Mobile Devices Reign at Mealtimes for Parents

mobile devices

Parents are letting their mobile devices reign instead of engaging their children at mealtimes, according to a new analysis that has just come out.  There is a new study out from Boston Medical Center, published in the journal Paediatrics, that indicates up to 40 percent of parents are looking at their mobile devices almost constantly during mealtimes.

Dr. Jenny Radesky, one of the authors of the study, says that letting parents allow their mobile devices rule their mealtimes robs their children of valuable interactivity.  It is generally recommended that children spend no more than one to two hours of time on a mobile device or computer daily, but there have been no indications as to whether or not parents should have the same restrictions placed upon them.

In the study, 55 meals where at least one adult was present were observed while a researcher sat at another table, taking detailed notes.  15 restaurants in the Boston area were chosen at random for the study, and of the 55 meals, 40 of them had a mobile device of some sort within reach.  60 percent of the meals had a single adult present.

Of the children that entertained themselves, three boys began to sing the juvenile classic of Jingle Bells, which implies that Batman smells.  After a while, the adult at the meal – who had his mobile device out – would scold the boys and then return his attention to his phone.  Three of the adults who did have devices out simply left them on the table and did not pay attention to them.

Radesky and her team believe – as many researchers do – that face-to-face and individualized interaction with children is critical to a child’s emotional, social and language development.  If parents are letting mobile devices reign at mealtimes rather than engaging their children in discussion, they are letting precious time engaging their children slip away.

Radesky and her team are now partnering with the University of Michigan to study video of mealtimes between parents and children in order to better see how the interaction between parent and child is.  She believes that the information gleaned from this study will go a long way towards helping her and the team at Boston Medical Center understand the impact of parental involvement in their mobile devices while their children are engaged in mealtime with them.

The study does not suggest that parents should drop their smartphones altogether, as they do serve a purpose in sending quick reminders that spouses and children are loved, for instance.  However, Radesky says the study does suggest the need for parents to find greater balance in their lives and says perhaps parents need to switch their phones to “Airplane Mode” sooner rather than later.

While there are some parents that allow their mobile devices to reign at mealtimes, there are also those who take the time to engage their children.  Dr. Radesky’s suggestion of balance is only the first step, she says; she notes that now, she and her team know where they need to direct their focus next as far as parent-child interaction goes at mealtimes.

By Christina St-Jean


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