Teenagers who watch television or use electronic devices during family meals are more likely to experience problems ranging from poorer nutrition to impaired family communication, according to a new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
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Experts have suggested turning the TV off at mealtime for years. But with the advent of cell phones and other handheld devices, kids can bring all kinds of media with them to the table.
"The findings of this most recent paper showed that mealtime media use is common among families with adolescents but that setting rules around media use at meals may reduce media use among teens and have other positive benefits as well," lead author Jayne A. Fulkerson told Reuters Health in an email.
Fulkerson is the director of the Center for Child and Family Health Promotion Research at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing in Minneapolis.
"Parents who are having family meals with media could choose to make some rules excluding media at mealtimes to spend more quality time with their children," she said.
Fulkerson and her colleagues asked more than 1,800 parents how often their adolescent children watched TV, talked on the phone, texted, played games or listened to music with headphones during family meals.
They also asked parents if they set rules on media use at mealtime and whether they felt family meals were important. Children answered questions about how well their families communicated, including how often they talked about problems with their parents.
Two thirds of parents reported that their teens watched TV or movies during family meals at least some of the time. One quarter said the TV was on frequently.
Texting, talking on the phone, listening to music with headphones and using handheld games were less common. Between 18 and 28 percent of parents reported those activities happened at mealtime, according to findings published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Close to three quarters of parents said they set limits on mealtime media use.
Image: Family on cell phones at the dinner table, via Shutterstock