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Don't Invite the TV to Your Family Dinner

Family eating dinner

In a typical American home, the glow of the TV screen is a nearly constant presence, regardless whether anyone is sitting down to watch or not. For some, the TV offers comforting background noise. For others, it's an escape from the daily doldrums. For all, it's a distraction.

Unfortunately, television (and other ubiquitous gizmos of the digital age) too often serve as constant companions at mealtime. According to a recent online survey of U.S. adults, commissioned by Boys Town and conducted online by Harris Poll, for example, found that two-in-five (39%) of Americans say at least one member of their family always or often uses a cell phones or watches television while eating meals together. That's a disheartening statistic, according to psychologist Thomas Reimers, Ph.D., director of the Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic.

Reimers says electronic devices disrupt what should be a time when families connect and bond.

"It's really important for parents, and families in general, to get rid of the distractions that are abundant during mealtime," Reimers said. "That means turning off the television, putting phones away and getting rid of technology that can disrupt or distract from having a good conversation."

Savoring dinner table chitchat is hard to do if one person is eyeing the television while another is texting. Those types of behaviors send a message to family members that they are not as important as a random text or a mindless sitcom, and cancels out all the benefits of enjoying a meal together as a family.

Because dinnertime provides such a rich environment for parents and children to bond and build relationships, it's important to keep the moment focused on good conversation. To create a mealtime experience that brings your family together and makes everyone more attentive, try doing this:

  • Make sure the television is off (and kept off). If you want to create ambience without causing a commotion, have music playing softly in the background that's appropriate for the occasion.
  • Have a rule that cell phones, tablets and other devices must be turned off and cannot be brought to the dinner table. Designate a special spot or container in another room where all the electronic devices can be kept. You can even give it a name, like the "digital dungeon" or "cell phone time-out."
  • Create a relaxed, unrushed atmosphere free of distractions where everyone can sit comfortably together for the duration of the meal.

When everyone is so overscheduled (and often overworked), it's important to have at least one moment in the day where you can focus on each other. By making the effort to tune out the noise of the world for just a little while, your family can share experiences, reinforce values, laugh, model good behavior and forge stronger, deeper connections that will continue away from the table.


*Survey Methodology:  This survey was conducted online within the United State by Harris Poll on behalf of Boys Town from January 21-23, 2015 among 2,057 adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact