything tech, but my 7 year old son enjoys playing his DS (which he bought himself with birthday money) and my husband’s iPad a little on weekends. We put a 30-minute limit on any electronic device, and they are never allowed at the dinner table or in restaurants, etc.

I like the idea of using a basket (once you have teenagers) to collect phones before meal time… so there’s no secret texting under the table ;-) That would drive me nuts.


7 TEN May 8, 2013 at 4:29 pm

My boyfriend and I will look at our phones at restaurants before our food arrives, esp. if we are away for the weekend. We don’t bring our laptops for a few days away and if the restaurant has wifi, we will use it. Also, we have been talking while hiking, skiing, driving in the car, etc. together all day. When we sit down, we don’t mind if we spend 10 minutes or so checking email. We do make comments about what others think.

On the other hand, at home there are no phones while eating any meal and in the car.


8 Lori H May 8, 2013 at 5:26 pm

I have a 21-year-old and 17-year-old and the rules are: no phones at meals or if we are watching a movie together as a family. Rules subject to change by mom or dad at any time for any reason :)


9 Rebecca May 8, 2013 at 5:36 pm

A mother of 3 young girls, I am constantly trying to keep their eyes from turning, well, square! Here’s something that happened a couple of weeks ago:
At the dinner table, our 5-year-old daughter, Lucia, reached for my husband’s iphone and I interjected, “Not at the dinner table, sweetheart”. Her reaction? She queued up Siri and asked, “How do I get my mom to not be so mean?”.
Ugh. The modern child. Snarky and clever.


10 niki May 8, 2013 at 7:49 pm

During the school year, my boys’ electronics are put up for the weekdays. That’s no iPods or NintendoDS or wii remotes. They get access to them only on the weekends. Not sure how I am going to regulate them this summer. I may institute a chore/read for a period to earn electronic time.
As for dinner, my husband and I put away our phones. No answering any phones during dinner time.


11 Anonymous10 May 8, 2013 at 8:05 pm

This is really one of the saddest things I’ve seen lately.
We are very strict with technology. We have one tv in the master bedroom (which we parents watch very rarely) and the children don’t have access to it unless they are invited to watch something (usually home-videos). We use cell-phones only for emergency. During meal times if the home phone rings, most of the time we let the answering machine pick up. The children understand that family meals are important. The only technology they have access to is a simple CD player – and I have to plug it in for them. Believe me, children don’t need i-pods, cell phones, i-pads, wii or whatever, and outside work and emergency neither do parents. The greatest compliment someone can pay me is when I’m told that my boys are calm, patient, creative and focused. I am absolutely positive that the absence of technology in their life plays a crucial role. And don’t worry, when the time comes and they will need to use a computer they will learn so fast you wouldn’t even know that they haven’t worked on one once in their life.


12 Anonymous10 May 8, 2013 at 8:12 pm

P.S. I don’t understand why people find keeping children away from devices so hard…it’s like junk food: if you don’t want your kids to eat it don’t buy it! But if you buy it for yourself then of course I guess it’s hard to hide it from your children. Bottom line: be honest and set good examples. Be consistent. (And don’t text at the playground!!!)


13 J May 9, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Anonymous 10! I agree with you completely! We gave our tv away 15 years ago and honestly haven’t missed it–except for the Olympics, and even then we can watch online. I hate being in the presence of someone with an i-phone because they are never really present or thoroughly there with you. You start talking about something and wonder why it takes them so long to respond–they are looking at their phones! Argghh! It makes me feel lonely! I have the cheapest cell phone money can buy–mostly because my kids broke the last one. It can make calls and text, so I am all set. Our kids each have a computer account that automatically shuts off after 30 minutes, which is a lifesaver. None of our children have their own cell phones, let alone i-things. One of my friends with six kids wisely said, “There’s no way we are getting an i-pad. I’d either have to get each of them one or listen to them fight over it everyday!” I agree. An i-pad visited my home for a few days and boy were there some fights over whose turn it was! Technology has its place, but definitely not at the dinner table!


14 Lisa May 8, 2013 at 9:55 pm

I admit I had to chuckle when I saw this picture. Would come in handy for me some days. However, for dinner I want our family to sit, eat and talk together. Some days it’s the only real time we get together as a family.


15 Anna May 9, 2013 at 3:27 am

I have two teenagers and one preteen. None of them have phones, iPads, DS, a Wii, Playsation, Facebook or any such things. Most of their friends do. We have two house computers. Schooldays are computer-free (except for research or web-based assignments, which they do on my laptop, so i can check on things :-)). On weekends they play computer games or raid Spotify, but each kid gets only one hour Sat & Sunday, no more. They always ask permission first.
They are all quite attached to their MP3players, however, so am I, so that’s normal! We have speakers to plug them into in every room. We also talk about and share music a lot. However, they know not to have earphones on in company.
If there is another person present, MP3players get turned off and put away, or plugged in and the other person gets to hear the latest playlist…

We have a TV but no reception, so we only watch DVDs, and then only on Friday-Sunday. We all love movies. They are growing up fairly free of advertising.
Weekdays are available for homework, sport, music practice, meeting friends outside or reading. I am aware, however, that going over to friend’s house usually means extended computer game sessions. They usually tell me all about it!
Mealtimes are MP3player-free, book-free, and are lively conversational get-togethers.
Their Dad, sadly, is self-employed and has lots of emergency calls so he is constantly getting (and taking) calls during meal times, and disappearing because of said emergency; however the kids think it’s rude and just tut and shake their heads.
They tell me, and I believe them, that they have no interest in commercial TV, facebook or blogging. They also quite love it when people tell me that they are calm, patient and well-mannered.
I’m sure they would love to be able to play Minecraft at the table, however they would never dream of asking me, it would be pointless!


