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With the introduction and widespread use of technologies such as game consoles, TV and smartphones, the impacts and conflicts that arise from electronics are growing more apparent in family settings such as mealtimes. (Hiniker, Kientz, & Schoenebeck, 2016) Hence, concerns towards harmful media exposure, addictions to technology and distanced family relationships (Hiniker et al., 2016), especially with younger children are a popular research subject for many in different disciplines. In 2018, a video published by Common Sense Media suggested that device-free mealtimes can lead to healthier children by avoiding distractions from phones, tablets, and TVs.
Starting with quantitative survey research evidence and followed by a supported discussion, this paper will recommend Common Sense Media’s advice that avoiding technology will promote healthier lifestyles through a dietary and social perspective.
Technology can be harmful to children is a debate that is investigated by many studies, such as the research conducted by Fulkerson et al. (2013) on adolescents’ media use on the meal table. The study aimed to examine the usage in devices by youth in relation to their family demographics, parental rules at mealtimes and the meal itself (Fulkerson et al.
, 2013). It was an elaboration to a prior study done with 2793 adolescents (EAT 2010) by sending their parents the sequential Project F-Eat survey through the mail. The surveys had a response rate of over 75%, however only selected results from the parents were included in the final data (Fulkerson et al., 2013). The preferences to select the parents’ responses included their parenting roles, the time they spend with the child, and whether or not they had control over the family meal, giving a data of 1858 parents (usually mothers) as the end result (Fulkerson et al., 2013). The average age for parents were 41.5 and 14.9 for the children regardless of gender (Fulkerson et al., 2013).
Project F-EAT were divided into several subtopics and examined two main focuses, one being device usage during meals and the other were noticeable mealtime characteristics. In some parts, parents were given statements regarding their child’s device usage and in response they picked the most suitable choice (never or rarely, sometimes, usually, and always), the type of questions continued on, investigating the dynamics within the family and the types of diets served on the table (Fulkerson et al., 2013). Beside this format of questions, parents were also asked to circle yes/no and agree/disagree with statements related to mealtime rules, mealtime characteristics, family connections, and more (Fulkerson et al., 2013).
The study demonstrated that around 72% of parents have implemented rules around devices during meal times, however their efforts alongside institutional advice of less technological usage have been proven unavailing (Fulkerson et al., 2013). Instead of bonding and socializing, adolescents and their families have chosen device occupied meal habits, which has a proven impact on the children dietary and social choices. According to the results, families that promote device-free meal times shows a positive correlation with the adolescents’ awareness of family and health dietary significance (Fulkerson et al., 2013), which both supports Common Sense Media’s advice. Compared to children who occupy their meal time with technologies, adolescents who rarely handle devices scored better on reflections of family interactions and meal importance (Fulkerson et al., 2013). Family connectedness is an important part of primary socialization, an essential stage before establishing healthy relationships in other social groups. Therefore, with less technology, there will be more interactions to prepare kids for healthier connections as they have learned it by bonding with their families at the dinner table. Children with less technology use also had a higher chance of eating more variety of healthy food groups such as vegetables, fruits and dairy product with a decrease in the consumption of fast or junk food. As suggest by the Canada’s Food Guide (2019), children need an assorted range of food to remain healthy, therefore although the study proved no causation, there is evidence for some dietary benefits from the absence of devices during mealtimes.
Through this experience of analyzing advice with research, I learned that science and many experiment-based disciplines have generated many helpful pieces of knowledge, however, they can be hard to digest for the general public. Although platforms such as Common-Sense Media and many institutions have the ability the reach out to their intended audiences, many of their suggestions are too simplified and ignored due to a lack of authority. The advice Common-Sense Media (2018) provided is not new to my family or I, however, if I did not do a paper that dives deep into evidence and research, I would not have approached the topic thoughtfully. With it, came a recognition that scientific researches are existing on a separate domain than daily life, which caused a disconnection between the general public and research disciplines by either being inaccessible or hard to comprehend. I hope that in the near future, science becomes more transparent to everyone, and a solid support system can be formed between science and daily life.
I would support the advice given by Common Sense Media (2018) as less screen time on the table promote better and healthier dietary benefits, demonstrated in a study named HELENA done by Rey-Lo´pez et al. (2011). The study that at adolescents’ dietary consumption in relation to their mealtime TV usage with a survey, showed similar results as the Fulkerson et al. (2013) study, youths who spend less time in front of the TV demonstrated better food choices and less unhealthy food consumptions (Rey-Lo´pez et al., 2011). Although it is not a determining factor for a child’s health, advice such as this one should be considered and use adequately to promote better lifestyles. It is a chance to practice communication between parent and children, everyone should follow the same mealtime rules to create a sense of family equality and respect for the occasion. In conclusion, the lack of devices during mealtimes can not only improve family connectedness but also remove improper eating habits leading to a healthier child.
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