The TV, the tablet, the phone – are these distractions to get your child through mealtimes really that big a deal? MH finds out.
WORDS ANGELA LOW
Mealtimes can turn humble dining spaces into raging battlefields when the kids just won’t finish their food or can’t stop making a mess and creating a din. The only thing that can appease them is a screen with their favourite show on. It’s understandable that with the constant stress of parenting and the complete lack of personal solitude and peace, you’d want to take the easy way out and leave your kids with their devices. After all, it guarantees good behaviour almost immediately. But the easy route often leads to a steep precipice.
Mealtime or Screen Time?
Based on a survey conducted on 1,000 parents in 2015, commissioned by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 24 per cent of two-year-olds are on their digital devices while at the dinner table – a number that rises to 45 per cent for eight-year-old children. You may think it’s not a big deal, considering how most of us adults are probably doing the same thing, and this bad habit hasn’t led us down an infinite rabbit hole. We’re still productive, functional human beings.
But this isn’t the fairest comparison. While the majority of us adopted technology at an older age, our young, impressionable children are robbed of the privilege of experiencing and embracing an analogue world right from the first day. When all they know is to press a button or tap a screen to gain satisfaction, they’ll become dependent on these gadgets. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional TV dinner, but when it gets to a point when your kids can’t get through a single meal without some screen time, there might be a problem.
Family meals are built for bonding and engagement – things like sharing with each other about your day,
as you share food together. Kids who are glued to their screens miss out on these conversational
opportunities and can grow up to be more anti-social and emotionally less intelligent.
A 2014 study by UCLA confirms this with experiments showing that children were better able to read the emotions of others after staving off of screens for five days, as opposed to those that kept on using them on a daily basis.
The Effects of Digital Devices
According to research published in Pediatrics in June 2002, the more time children spend watching the TV, the more likely they’ll become obese as well. From the increased tendency to snack more (or eat mindlessly) while glued to a screen to the sedentary position they remain in, it all contributes to poorer health in your screen-obsessed kids. Not to mention, they are often bombarded with fast food commercials through the screens, which influences the kind of food they consume. The Hospital for Sick Children published a study as well that supports this link to obesity. It even goes further, revealing that children who use these devices regularly may also suffer from delayed language development and aggressive behaviour.
Many of these early experiences and habits define the type of person your child will grow up to be. It affects how well your child is able to interact with society, which in turn plays into their quality of life and level of personal success. Something as seemingly benign as a screen at the dining table (a tool for peace, some would say) can lead to serious consequences if left unchecked, going so far as to impede the healthy growth of your child. This digital habit can bleed into other areas of their lives as well, where screens become indispensable crutches for them to cope and survive.
Turn it Off
For those that have gone too far with these mealtime screens, here are a few ways to get your kids back on track. First, practice what you preach. The little ones probably picked up the habit by observing you at the start, so don’t expect any changes unless you join in the process. Next, introduce a few restrictions on digital usage, instead of getting them to quit cold turkey. This means setting a time limit to accessing screens. As for the food, don’t pressurise them to finish every last bite of the meal, or force feed them. Take it nice and easy, and allow them to eat at their pace. To make things more enjoyable, include a few of your child’s favourite food into each meal, so there’s at least something to look forward to.
If your kid isn’t taking enough bites from the bowl,
schedule snack times in between meals to make sure they still
get the appropriate amount of food in their system.
Here’s to snapping these stubborn urchins out of their digital daze, and bringing them back to the dinner table, where they can finally learn the value and art of unplugging and connecting to the people around them.
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