Stop Phubbing Friends and Family at Dinner: 6 Tips for Getting Everyone off the Phone

published Sep 7, 2017
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Whether it’s out to dinner with friends or at home around the table with family, on a romantic date with a partner or at a cocktail hour with coworkers, we have all experienced phubbing. In case you haven’t heard of the term before, phubbing (phone snubbing) is when someone ignores their real-life companions in favor of their phones or devices. A 2015 study found that 46.3 percent of its participants admitted to being regularly phone snubbed by their loved ones. What’s more, 22.6 percent said it caused serious issues in their personal relationships.

One thing is clear: It’s time to put the phones down and have fun interacting with each other again, and a great place to start is at the dinner table.

Get People off the Phone at Dinner

Phones may be addicting, but it is possible to have a fun dinner with friends and family without anyone using their devices. It is just a matter of understanding your behaviors, talking openly about the issue of phubbing, setting clear boundaries for yourself and others, and, when all else fails, getting a little creative about creating phone-free zones.

Here are six ways to get everyone to hang up their phones.

1. Set expectations and create boundaries.

The first step to getting your friends and family to get off their phone at meal times is letting them know how phubbing makes you feel. Having an open conversation with your loved ones about the importance of quality time and the consequences of phone snubbing (they’re real and include things like hurt feelings, personal conflicts, even depression) is crucial to creating better, more meaningful meals together. Make it clear to your family that phones are off-limits at meal times, and don’t be shy about telling your friends you’d rather not have devices at dinner with you.

2. Politely call out bad behavior when it’s happening.

I never noticed how often I was on my phone during meal times — that is, until a friend called me out on my bad behavior over breakfast one morning. The truth is, constantly using cell phones has become so second nature to people that most of the time, we don’t even notice when we’re doing it. Letting someone know that they’ve been using their phone a lot at dinner can help them realize the error of their ways. The key is to do it politely and tactfully, without hurting anyone’s feelings.

A good way to do it? Simply ask your dining companion what they’re doing on the phone, and if it is important. Often times, that is a big enough hint to put the phone down.

3. Track phone usage.

To fix the problem, it’s important that you first understand its scope. If you really want to get a good idea of how often you or your family are snubbing each other, track your phone usage and use your findings to try and improve mealtime etiquette. Apps like Moment and Moment Family automatically track the amount of time you and your loved ones spend on the phone, allow you to set limits for yourself, and even create screen-free times that force everyone off their phones together. Even if you can’t control your phone usage, ironically, your phone can do it for you.

4. Shut devices down altogether.

When you and your family are really struggling to keep the screens away at dinnertime, sometimes it’s easier to remove the temptation all together. If you’re at home, ask everyone to turn their phones off during meals, or create a space for the whole family to stash their phones away while you eat — a bowl, kitchen drawer, or a coffee table in the far-away living room all work great.

When you’re out to dinner with friends, leave your phone in the car or in your bag and people might start to follow your lead. If you have a job or circumstance that requires you to keep your cell phone turned on, turn unnecessary notifications off to minimize distractions and interruptions.

5. Make phubbers pay.

Like the family swear jar, a phubbing jar is a great way to get the whole family to adapt better behaviors. Whenever someone uses a device at dinner time, make them put a dollar in the jar. At the end of the year, you will have (hopefully) not only minimized phone snubbing, but you’ll have some fun money to spend as a family.

While you can’t make your friends shell out cash for their phubbing the same way you can expect your family to, there is a way to make your BFF phubbers pay: the phone pile. A trick I learned in college, phone piling is when you and your friends stack your phones in the middle of the table when you’re out to eat. The first person to reach for their device has to pay for dinner (or, more realistically, the tip.)

6. Pair eating with a group activity.

Between devices, social media, streaming services, and a 24/7 news cycle, it’s not surprising to learn that modern Americans are over-stimulated. In fact, we are so overstimulated that when we are not having information constantly thrown at us, we get restless and turn to our phones for entertainment.

To help people stay away from the screen during meal times together, keep the conversation going with talks on current events or your day’s peach and pits (the highs and lows). Or play a fun and simple game like Who Am I? or Finish the Story. Make dinner fun again and no one will think about their phone all meal long.

What are you doing to elminate phubbing from your meals?