Why I Break the “No Television During Dinner” Rule

(Image credit: goodluz)

I never thought I would be the kind of parent who lets her family eat while staring at a screen. I also never thought I’d have a husband and three children, or that I would end up settling in South Carolina. But life comes at you fast, as they say, and so you go with it — and my family loves sports.

Only some of us like playing them (not it!), but we all enjoy watching, pulling for a team together, or not-so-gently ribbing each other when we’re on opposite sides. It’s fun, and watching a game doesn’t stop the conversation — it inspires it. So while I have a strict “no television at the dinner table” rule, sports are my exception.

Eighteen years ago (boy, they aren’t kidding when they say time flies!), when I was pregnant with our first child, our television died. It was a fancy, 20-inch model with a built-in VCR component that had gone kaput a few months earlier. We were young, broke, and bored. My husband gleefully explained that the big-box stores offered a great deal: We could get a television on credit and, if we paid it off within six months, we would pay no interest.

But I couldn’t do it. I was willing to get a mortgage or a car loan if there was no other option, but financing a television was outside my comfort zone. Television, I argued, is a luxury and we should just do without. We hadn’t been married that long, and it’s hard to argue with a weepy pregnant lady, so I won that round.

A few years later, we had enough money for a television, but I was hooked on doing without. We both agreed (I may or may not have been weepy and pregnant again) that when there was a sporting event we wanted to watch, we’d offer to bring the chips and dip to a friend’s house if they would host, or we’d go to a sports bar.

Because I’m not a huge fan of wings, we soon figured out every decent restaurant in our town that also had a television. This is the South, so there were actually plenty of nice places with TVs and bartenders who were glad to change the channel to the game, and there was something wildly decadent about eating halibut over braised lentils with tapenade while watching basketball with the bartender at a restaurant with a totally respectable wine list.

As our children got older, going out every time we wanted to watch sports was too expensive (and no longer a fun date). We still don’t have a television, but luckily almost anything can be streamed on a computer. And I’m happy to open the cabinet and put on a game while we eat — even when we have guests. When I invite someone for a meal, I want them to enjoy themselves. And the Gamecocks’ basketball teams this year are something else — something worth watching over a meal.

But I learned something important from those years watching games at nice restaurants: The sound doesn’t need to be on to catch the action. After all, at a live game, you can’t hear a ton of commentary, and part of the fun is being there with your friends. At home, we love watching replays of great moments; we can be our own commentators.

Bottom line: I like having my family around the table and I like hearing them talk. If sports open up the floor to a conversation, I don’t see how watching a game while we eat is any better or worse than any other conversational gambit.

So, what do you think? Am I ruining my kids for life? Does it make a difference that we only do this about once every 15 meals we share?