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Viral image of family meal at restaurant is mix of creativity and tragedy

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Cerith Gardiner - published on 02/08/22

An Australian restaurant came up with a solution for keeping kids off their phones, but it unveils a bigger problem.

There’s been an viral image shared on social media these last few days that many parents can relate to. The photo depicts the sad reality for many families today.

It seems innocent enough at first glance. It’s a couple out with their teenage daughters. The dad looks victorious, as he gives a thumbs up. The daughters, however, look pretty glum as they stare longingly at their phones that are stored in a makeshift cage on the table. The reason? The restaurant offers a 10% discount to patrons who don’t use their phones throughout their meal.

This is a whole mix of genius, generosity, and sadness.

While the restaurant is generously providing their customers with the opportunity to engage with each other, it’s sad that it has to happen at all.

Growing up, the idea of going out for a family meal was such a treat. Moms and dads were freed from kitchen or work duties, allowing them to focus entirely on the kids. In return the children would be busy chatting with each other and their parents, and perhaps arguing over the drink order. It was a time of conversation and fun.

But eating out has become such a norm for many lucky kids these days that they don’t feel the same level of appreciation or excitement. They’re also so busy posting photos of their meals, or themselves eating those meals, on social media that the outing becomes more of an opportunity to attract followers than it is to enjoy the actual food, let alone time with their family.

But don’t be disheartened. If this is happening in your own family — especially with teens — here are a few handy tricks.

1Restrict your eating out

Lots of teens don’t want to be seen out with mom and dad, but the idea of a tempting burger from a favorite restaurant can lead them to change their minds. However, you don’t want to have to blackmail your child to have a nice family meal with you. So one idea: reduce the number of outings so a trip to the restaurant becomes a privilege.

Even though you’ll have to cook more, you could use the money saved from not going to a restaurant to buy a wholesome ready-made meal that can be heated up in no time. This helps you if you’re tired after a long week at work, and it encourages kids to appreciate those meals out with mom and dad.

2Set a restaurant date

If you are used to going out regularly and you reduce your restaurant meals, you could put a date in the calendar for your next family meal out for everybody to look forward to.

3Set expectations

A lot of kids thrive when they know what is expected of them. If you explain to your children that you’re going out and you’d like everybody to bring a topic to the table, that will get their minds thinking and give them something to contribute to the family. The bonus is this can help build confidence and keep their minds off their phones. It can be something news related, something going on at school, future plans, or even family annoyances — if your kids are able to stay calm!

The importance of this exercise is to strengthen your family bond in a world which can be so isolating.

4Set rules

It doesn’t matter what age your children are, they need to respect their parents’ wishes — even if it is completely annoying. You have to make it clear before going out to a restaurant, or even sitting down for a meal at home, that the dinner table is a no-phone zone.

The problem is that many kids will be anxious about what they might be missing out on — FOMO, or fear of missing out — which can actually have a significant impact on their mental health. Here parents can offer practical help.

Encourage your children to let their friends know that they’re taking a break from phones. They can call it a “do not disturb” break, or simply “I’m busy.” It will sound as if they’re taking measures into their own hands, and it’s not mom and dad who are blocking their social life — as we all know how embarrassing parents can be!

You can also encourage them to have a certain number of these breaks per day, but especially a longer one that straddles meal time, and of course, any time they get behind the steering wheel.

5Parents: put your phones away, too!

When it comes to screens, parents need to steer clear from the popular adage, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Kids mimic behavior all the time, so give them something positive to copy.

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