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Chatty family dinners are at risk of extinction as work and technology takes over

Susie O’Brien, July 22, 2019 6:45PM Herald Sun

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No conversation happening here: many families report reluctance to put down their phones while they’re eating meals. Picture: iStock media_cameraNo conversation happening here: many families report reluctance to put down their phones while they’re eating meals. Picture: iStock


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Seven out of 10 families don’t sit down together for dinner every night, with many reluctant* to put down their phones and turn off the TV to eat, a survey shows.

Almost half of Australian families struggle to find enough to talk about over dinner, and may end up arguing instead of conversing*, the survey of 1000 adults reveals.

Young Hispanic Family Arguing While Eating Meal At Home media_cameraMany modern families end up arguing instead of conversing over dinner. Picture: iStock

The research shows 80 per cent of families sometimes sit in silence, and 92 per cent say their digital devices stop them talking to each other.

The study suggests work is having a big impact on family togetherness*, with fewer than a quarter of parents who work full-time eating most nights with their children.

Overall, four in 10 Australian parents say their families find it hard to connect and share conversation at dinnertime, with television, mobile phones and tablets, and tiredness the things that most often get in the way of this.

How Smartphones Sabotage Your Brain’s Ability to Focus

However, the research commissioned* by food company Old El Paso shows many parents want to do things differently, with 95 per cent agreeing that conversation improves a meal.

Psychologist* Jocelyn Brewer said the findings ­reflected* the way Australian life was getting busier and more stressful for families.

“It’s not surprising to hear that 97 per cent of parents prefer meals where their family can laugh, connect, tell stories and share food,” she said.

The survey showed the most common dinnertime topic was what’s going on at school or work (74 per cent), followed by weekend plans (59 per cent).

Only one in 10 parents liked politics to be discussed.

All parents surveyed said they would like tools such as conversation cards to help improve their mealtimes.


  • reluctant: unwilling and hesitant
  • conversing: having a conversation
  • togetherness: being close together and interacting with people in a positive way
  • commissioned: ordered and paid for
  • psychologist: scientist studying human mind and how it affects behaviour
  • reflected: show what is happening


Compulsive phone use affects wellbeing

Kids can help keep families safe

How much screen time is too much?

Video games a family affair


  1. How many adults were surveyed?
  2. How many families out of 100 eat in silence, according to the study?
  3. What does a psychologist do and why would they be an expert on this topic?
  4. What does the psychologist believe is causing this situation?
  5. Is politics a popular discussion topic for mealtimes?


1. Conduct your own survey
Are the findings in this article true of the people in your classroom? Conduct a survey to determine how families in your class spend their mealtimes together and if the students are happy with their family’s routines. You can choose which aspects of the findings you want to compare. You will need to frame your questions carefully to find out the information you need.

Remember that just because a family does not eat together or chat at mealtimes does not mean they do not talk. They may have found other opportunities to discuss things (ie, in the car).

After surveying your class, collate your data and compare it to the data in the article.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Mathematics, Personal and Social Capability

2. Extension
Conversation starter cards would be a good way to encourage positive family conversations at mealtimes. A conversation starter could be a simple question that each person has the opportunity to answer or the beginning of a sentence that each person has the opportunity to finish. They can be serious or funny but should be open ended to promote conversation.

Create a set of conversation cards (at least 12 but up to 24 would be a good number) that are suitable for a range of ages to discuss. You could write questions such as: If you were an animal what would you like to be and why?

Or a sentence starter such as: The funniest thing that has happened to me today was…

Along with these cards write a set of rules for families to follow so that conversations don’t end up in fights and arguments. These rules should encourage taking turns to speak, ensuring everyone is listened to and their answers respected (not laughed at or put down).

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and Social Capability

Finish My Sentence
Some of the best ways to interact and converse with others is through games. In this game, the focus is to use connectives to add more detail to your sentences. But we are going to make it a little more challenging and see if you can finish your partner’s sentence instead of your own. You will need to print out or create some connective cards. 
 Then cut out the connective cards and place them face up in front of you both- you decide how many you will use.

You can either add topic cards or just talk about anything you want. But to help you out, here are 6 topics to choose from (add a dice and roll to select a topic at random).

  1. Superheros
  2. Sport
  3. School
  4. Holidays
  5. Food
  6. Winning the lottery

Person A says a simple sentence related to the chosen topic… ‘My favourite superhero is Spiderman.’

Now Person B has to pick a connective and uses it to add more information to Person A’s sentence… ‘My favourite superhero is Spiderman, however Superman is pretty amazing too.’

The ‘however’ card is now flipped over and is now out of play. Swap roles.

Play for a set time or to try and knock out as many connective cards as you can.

You could add a points system and earn a point each time you can use a connective to make a grammatically correct sentence, or just play for fun.

Challenge: Place the connective cards into a facedown pile and flip over the top card as a way to random selection a connective to use to add to the sentence.

Take your cards home and teach your parents how to play.

Connective conversations cards to print out

HAVE YOUR SAY: Does your family eat dinner together? Do people use devices while they are eating? Are you happy with how your family eats meals? What could you improve?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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