Experts have suggested turning the TV off at
mealtime for years. But with the advent of cell phones and other
handheld devices, kids can bring all kinds of media with them to the
"The findings of this most recent paper showed that mealtime media
use is common among families with adolescents but that setting rules
around media use at meals may reduce media use among teens and have
other positive benefits as well," lead author Jayne A. Fulkerson
told Reuters Health in an email.
Fulkerson is the director of the Center for Child and Family Health
Promotion Research at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing
"Parents who are having family meals with media could choose to make
some rules excluding media at mealtimes to spend more quality time
with their children," she said.
Fulkerson and her colleagues asked more than 1,800 parents how often
their adolescent children watched TV, talked on the phone, texted,
played games or listened to music with headphones during family
They also asked parents if they set rules on media use at mealtime
and whether they felt family meals were important. Children answered
questions about how well their families communicated, including how
often they talked about problems with their parents.
Two thirds of parents reported that their teens watched TV or movies
during family meals at least some of the time. One quarter said the
TV was on frequently.
Texting, talking on the phone, listening to music with headphones
and using handheld games were less common. Between 18 and 28 percent
of parents reported those activities happened at mealtime, according
to findings published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and
Close to three-quarters of parents said they set limits on mealtime
Girls were more likely to use electronic media than boys, and media
use at mealtime increased with age. It was also more common among
families with parents who were less educated or were black or Asian.
Mealtime media use was less common when parents set rules, but more
common among families that didn't communicate much.
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Parents who reported frequent media use also said their families
had fewer servings of green salad, fruit, vegetables, 100-percent
juice and milk at meals, and more sugar-sweetened beverages.
The researchers didn't ask if parents also used electronic media at
"What parents told us is that kids (and probably parents alike) are
texting and using games while eating dinner. In several surveys I
have done with parents and youth, they have indicated that there is
a lot of multitasking going on," Fulkerson said.
She said research has shown frequent family meals are tied to
higher self-esteem and a better diet among kids.
Given the opportunity, most children will talk about themselves and
their lives at mealtime, leading to better family communication,
"Perhaps they will have greater feelings of connectedness as well.
Mealtimes are a great venue for this. Of course, it is not true for
every family, but fits for many," she said.
"There is no magic number of how many (family meals) to have, not
all food at meals has to be 100 percent healthy and having electronic media
at meals is not all bad (e.g., an occasional movie night with
dinner) if it facilitates family time," she noted. "But, parents can
take small steps to have quality time with their children by
reducing media use at mealtimes."
the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, online Dec. 23, 2013.
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