When we travelled to France a couple of years ago, I noticed that there were kids in every nice restaurant. But these kids weren't chatting nicely with their parents while eating their salade chevre and foie gras, they were all playing on a device.
I wondered if that was a worthy trade-off: kids get a sense of a formal restaurant and have to eat the food, but they get to immerse themselves in their screen so the adults can have a conversation without disruption.
We don't allow our kids to have screens at the table at home or in a restaurant. I am more likely to bring crayons and paper than a screen for my little one. But we are becoming a minority, many families allow their little kids to play on an i-device in restaurants so they can enjoy their meal.
I get it. But is there something lost? The neighbourhood greasy spoon is a good place to train kids how to eat in restaurants. It's already a little loud and a little dirty, the food is kid-friendly and the servers are about babysitting age. The kids learn to wait for their food, how to order off a menu and how to interact. If we allowed devices there, how would they ever learn?
Sure, it would be a lot easier when the food doesn't arrive to distract them with a little Angry Birds or to turn on a show when they have finished picking at their meals and you still have a meal to get through. But sometimes those hardest moments are when the best conversations happen.
I might be an alarmist but I worry about a slippery slope -- an iPad in a restaurant becomes an iPad at the dinner table after a long day. Giving your toddler a screen during dinner might mean that you can talk to your partner but is it setting up a disconnect that will last for many meals to come?
This writer in the Guardian says his kids, with their crayons and paper look positively Victorian next to the technocrats at the other tables but he sticks with is plan:
I reckon we’ve got to fight against the easy option. As work’s tentacles encroach on our family time (tentacles facilitated, it has to be said, by on-the-move access to emails), our mealtimes are becoming one of the few isolated chances to really connect with our kids. You know, the old-fashioned stuff: talking to them, listening to them, asking about the school cake sale, humouring their daft little stories punctuated by endless “ums” and “ers”. Strengthening your family’s foundations for the buffeting to come.
I am going to be honest, our kids have played with phones in restaurants. Sometimes it is just too much for them. And I am contemplating allowing the iPad to make an appearance if we do any fine dining while on vacation. But as a rule, the kids have to suffer through slow restaurant meals just like the rest of us.
Do you allow your kids screens during dinner time?
Want more chaos? Last year, Heather Greenwood-Davis wrote a guest post in response to the Trayvon Martin shooting. Still a good read.