Texting, emailing, tweeting — throughout the day many of us are connected to our cellphones, tablets, and a plethora of many other electronic devices. As a society, technology is now how we connect to each other on a real-time basis. Yet as convenient as it is, there are many downfalls, including parents being responsible for serving their children less than nutritious foods during meal time.
Now new research finds that the use of television, text messaging, talking on the telephone, listening to music with headphones, and playing with hand-held games can impede the quality of food that some parents serve their children.
"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," Jayne A. Fulkerson, lead author on the study, told Reuters Health.
The researchers surveyed over 1,800 parents on how often their teenage children used any type of technology during family meals. They also asked the parents if there were any rules that were set at mealtime concerning media use and if they felt family meals were important.
“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,” according to the study.
The parents who allowed frequent media use reported that their families had fewer servings of greens, fruits, 100-percent juices and milk; they did report serving more sugar-sweetened beverages. It was not reported if parents also used media devices, but the study did show that girls were more likely to use electronic media than boys. Media use at mealtime also increased with age. In addition, it was more common in parents who were less educated, black, or Asian.
Multimedia usage was less common if parents set rules and according to findings published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 18 to 20 percent of participants said that these activities happened at mealtime.
Using cell phones or tablets at mealtime might seem trivial, but family meals are linked to teens having higher-self esteem and a better diet, Fulkerson said.
Some believe that cell phones in general are hazardous to spending quality time together over any meal, so much so that some restaurants have even given their customers discounts for putting away the smart phones and tablets during their dining experience. The reasoning behind this is that it takes away from the quality time that is meant to be spent eating. For instance, if you're always tweeting, texting, or surfing the web, you're not really engaged in what's happening in front of you. Of course this is not hard science, but as this study suggests, there are some benefits to shutting down during dinner.
"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," Fulkerson added. "But parents can take small steps to have quality time with their children by reducing media use at mealtimes."