In recent years, we have noticed a trend while eating out at restaurants. Families are sitting down to enjoy a meal out and the children are given their tablet or a phone to entertain themselves with. It works perfectly so that the children do not make a disturbance in public and the adults get to enjoy a meal. It is a quick and easy fix. Parenting is a twenty-four-seven job, and being in public adds the scrutiny of society when kids act, well like kids, onto a very heavy plate. No one wants to get the stares and whispers from strangers about their kids, so a tablet in the hands of young ones allows them to be quiet and well behaved. We get it!
However, when a child is given a tablet out in public or in a social situation, they are losing out on learning social cues, practicing conversation skills, and engaging with others. Mealtime offers so many learning opportunities. When their focus is on a YouTube video or an app, they are zoned out of real life. They are not learning how to be bored and then how to entertain themselves. Kids need to learn these tools to thrive as adults, and when they are not taught any of these as children, then they do not have them as young adults or adults.
We are not here to judge parents, however in the past decade, we have noticed the effects of technology on children in our classrooms. More and more children are entering school with less social emotional knowledge, they have trouble connecting with others, they struggle with focusing and paying attention, and they do not know what to do when they are bored.
When going to restaurants we recommend not having technology at the table. Instead try one of the following things with your children.
- Activity books: There are so many activity books available for children. Some have stickers, others have puzzles, and others combine both. These types of activities can be both done independently or with others. Kids will love to share what they are working on too.
- Travel Games: There are a lot of travel games that are the perfect size to take with you to restaurants. Travel games are small, compact, and easy to put away and carry. Kids love playing games and these provide entertainment for the whole family.
- Small bags of Legos: Kids love legos. Pack a few small baggies of Legos to take to the restaurant and let them build different things.
- Mats: Take your own mats to the restaurants. We love these Smart Mats because they are educational and fun. They also have different mats for different ages. There are also place mats for toddlers that are more play based.
- Coloring Books: A simple coloring book is a classic restaurant go to. Coloring is both therapeutic and quiet and comes in many forms.
We do feel that teaching children to sit through a meal without an activity is the ultimate goal. We also understand that restaurants can pose certain challenges and when you need a little something, we find these to be much healthier than a tablet or phone. With these activities, children are still able to interact with the family. When children are glued to a device, it’s a different story.
It might be difficult the first few times, it won’t be perfect, and you could get some stares from others, however at the end of the day you will teach your child how to converse, how to engage with others, and how to behave in a restaurant. With practice your child will learn to enjoy eating at a restaurant without a device.
We are not against technology. We think that life is about balance. Children need to learn about balance with technology, and it is up to us to teach them those skills.