Let’s clear the air. I love Chick-fil-A. In fact, I may have faked a few pregnancy cravings the first time around so my husband would drive the 45 minutes to the closet location (by the third child, he had figured me out, and I had to find suitable alternatives). In my book, it’s hard to beat those delicious little nuggets, a tall lemonade and some waffle fries. And seriously, what about that Polynesian sauce (this is the part of the column where I say I have not been paid to endorse Chick-fil-A).

Chick-fil-A prides itself as being a family-friendly fast food option. Where else can you get free food just by dressing up as a cow? But not too long ago, they took the "family" part a little further.  At many Chick-fil-A restaurants, you can now take a cell phone challenge. Customers are given a “cell phone coop” to put their phones in.  If your phone stays in the coop for the duration of your meal, guess what? Free ice cream! Sign me up!

When I was growing up, there were no cell phones at the table. The primary reason, of course, was because it wasn’t typical for teens to have cell phones. But, even if it was, I don’t see my parents as being ok with us texting or playing games during a meal.  We weren’t all in the same place at the same time regularly, so I enjoyed those few moments when we did have a family meal together. Not that we did everything right growing up, or that my parents did everything right as parents, but we did somehow walk away with a love of spending time together.

So, it would be easy to assume then that as an adult that did not grow up with a smart phone tethered to my right hand, I would not struggle with things like using my phone at meals. But, alas, that is not the case.

I was recently at a friend’s house and was telling her a story about how, while out with some other friends, I sent my husband a text about something funny that happened during that dinner. This friend could not believe that I had sent a message during a meal.  And I was humbled, because at one point in time, I wouldn’t have been able to see myself doing it either.

We have become a “techpendent” society. And while, many times, we pin much of the smartphone/internet usage on the younger generation, in all fairness, adults aren’t far behind. According to the Pew Research Center, the age group with the largest increase of internet usage since 2000 is senior citizens. In fact, 58 percent of people 65 and older use the internet daily, while 81 percent of people ages 50-64 use it daily.

These numbers are growing, but it cannot be denied that our teens account for the most internet consumption. Again, according to Pew Research Center, nearly 92 percent of teens report daily internet usage, with – and you may want to sit down for this next statistic- 24 percent of teens reporting being online “almost constantly.” What?!? “Almost constantly?” That means almost a quarter of our teens are rarely without the internet. Going to the bathroom? Yup, using the internet. At school? Using the internet. Sleeping? What sleep? They’re on the internet.

Only 12 percent of teens report not having any type of cellphone, with nearly 75 percent having a smartphone of their own, or having access to one.

According to an article found in the Washington Post (“The most important thing you can do with your kids? Eat dinner with them.” January, 2015), a meal together is one of the most important things a family can do. Benefits include a larger vocabulary (nearly 900 more rare words than just reading aloud), higher scholastic achievement scores, lower levels of obesity and higher levels of fruit and vegetable consumption.

The benefits don’t stop there. In one survey, teens were asked when they are most likely to share a conversation with their parents, with dinner being the top answer. In addition, children who eat dinner with their parents experience less stress and report having a better relationship.

There is one very interesting facet to this. If you add watching television to the meal equation, many studies show these positive benefits are lost. In can be assumed that smartphone usage may have similar affects.

 

Maybe Chick-fil-A has a good thing going here. In a time when families are rarely together, here is a business offering incentives for stepping away from the phone. The benefits may simply start with a delicious ice cream cone, but, in reality, reach beyond frozen goodness. Maybe we should all send our phones to a coop and look at each other over a meal, rather than a screen.