16 Eileen May 9, 2013 at 4:09 am

First, we only have 2 children, which I know makes a BIG difference since I’m from a VERY BIG family and our dinner time growing up was MUCH noisier. My parents had amazing patience as we all talked about ” how our day went at school”! I’ll bet my parents would have liked a break to have more uninterrupted conversation, but that was before the tech age.
We never let our daughters bring devices to the dinner table; but we recently started making Fridays “dinner & a movie night”; where we watch a movie and have an easy dinner in the family room. It’s always kid friendly, so my husband and I tend to catch up while they watch it start to finish. We’ve even dined in the backyard and put the movie on the projector (we usually hang a white sheet for a bigger screen). The kids love it since the weather’s still been nice here. On Fridays we are all so worn out from the work/school week, so it’s nice to have a fun night without so many rules…and, yes laptops, Kindles, phones,etc. are all allowed, but usually, we just eat and watch the movie! :-)
Over the holidays I met two girlfriends from high school at a restaurant to catch up. They both kept searching their phones for social site updates, pics to show each other and were even comparing their apps, and texting. I thought it was really annoying and bordering rude. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years since they moved to other states. Technology is wonderful and social sites help us stay connected when we’re far apart; but I think face to face time should involve eye contact and real conversation.


17 Andrea May 9, 2013 at 7:55 am

I don’t have many rules in my house, but one is no screens (computer, tv, phone, ipad) at the table if anyone else is at the table with you. Conversations during meals is one of the ways we all get to tell each other how our day was/things we plan to do during the day and that connection is, I believe, the key to successful family relationships. Meal time is most definitely a social time! As for wanting time with just your spouse we long ago learned to go to bed before we wanted to go to sleep to talk about our day together. That time is much valued too!


18 KelliO May 9, 2013 at 3:30 pm

I had to chuckle. When I saw the image, my first thought was of a young man eating cereal. That’s college life, I think!


19 cath May 10, 2013 at 3:56 am

In our house, screen time is extremely limited for the kids : only on Tuesdays evening if HW is completed and on the weekends. My kids have no phones yet, and I’m not planning on buying them one until they’re in highschool.
They are very creative and do lots of activities. Even before all the technology craziness, we had the rule not to answer the phone while we were eating. Incidentally, we have no TV, no Ithings, just computers and my husband and I have a cell phone, with no internet on them. I don’t feel like I’m missing much…


20 Sandra May 10, 2013 at 11:30 am

I have one daughter, 7, and what I find easiest is to have explicit family policies around screen time. If it’s always changing the negotiation (and yes, whining!) takes up sooo much time.

We used to have a rule of one hour of screen time per day – that includes tv and any other devices. I liked this because it involves choice – do I want this tv show OR that Angry Birds? Learning to be a discerning media consumer is important.

We changed a few months ago to no screen time at all during the week. I found that after a long school day, vegging out in front of the tv or the iPad resulted in “zombie girl”. Funny how creative you get when you don’t have the screen time default!

We also don’t allow any screen time during playdates. They are for “play”.

The weekend is saved for movies (not always – we try to get out and do active things or play games or make art) and computer time. But it’s never endless hours.

For us adults, we minimize the use of social media when together as a family. My husband and I have to remind each other! And in a restaurant? Very rarely – I believe that kids need to learn how to “be” in a public place. How to have a conversation, etc. It’s family time and being stuck behind a screen isn’t very social.

Long plane flight? More screen time but we play games, read books, etc. Home sick from school? Screen time.

Don’t get me wrong – I love good film and tv. And social media. But like anything it’s all about moderation.


21 Anne Evans May 10, 2013 at 9:14 pm

We’re also a no phones at the dinner table family. It’s a time to enjoy your food and everyone’s company.

I have and love an iPhone, but they really get on my nerves when they are constantly in someone’s face.

I think it’s important to actually be there for your kids and not be you+phone.

Plus, that bowl in the pic makes me really nervous! Too close to a liquid spill!


22 bdaiss May 20, 2013 at 7:50 pm

I admit, one of my most treasured moments while I travel is the opportunity to eat alone. I bring a good book, ask the wait staff to keep my water glass full, and spend as LONG as I want lingering over my meal. Something I definitely don’t get much of at home with 2 smalls and a packed schedule. (Of course, I’ve never minded going to the movies alone either!)


23 Kathleen May 21, 2013 at 11:05 am

I’ll allow the boys to take a text or view a message at the dinner table, simply because it doesn’t happen very often.
That said, I can see the objection to constant use during family time.
Most often our son(s) receive a text for friend X or Y which usually leads to one of us asking after that friend. “Did X’s family have fun camping? or How’s Y’s studying for exams going?”
Which then usually leads to a story about the trip or us bringing up a school topic.
The conversation flows from a natural place rather than meal time being sometimes a quick daily interrogation.


24 Rosalind May 21, 2013 at 7:15 pm

My 5 & 3 yr olds are too young for screens in my opinion but my husband and I lead by example and don’t have screens at the dinner table either! We talk about our day!!


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