Is it wrong to let your kids to play with an iPad or smart phone at a restaurant? According to professional nanny Emma Jenner (former star of the TLC show “Take Home Nanny” ), it’s a shortcut that parents shouldn’t take, especially when kids are acting up.
When speaking to ABC News’ Deborah Roberts, “Jenner said parents’ first big problem is fear.” She continued:
“I see a lot of moms, you know, I see fear in their body language, in their face,” she said. “You know kids are clever, they know ‘gosh if I throw a tantrum right now then my mom’s going to give me exactly what I want.’ So that’s what they do.”
When our kids are acting up, we should not be giving in to their behavior and pacifying them with electronics. Jenner isn’t the first person to say this kind of thing, and I agree with a lot of what she has to say about parenting in general and our tendency to parent through fear, but when it comes to letting kids use electronics in restaurants we’re not exactly on the same page.
First, let me say that I do NOT think you should immediately hand your kids an iPad the minute you arrive at a restaurant. Our children need to learn what’s expected of them when they’re in public, and table manners are incredibly important. My daughter, for example, knows to say “Please” and “Thank you,” and is aware that if she reaches across the table for something it isn’t going to end well for her.
That being said, I don’t have a problem with letting kids use electronics at a restaurant from time to time. Electronics are a way to keep kids distracted, and no different than crayons or activity sheets, which have been socially acceptable for kids to use in restaurants for a long time.
I often hear, “Well, when I was a kid, we didn’t have iPads to entertain us when our parents ate out, so why should my kids?” That’s not a strong argument, though. Our kids shouldn’t be deprived of conveniences just because they weren’t available to us. In 2014, technology is a part of life.
Electronics are not always appropriate in restaurants, however there are times when it is not only appropriate, but necessary. It’s silly, for example, to expect kids to sit in silence while adults have “adult” conversation. Letting kids entertain themselves at these times isn’t a “shortcut.” It’s just being fair.
When my husband and I go out to dinner with our four-year-old and one-year-old, we have a “distraction hierarchy,” which determines the course of the evening. This ensures that the electronics do not come out the minute we reach the restaurant. We make sure that the screen time is limited, and we spend time talking and enjoying ourselves as a family.
How do we do this? First, we talk, ask questions and engage with our children. Then if they’re bored, they can color, play Tic Tac Toe, or do word searches. We talk some more, and then later they can play with an iPad or iPhone for a timed period. After that, they have to put them away to enjoy the rest of the meal.
Our preference is to keep our kids entertained by interacting with them, and there are many trips to restaurants when the electronics never come out at all. But sometimes they do. Electronics are part of our arsenal, especially when we have adult company and can’t interact with our kids as much as we can when it’s just the four of us.
Jenner may not think our system is perfect, but I think it works well for our family. I also think it’s worth noting that while Jenner has 17 years of experience as a nanny, she’s expecting her first child this year. It will be very interesting to see if Jenner can keep up her “no electronics” mandate once she’s experienced having children of her own!