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Devices vs. Dinner: Do You Limit Screen Time at Family Mealtime?

Remember a time when electronic screens weren’t a part of family meals? Neither do we. Ask any child if they’d rather play on their tablet than eat their vegetables—you already know the answer, and it’s the same for most adults.

That made us wonder: Where do parents draw the line on devices at dinner? Are they cool with kiddies tapping away during family mealtime? Or is the communal table a screen-free zone?

We surveyed parents with children under the age of 15 (750 moms and dads, to be exact) and came up with some surprising supper-and-screen stats.

Babies abound

We asked, “How old is the youngest child in your household?” and found that most had babies between ages 2–5 (34%). Children 6–10 years old came in next (23.87%), followed by 0–24 months (25.33%), and 11–14 years old (16.80%).
That’s a lot of young kids—the parents must have taken our poll during naptime.

Tablets at the table

We then asked, “How often do you let your children engage with screens (smartphones, tablets, etc.) during meals at home?” It turned out to be a polarizing question because most answered with either “5 times a week or more” (35.87%) or “Never” (26.27%).

Splitting the in-between vote were “2 times a week” (12%), “3 times a week” (9.47%), “1 time a week” (8.93%), and “4 times a week” (7.47%). Obviously, parents are still struggling with screen time management.

How often do you let your children use screens at home? |

We also asked, “What kind of screens do your children engage with most often at the dinner table?” The highest scorer was “Tablets” (36.35%), followed by “Smartphones (their own)” at 27.31% and “Smartphones (a parent’s)” at 12.66%.
Curiously, “Televisions” ranked third (23.69%). Looks like some families still gather around the TV at dinnertime.

Restaurant restraint

“How often do you let your children engage with screens while out to eat?” was our next question, and there was no ambiguity here: “Never” topped the polling handily (55.87%), with “1 time a week” a distant second (19.33%).

Does this mean that parents are OK with the kids scrolling during supper at home, but they don’t want it seen in public? Possibly. The rest included: “2 times a week” (9.47%), “5 times a week” (7.60%), “3 times a week” (5.60%), and “4 times a week” (2.23%).

But we then asked, “What kind of screens do your children engage with most often when out to eat?” and a slightly higher margin answered, “Smartphone (their own)” at 39.27%, followed by “Tablets” at 36.86%, and “Smartphone (a parent’s)” at 23.87%.

Family time, not screen time

We concluded with the open-ended question, “Why DO or DON’T you allow your children to engage in screen time during meals?” The answers leaned overwhelmingly toward variations of “Because it’s family time,” with a smaller number stating that using screens at the dinner table actually helps their young ones focus.

Some of our other favorite answers, for and against, included these:

  • “They’re learning new things with screen time, so no problem with that.”
  • “My baby is a picky eater and the tablet encourages her to eat her veggies.”
  • “It prevents them from fighting.”
  • “Don’t want to get food on the phone.”
  • “I do so that the adults can eat in peace.”
  • “It depends on who we’re eating with. If it’s a boring meal, I’ll allow them to use their phone.

Other screen-time findings

The streaming service our survey respondents’ children watch on their screens the most? They liked long-established Netflix (37.47%) most, followed closely by Disney+ (23.33%), which has only been around since December 2019.
On average, our survey respondents’ have four smart-screen devices in their homes (21.07%). A smaller, but obviously more occupied, group have over 10 (5.33%).

Finally, parents were almost evenly split on the idea that their children may be more tech-savvy than they are—41.47% answered “No,” 40.80% said “Yes,” and 17.73% believe they’re at “About the same level.”

We suspect that all parents feel their kids are more adept at gadgets, but only half were willing to admit it—not that we can back that up. It’s just a hunch.

Methodology conducted a Pollfish survey of 750 parents with children under the age of 15 to determine their most common screen-time habits during family meals.