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Family dinnertime: Boring, or worth celebrating?

Published: Thursday, May 30 2013 6:20 p.m. MDT

The Family Dinner Project strives to highlight dinner, quality time and conversation about the most important things in life. (Shutterstock) The Family Dinner Project strives to highlight dinner, quality time and conversation about the most important things in life. (Shutterstock)

While many debates in America fly across the kitchen table, this one originates directly from the dinnertime tradition itself.

A recent ad for Facebook's new Android app, Facebook Home, has baby boomers and Gen Xers speaking up and speaking out about technology's growing presence in the hands and homes of the country.

Mashable.com writer Seth Fiegerman wrote about the ad, wherein a hip millennial faces the threat of early death by boredom while listening to a relative drone on about her adventures in the pet aisle of the grocery store.

Enter Facebook Home.

With the "like" of a photo on the new app, a snowball fight, ballet and drum solo each materialize, rescuing the girl from the monotony of the meal.

The assumed moral of the story: Now you can drown out reality with a tap of your smartphone.

Among the responses for the ad are allegations of selfishness and a total disconnect from the "real world."

“While the videos are clearly intended to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, some have started to question whether Facebook should be encouraging people to use their phones in situations where it would be considered inappropriate, like during an office meeting or family dinner,” Fiegerman wrote.

The ad also drew criticism from Forbes magazine contributor Robert Hof.

“Facebook Home makes it a whole lot easier to be rude to your family and in-the-flesh friends, who are often, yeah, so boring to a cool person like you,” Hof wrote in an April 14 article.

A 2012 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University reported findings from 1,000 teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17.

Of the sample, 57 percent reported having dinner with their family at least five times a week. This percentage of adolescents who regularly eat dinner together as a family has remained steady over the past 10 years, according to the study.

One of the most significant benefits of family dinner, according to the group, is an increased involvement of parents in the lives of their children.

Of those teenagers who reported having regular meals (five to seven times a week), 92 percent said they felt their parents knew what was happening in their lives. Only 60 percent of teenagers who had family meals less than three times a week reported feeling the same level of parental involvement.

Elsewhere, photographer Douglas Adesko has embarked on a nationwide project titled Family Meal.

His project, which was reported on wired.com, takes him into the homes of Americans to document ordinary families eating ordinary meals.

"'I became interested in looking at how we ritualize, or fail to ritualize, this really intense primal act,'” Adesko said in an interview with Wired.

The majority of his photography captures strangers. Adesko said that many times, he would show up on the doorstep of a friendly looking home and ask to document their meal.

"Adesko’s work is meant to comment on how many families struggle to eat together thanks to busy schedules and digital distractions," the article said.

For Adesko, Family Meal is all about connectivity.

Meanwhile, on the Web, the Family Dinner Project is providing families with creative and new ways to keep dinner fresh.

The Family Dinner Project strives to highlight dinner, quality time and conversation about the most important things in life.

On the site is a compilation of ideas for dinnertime activities and how to connect with family members.

Because, as the website preaches, "Sharing a fun family meal is good for the spirit, brain and health of all family members."

Emmilie Buchanan is an intern for the Deseret News with Mormon Times. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho. Contact her by email: ebuchanan@deseretnews.com or Twitter: @emmiliebuchanan

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