Kids in Restaurants on iPhones — Including Mine
by Abbie Schiller, Founder and CEO of The Mother Company
A while ago I was out to dinner with a friend, marveling at the number of families with kids on iPhones, and other mobile devices. Every single kid from 18 months to 18 years was sitting there, pinging away and so were their parents. No one looked up to order. I shook my head, dripping with judgment, “What is happening to the American Family?” I thought, “Kids need to talk to their parents – parents should engage with their kids especially at dinner. NEVER will that be my family.” Well, never is a strong word, isn’t it?
When my daughter was growing up we schlepped a “goodie bag” everywhere we went. It included books, crayons, toys, stickers, puzzles, all sorts of non-noisemaking no-small-pieces-to-lose things, and carted them to wherever we lugged her. Planes. Restaurants. Car rides. This is how I was raised. For one cross country flight, I packed a goodie bag so intricate – having bought new “exciting!” items, wrapped them (gifts!) and meticulously organized seven hours of activities. The bag weighed 15 pounds and my husband dutifully carried it along with the car seat, stroller and his own carry-on.
Most of the time, the goodie bag worked – except for the hundreds of times it didn’t. Then we reverted to our “Plan B:” walking around. I have a distinct memory of looking out of a restaurant’s picture glass window and seeing a freshly choreographed “Doe a Deer” dance number being performed by the two of them. As entertaining as it may have been, I didn’t love that stage. During meals out, my husband and I scarfed, or ate alone. We had anxiety. We got stressed the second our daughter would start to squirm and squeal. But iPhones weren’t yet invented – and we had no other choice.
Our son was born when our daughter was six. We were still packing goodie bags (on the rare occasions we ate out or travelled). On a parent yahoo group I frequent, one parent lamented “what’s with kids on iPhones in restaurants?!” I chimed in, “I know! How about packing some coloring books or something?” And she shot back, “How about just talking to your kids?!” Suddenly it was a parenting smack-down – the kind that happens every day that zaps the confidence out of your efforts and makes you realize other families are managing waaaay better than yours. It goes like this, “Your kid eats broccoli? Congrats, mine does too. We grow our own in our organic garden we water with purified sea-water under a sun with no UVB rays.” Crazy. No one wins.
Two weeks ago our children, (now 9 and two-and-a-half) my husband and I, popped into a new neighborhood café. It was an outdoor casual dining kind of place. There was a guitar player in the courtyard on break. We chose our table away from others, knowing it was close to bedtime for both kids and at least one of them was likely to be a handful. We were starving and attempting to do what normal non-parent people do effortlessly — eat out. With no goodie bag.
My husband and I were mentally and physically exhausted from a long week and a long day. We glanced at the menu and ordered. We tried to engage the kids around the events of the day. The conversation only held for so long. The squirming began. We tried to keep them in their seats. But we were done. And then, we knew. It was time to try what all other parents were already doing. Simultaneously, we surrendered. We reached into our pockets and passed over our phones, one to each kid. I cringed a little, ready to apologize to anyone who didn’t approve – mainly myself. It was glorious…and awful at the same time.
We let them play on the phones for ten minutes. Ok, maybe 15. For that time there was silence and pure kid happiness – and therefore adult happiness. We could sip and not gulp. My husband and I could look at each other. We even had a conversation. “When the guitar player returns, we’re taking the phones back,” I announced. I could tell 15 minutes was a slippery slope to the families who never looked up from their devices.
Yet my mind was racing: Relax, the kids are only on these things for 15 minutes, we’re here for an hour. We’ll interact with them for the rest of the dinner. Hell, we have interacted with them for the past 12 hours. What’s 15 minutes? But ugh. I’m officially “that” parent now. No I’m not. But I could be… No, I deserve a break too. It’s not like I take them to McDonalds. We’re eating healthy food in a nice restaurant, dammit. But their brains are on junk. No they’re not – they’re learning how to spell “cooperate” on my favorite kids’ app, “Endless Alphabet.” Instead of lugging a bag full of toys and crayons, we now just had a digital goodie bag. Of all people, I should support healthy versions of children’s media – I produce it!
Deep breath. There are plenty of studies illustrating the educational benefits of children with apps. Over 8 million iPads are now in classrooms! I knew I was rationalizing. But still… It’s all going to be fine, I reasoned. My kids are going to be fine. Their media consumption is totally fine. Everything in moderation. Then their salad, broccoli and lentils arrived which they devoured. And I felt a little better… even though I hadn’t grown the broccoli myself.
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The Mother Company aims to support parents and their children, providing thought-provoking web content and products based in social and emotional learning for children ages 3-6. Check out episodes of our “Ruby’s Studio” children’s video series, along with our beautiful children’s books, apps, music, handmade dolls, and more.