Media Moment: Memories of Media-Free Meals

Dear Reader,

Welcome to May’s Media Moment! This month, A. Crowley, a graduate student intern at CMCH, reflects on the important role media-free family dinners played in her life. These stories are meant to help create a village square of commiserating and co-celebrating the many ways media intersect with the lives of children. Please comment and even submit your own ‘Moment’ to share with your fellow readers.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician®

Family dinnerRecently, my mum asked me if I remembered our round kitchen table where we would sit as a family for all of our meals. Of course I remembered; those times around the kitchen table are memorable to me for many reasons. Especially as a young teenager, these were some of the only times we were all together, what with much of our other time being taken up by extra-curricular activities as well as school. We would often chat about day-to-day things, like how school was, what mine and my brothers friends were like, and what they did for fun. I was very fortunate to have my grandfather live with my family since I was young, and he would often captivate the family with one of his stories, or my mum and dad would talk about their travels around the world in a boat! I believe this engagement during meal time made it more comfortable for both my brother and me to have more difficult conversations with our parents later on. For our family, everything was laid out on the table—so to speak.

On a recent trip to Los Angeles to visit a friend, I witnessed a family meal that was very different from the ones I remember. We were in quite a nice restaurant in a fancy part of town, seated outdoors at their street-side tables. The sun was shining and people were going about their day on the busy street of shops, restaurants, and businesses. A family came and sat at a table near us, closest to the street, with great views of the foot traffic, the hustle and bustle, and the many interesting sites that adorn that part of town. The family sat down and went about ordering their lunch. As the waiter took away the menus, the mother produced a smart phone from her handbag, which she passed to her daughter, who must have been about 12, and then pulled out a tablet, which she passed to her son, who looked about 10. The children booted up their respective devices with ease and began to watch and play.

The parents did not attempt to interact with their children; they too flitted between conversations on their own cell phones and checking emails, occasionally speaking to each other but never engaging the kids. Even when their food arrived, still silence! As my lunch companions and I talked endlessly about the things we were seeing and hearing in the busy street, I wondered why the parents did not take this opportunity to communicate with their children, talk about the things they were seeing, or answer questions the kids may have had—all great opportunities to find out what their kids know, what they want to know, and if what they do know is accurate.

I don’t know the situation of this family—perhaps the parents needed a break from a long and busy day, or had work to do that couldn’t wait. It appeared to me that they were using media simply to fill the time or occupy the kids, and I may well be wrong about that; still, it made me think about the dinners my family shared when I was a child, and I know that those dinners and the many conversations we shared couldn’t have happened if we had watched videos or played games the whole time we ate. Meal times can be such special times for families, a time when they can truly engage with each other in face-to-face conversations about the things that are important in their lives. It is a chance for parents to find out more about their kids, to hear any concerns or worries that their children might have about things they may have seen or heard but do not understand. I hope that, even in this media-saturated world, I can remember that and share it with the children in my life.

~ A. Crowley, Graduate Student