The Devices Stay Home

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.

18 Comments

  • OneLife

    Hey Kat what a lovely post. I firmly advocate your theory and at the same time refrain from being judgmental myself. I appreciate the fact that you are trying your best to let them grow and evolve the way nature has programmed it.
    “They’re exploring their world instead of a virtual one that doesn’t actually exist.” This one line holds the zest of the matter and the message is loud and clear.

  • bitsanddragons

    I still remember that day I went to pick my old one from the day care and a kid close to him told him: “I want to come back also. I want to play at home with my best friend, my tablet!” (freely translated from German). We do the same, more or less: tablets are tools, not toys.

    • kat

      Exactly! They great in that there’s a lot they can expose kids to beyond their current small world, but nothing is better than making living friends and going off for real life adventures.

  • jordanquirkcole

    I love this mentality. Since I’m still in pre-motherhood, I always have my ideas of “what I will do when I have kids” (naive thoughts, I know) but this is one that really speaks to me! I have my 7-year-old sister pretty regularly and I set time limits for when we play on electronics (because we are a gamer family) and then once we are done, we are done. She doesn’t have these rules with my mom and boy, her behaviors between home and at my house are night and day different. Love your transparency about how to make this a reality for myself in the future 😉

    • kat

      Pre-kids, I was the hopeful mom that proclaimed no phones and tablets unless necessitated by their education. Insert me laughing my head off. Parenthood has a strange way of introducing compromises. It’s not easy walking the line between enough and too much tech usage given the day and age, but I long for the simpler days when I didn’t even have cable and strive to give that to my kids within the age of technology. There are no real rules or answers; just what we are comfortable with as parents of tiny humans. I think it’s wonderful that you get to experience something akin to motherhood with your sister! You get to experience and know how certain rules and expectations can play out and I don’t doubt that it’ll help you be a fantastic mother.

      • jordanquirkcole

        I definitely think so too! My favorite is hearing her say “Sissy how come you aren’t my mom?” 🖤 But it’s been very eye opening to experience what raising children with technology will be like, even just a little. Glad I’m getting the practice in now though, and that people like you don’t mind talking about what actually works instead of just making jokes about “tablet time” and not giving some details so the rest of us can have some ideas on how to balance it all!

      • kat

        Aww, that’s so heartwarming! I really think you’re going to be a fantastic mother one day. They say practice makes perfect, and what could be better practice than actually helping to raise a child? It looks like the norm is to crack jokes about motherhood, but that makes motherhood feel bleak, and I don’t blame those who say they’re not having kids one bit.

  • mothertherealist

    I am on the same, boring, literal page with you…. though I also judge parents. I even have a friend who has anxiety and feels she NEEDS to have the screens on as soon as her toddler is in the car. *sigh* I just know it’s easier to have the standard in place from the get-go and that kids CAN learn to cope.

    …When I say I ‘judge,’ it’s not so much that I think they suck at parenting; it’s that I despair how children are being raised. I know that those people will have addictive issues and challenges later from this upbringing.

    • kat

      It’s like the whole anti-vaccination plague, I mean movement. People jump on the device ship without really thinking about it because everyone they know is doing the same thing (where’s a cliff when you need one?). The psychological and psychiatric communities have been talking about gaming addiction for years and, frankly, the effects of any kind of addiction are scary enough. How do you get rid of an addiction to technology when they are literally everywhere and may one day rule our lives with smart homes and cars being invented? I understand why parents do it, but kids have been coping with life sans devices for ages (and I like to think we turned out pretty well) and I’m afraid having them everywhere is going to create a future we might not want to live in.

      • mothertherealist

        Preach, sister! 🙂

        Seriously! I don’t know what to do about it. I feel I can try to raise mine right (as their father keeps whipping his phone out right and left…), but they’re liable to stare at it all the time once they’re on their own.

        And the gaming companies keep utilizing all the psychology tactics they’ve paid for to stimulate the pleasure center of the brain to want more but be just-slightly-uncomfortable enough to keep playing; to, they hope, purchase things.

      • kat

        It’s a very bleak thought, and the outcome feels inevitable. I don’t even want to think of how to manage it when they’re older. I like to think I’m setting a solid foundation right now for them to not rely on devices, but I’m probably deluding myself, especially since my husband got our 4 year old into video games. Is it too much to ask for a worldwide catastrophe to render all electronics unusable?

  • jennifermzeiger

    There’s a connection between boredom and creativity. Even in myself, I find I’m bored and want to reach for my phone, but if I wait and let my brain wander, that’s when the really good story ideas start to form. Maybe you’re raising the next great author, or painter, or dancer 😉

    • kat

      I can only hope! Anything to keep them from reaching for a device. My son hates it when I let him be bored and tell him to find something to amuse him on his own, but I know he’s capable of great things as long as he’s not staring at a screen.

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