Eating dinner together as a family can help boost your child’s social skills and self-esteem, and it can be even healthier without digital devices. That’s why one of our founding partners, Common Sense Media, is challenging families to try the #DeviceFreeDinner challenge.
Common Sense Media understands that not all families are the same. They have different needs. Families of kids with learning and thinking differences may need to make adjustments to meet this challenge.
So Common Sense teamed up with Understood to share experiences from families of kids with learning and thinking differences who’ve tried the #DeviceFreeDinner challenge. We spoke to five parents about how they manage technology at dinner. Here are their strategies and tips.
The Ditchendorf Family: “We use questions and stories to make dinner engaging.”
Sitting at the table for dinner without devices wasn’t hard for our middle son who has , but it was for our eldest son who has . He would do something we call “sharking.” He’d take a bite of food, stand up, walk around a bit, sit down, take another bite, and do it all over again.
Because of my son’s ADHD, we knew we couldn’t just sit down and hope for spontaneous conversation. So every night, we started with a question, which everyone took turns answering. We also took turns telling jokes and stories. We even had games—anything to keep the kids engaged.
—Carolyn Ditchendorf, social worker
The Morin Family: “We allow devices only when they add to the conversation.”
For a while, our family tried to go totally cold turkey with no devices at the table, but it didn’t work. As a family, we love to talk about current events. Someone is always looking up things on a smartphone, like a news article or the meaning of a word or phrase.
Our youngest son has ADHD and our other son has , so they have challenges. Both are way ahead of their peers, however, in understanding current affairs. They crave this intellectual interaction with us.
What we did do is make a rule that, as a family, we allow devices only when they add to the dinner conversation. We use devices to prove points and look up facts. No one is surfing the Internet, or posting on Facebook or Twitter.
—Jon Morin, stay-at-home dad and blogger
The Kasten Family: “We don’t eat dinner together, so we have device-free family outings.”
Because of our schedules, we seldom sit down for dinner as a family. My husband works long hours. My daughter is hungry at 5pm, and because of her issues, she has a hard time with traditional dinner conversation. Then there’s my son. He’s a typical teenager who stays up late, and doesn’t eat until 7 or 8pm.
Since we can’t sit for dinner, what we do instead is device-free family time. We go for ice cream, or we go to a football or baseball game together. When we’re on an outing, it’s a lot easier for us to not get caught up in smartphones or digital tablets. My daughter also enjoys these activities because she gets one-on-one conversation time with family members.
—Jen Kasten, attorney and consultant
The Martin Family: “We have a plan and routine for the transition to dinner.”
The hardest part for our family is making the transition from technology time to device-free dinnertime. If my son, my wife or I are engrossed in a device, putting it down can be hard. My son has ADHD, but honestly we all struggle with this.
What we try to do is have a plan and routine. First, we do a countdown to dinner. We sometimes even use a timer app to help us know when we need to be at the table. Second, we try to have a consistent dinnertime each night. Third, we’re each empowered to hold each other accountable with reminders. Sometimes, my son is the one doing the reminding!
—Jamie Martin, expert
The Dunlop Family: “I’m flexible with my son about technology, outside of dinner.”
I’m the CEO of an educational technology company that was inspired by my son’s dyslexia, so I love technology!
However, keeping technology away from the dinner table gives our family a consistent time to unplug. We value our shared time together, while the outside world remains at bay and our digital devices take a breather.
As a parent, I decided to be flexible with my children about technology outside of dinner. They largely take the lead on tech—what devices and apps to use, and when to use them. Giving them that space has built a level of trust and understanding between us, and that makes it easier for them to disconnect when I ask.
—Mya Dunlop, CEO and founder of MyloWrites
Ready to take the #DeviceFreeDinner challenge? Remember that you can tailor the challenge to the unique needs of your family. Sign up for a free starter kit from Common Sense Media.
And read more about how one mom tweaked family dinners to make room for her daughter’s processing issues.
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The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.