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I grew up eating in front of the TV, watching kids programs, while my parents and, much elder, brother watched news or quiz programs in the neighboring room. On Weekends we all ate around the same table. I don't remember any conflicts arising from this.

Recently, when my own family eat together, my seven year old son gets distracted by the TV and sometime doesn't eat all, which in many cases leads to a conflict.

My contention is that if he is hungry he will eat and it would be better to be careful with snacks between meals. My wife's contention is that the TV is distracting and antisocial and it would be better to eat with the TV off.

So, what is the consensus regarding Television at meal times?

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Television is never appropriate. –  Tyler Durden Apr 30 at 15:46

8 Answers 8

up vote 55 down vote accepted

My opinion and experience is that television provides much more disruption than benefit:

  1. My experience is that if the television is on, then everybody is "glued to the screen" or at least thoroughly distracted. This prevents social interaction, and it also prevents you from really appreciating the food you're eating -- potentially leading to eating disorders/obesity (because when you don't pay attention to what you're eating, you're actually eating more), but more likely leading to the cook rightly feeling unappreciated.

  2. Mealtimes are not just for filling up on food, it is at least as much an important social event. Just because this event happens a few times each day doesn't make it less important. This is an opportunity for the family to get together, regardless of what other activities and obligations fill the day.

  3. Mealtime is a good time to discuss matters relevant to the entire family. You might have some big ongoing concern or exciting family project. Or you can do an informal round-table interview to learn what everybody is up to.

  4. It's also a opportunity to teach younger children proper table manners; something that, if missed, can create embarrassing or disastrous situations in public or at guest events.

For these reasons, the general rule should be "no television during meals." But any good rule must allow exceptions. If there is a very special movie on, or if there are important news, or (insert your family's criteria here), then announce an exception to the rule and thoroughly enjoy the privilege of watching television while eating. To enforce this rule, make sure that the family knows the general rule as well as the exception criteria.

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Thank you @Sarato for the link! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Oct 15 '11 at 20:46
    
+1 for the exception criteria. I can't think of anything that made me bolt my food faster and pay less attention to the meal than wanting to get back to something. By contrast, my little sister and I used to bond over pizza and TV, just talking over the show. But in general, this advice is correct. It's all in the context. –  deworde Jan 13 '13 at 18:13

No TV during mealtimes unless it's a special event.

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7  
-1 for no explanation or reasoning. –  Sarato Oct 15 '11 at 20:19
    
I don't feel it needs further explanation or reasoning, to be honest. No TV during mealtimes unless it's a special event - encompasses pretty much all the explanation needed. –  Darwy Oct 17 '11 at 7:16
    
-1. record the special event and watch it after dinner. –  JBRWilkinson Oct 25 '11 at 15:20
    
I don't have TIVO or anything to record a special event with. Not a workable solution. –  Darwy Oct 25 '11 at 19:05
3  
Also -1. I agree with the answe, but also agree that there is no explanation. And I don't understand how can you say "further explanation or reasoning" and "encompasses pretty much all the explanation needed" given that you give no explanation or reasoning AT ALL, just a result. –  Erik Feb 28 '13 at 8:01

We have a no TV rule during meals when we gather. It is not the only rule around meal gatherings. Proper clothing is required; no bathing suits or dirty clothes allowed. Good manners are expected, including participation in the prayers and conversation. Every one stays at the table until everyone is done. No handheld games or electronic devices, including phones. If there is an ongoing conflict, we do our best to not bring it to the table. Attendance is mandatory, even if one is not eating. And so forth. The rules apply to everyone, not just children. My phone goes off as well.

Meal gatherings are time for the family and guests to pay attention to each other, not for TV or other distractions. That is still true now, when our daughter visits.

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We may have TV on during mealtimes, we may not - it all depends on what activity was going on before the food hits the table. I feel that if you arbitrarily force someone to stop doing something it creates a negative response. How I handle this is, when it's on, it can be used as a useful tool to ensure our 4yo actually eats something; I keep the remote handy and if she stops eating I'll pause/ mute/ turn off until she eats enough to 'power the TV' this puts the message across that I understand she was enjoying something but that she should also eat and interact with the rest of us. If we ate in a room without a TV then sure, no TV at feeding times because that's not an arbitrary ruling - she already knows that if you leave the room you switch it off but as it stands now, this way works for us.

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We don't have a television in our dining room, deliberately so we can eat together as a family and enjoy that time talking about the day etc.

That said, during the Olympics last summer, as the kids are so sport-obsessed, we did occasionally have carpet picnics in the front room where the TV is, and I think they did enjoy that as a special treat.

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We don't have a TV in the house at all and haven't for years (though I watched a lot of TV as a kid and jokingly blame that for all the befalls me now as an adult). However, on occasions, about once every two weeks, we bring the notebook computer to the table and watch a documentary on Netflix or Amazon. Usually it's also the pizza night, which is itself an intentional disruption to routine.

Particular favorites are Nova Science Now (our kids love Neil Degrasse Tyson). We can hit space to pause and discuss.

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TV during meal times is a big debate.

There has been a rule when I grew up that the TV should be off during meals. Technically, the enforcement was easy since the dining table was set in the kitchen with no direct view in the living room. At my grandparents' at that time, TV was on during breakfast.

In my opinion, I prefer to have the TV off during the actual time of dining. Why? I like to eat healthy food, not the average news or commercials that are being aired at the moment. I like to discuss about good things that happen in the family, not the latest accident report or drug scandal, and have my focus of what's happening here and now.

As well, I prefer to have no cellphones or distractions that drive focus away from that privileged family gathering. If a call is coming in, I just let it go to voicemail.

Some may say, especially kids, that dinner moments can be boring without TV... it's up to us, parents, relatives, older brothers/sisters, to make the dinner time pleasing to everyone and give the good example. This way, there will be no temptation to pick up distractions. For example :

  • Talk about things that can interest everyone.
  • All happens here and now. Avoid using the phone, whether it's landline or cell. If an important call may be coming, it's okay to pick up and tell to call back later.
  • Do not leave the table unless for service or until you allow everyone to leave the table too i.e. dinner is over.
  • Avoid lengthy talks about subjects that interest only the older ones such as finances, politics, stories about acquaintances that half the table do not know about... or make everyone confortable by introducing the situation to the newcomers. If kids ever ask "what are you talking about?", do no answer "shut up" but explain.
  • No arguments at all costs! Whether it's about a low grade, bad behaviour or such.
  • Do not let anyone wait for too long between the different dishes. In France especially, we use to have cheese before the dessert but kids usualy do not eat that; that can be perceived as forced waiting time. Also, do no call to dinner half an hour before the starter is served... (that's a caricature, but you get the idea).

And then, naturally, TV will not be needed at all.

It's okay to set up a dinner around TV or a movie from time to time, as long as everyone is interested by the show.

There is another situation where dining and TV can mix : the restaurant. Depending on the cases, it can be OK to watch the screen while waiting for the dishes, but not as everyone is served.

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My three year old can be a messy eater. Eating at a table helps contain the mess to a small part of the house which is designed to be easy to clean up.

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