Healthy Kids : Limiting Electronic Media at Mealtime Offers Benefits for the Family

Parents who let their teens use electronic devices or watch TV during family meals tend to serve less nutritious food and have poorer family communication, a new study suggests. 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 table, Reuters wrote.

"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," said Jayne A. Fulkerson, the director of the Center for Child and Family Health Promotion Research at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing in Minneapolis. "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 meals. 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. Close to three-quarters of parents said they set limits on mealtime media use.

Girls were more likely to use electronic media than boys and media use at mealtime increased with age.

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, Fulkerson said. "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.

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