My kids have free access to tablets and sometimes their dad’s smart phone (I still proudly use a flip phone, so it’s not as much fun). When we’re home.
With the exception of my husband’s phone (of course), all devices stay home as a rule. I started this as soon as our oldest child had a tablet when he was not quite 2. Since neither of my kids expects to take devices out with us, it’s never been a struggle. Actually, the rare times that we do let them bring whatever they want, they’re more likely to fill my bag with toys than devices. I’m definitely a proud mommy.
Before we were parents, my husband and I noticed the trend of entertaining kids with devices out in public. We’ve witnessed couples out to dinner, though it looked more like they were dating their devices than each other. We’ve seen kids of all ages sitting in shopping carts with their eyes glued to a screen. We’ve watched a family pass around devices at a restaurant so everyone had something. We’ve listened to children whining until their parents handed over a phone. We don’t judge, and we definitely don’t know why anyone chooses to be so connected so there’s nothing for us to judge, but we decided that wasn’t for us.
The devices stay at home because we want our children to learn to self-entertain when we’re out and about. We’re a PBS watching family and I like the message from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood about playing, singing, or imagining anything while waiting. I want my children to observe and learn about what’s around them. I want them to see how people interact and get involved with shopping, looking at things, and how to order at a restaurant. My five-year-old makes his own drink orders and says please. There’s always something to do, talk about, or play with.
The devices stay at home because we want our children to learn how to behave in public. If we’re constantly shoving a device in their faces to keep them quiet, still, or otherwise well-behaved, they’re not actually learning how to behave in public. Instead, we’d probably see more meltdowns if we leave the devices at home because they’ll have come to expect them. By not having devices when we’re out, they learn how to behave. They learn what they can and cannot do and why. They learn how to comport themselves in public, as well as what we expect of them when we’re out.
The devices stay at home because we don’t want our children to become reliant on technology. We don’t want our kids to learn that, when they’re bored, tired, agitated, or otherwise a bit unruly, they’ll get a device to entertain them. Instead, we teach them to tell us how they’re feeling and what might help them out. If they need a break or more attention or they’re just plain done, they learn to verbalize it instead of whining to get the device. They learn how to make do with what they have rather than expect a screen. It also makes them more engaged with their surroundings. Both of my children are curious about everything we come across. They want to know about everything and help with everything. They want to touch what they’re allowed to. They’re exploring their world instead of a virtual one that doesn’t actually exist.
We’ve done this for about 3 years now. My kids are well-behaved in public. They don’t have meltdowns. Sometimes our oldest will whine when we’ve been out for hours and he’s tired, but it helps us know our limits as a family so that everyone gets a little of what they want. They’ve also learned to not bother others. Usually, other people will look at them and smile and they’ll react with hiding their faces. It also doesn’t hurt that they both prefer to stay as close to us as possible. The best part, though, is they’re fully engaged with their surroundings and don’t rely on devices to entertain them. They’re constantly learning when we go out and it carries over to our next outing.
Sure, I wouldn’t mind a quiet, leisurely shopping trip or interruption-free meal. How many parents wouldn’t? But I don’t want my kids to become device zombies just because I want peace. I wouldn’t have become a mom if that’s what I wanted. I wouldn’t mind peace and quiet while out anywhere with my kids, but I don’t think that’s in their best interests, and we’d be missing out on a lot of learning moments.
The one exception is when we have to go to the hospital or doctor visits. Those wait times can be excruciating and there are so many things they can’t touch. There are also many, many other things I don’t want them touching because who knows what they would bring home. When I know we’re going to have long waits where there’s little to entertain them, I’ll permit them to bring devices, but I usually have to convince them it’s okay.
I don’t judge parents who choose to use devices with their kids. We’re just not those kinds of parents. I love that my kids don’t rely on technology. I love that they’re curious and quick to learn. I love that they like to contribute to the conversation, or take it down some really strange roads. I especially love that they know exactly what we expect of them when we’re out, and that they most definitely are well-behaved.