As I sat to feed my daughter dinner the other night, I kept my cellphone in my lap. Listening to her chatter about how her day was, my fingers kept working diligently on the phone keys, scanning through the 50 unread messages on Whatsapp and checking for any new mails. A loud shriek from my girl jolted me out of it. A girl who is not yet three years old was telling me ‘Amma, put your phone away! Read me my book!’
Yes, a blogger on digital parenting, writing blog after blog about how parents need to become role models for their kids by limiting their own screen time and following netiquettes while at home, here I am guilty of the same crime. I tried to reason in my mind that I don’t get to check my phone or send out messages when I am working through the day. I deserve a break too. Yet, the fact that it was my little girl who was trying to put some sense in my head about not using phone during meal time, was just too much to ignore.
The devil’s advocate rose up to the challenge asking me what is the worst that can happen if I do use technology during meal time. Well, for one I am losing out the special time to spend with my daughter, who may be trying to tell me something in her limited vocabulary (which would become all the more important when she starts going to school and interacting with the world outside). I want her to know that Amma is always listening to her. Secondly, I am setting a wrong example for her to follow. Now she is at an age where she is dependent on me so I can always snatch the phone or iPad from her or just glare at her, and she’d let go. But a few years down the line, would she even care if I say no to her watching videos while eating? I doubt.
Research says eat together
There is a whole lot of research to support the fact that children enjoy their meal much more if the meal time is spent chatting with family. The New York State Department of Health states, “Think of mealtime as a communication time, a time when you can converse with, nurture, and obtain feedback from children. Consider removing the distractions of scattered projects, unfinished activities, and the television from the eating area.” It goes on to suggest that when adults eat with children, they can influence them with the choice of food they themselves eat.
Another study from the University of Nebraska, The Importance of Family Mealtime argues that when parents eat with their children without any distraction, they are actually helping them learn how to conduct themselves socially and become great conversationists too.
I also read somewhere that parents must share stories and anecdotes of their growing up years with their kids during mealtime so that they can imagine the struggles they went through to be able to live the present in comfort. They also learn that their parents erred too, yet challenged their problems head on. It just makes them more grounded in life.
Is it really possible, every day?
With all family members busy with so many things, a family meal seems like a distant possibility as everyone just wants to have their meals on the go. A 2012 Cornell University research paper Do Family Meals Really Make a Difference? points out that family meals shouldn’t be once in a blue moon affair. A family must make efforts to have at least three meals a week together if not every day. Consistent efforts will make a difference. If a full meal is not possible, then snack time could be a substitute for that.
A lot many of us new age parents feel we just cannot do without our cellphones or TV. I grew up in times when the whole neighbourhood shared one television and landline phone. We didn’t have either at our home till I entered my teens. We ate without any gadget to give us company, but our family. And, I am grateful for those non-technology days, actually miss them.
We too make mistakes as parents but if we don’t learn from them now, tomorrow it could be…nah, it would be really late to make amends.
First time mom Anu Bhambhani is a professional writer working in the content and communications space. Digital parenting is her obsession right now as her toddler is growing up to become really tech-savvy. She is working from home, looking after her family and following Buddhism. When she is not writing, she is struggling to find time to go back to her first love, reading, and dancing. As of now, she has decided that for dance, Zumba is the way to go.