iPad for Children When Dining Out?

I just read Naomi Simson’s post, “Electronic Babysitters Turning Brains to Mush”, and found her post particularly interesting on the heels of my post, “Bring Back Phone Calls!” It seems the use of electronics in parenting is the latest point of discussion among many concerned with child rearing.

Ms. Simson observed parents setting up iPads for their children, while dining at a resort, and registered concern that the iPads would interfere with the children’s ability to communicate effectively with their parents in the future.

As a young mom, I would have welcomed the iPad as an effective tool to keep my super-hyper son engaged in something other than disrupting the other restaurant guests. I was a very involved mom, who spent a great deal of quality time with my children. We rarely took our son to restaurants during his hyper years because it wasn’t fair to the otheripad.dining patrons, the employees, or my son! However, on those rare occasions when we had no Child.Eat.Crychoice (traveling, etc.), it was an exhausting experience. My husband and I worked the entire time, taking turns entertaining our son, in an attempt to keep his decibel level, and mess, down. I imagine it would have been much more pleasant for all, had the ipad been available!

An iPad at the table would only have served to enhance the dining experience for all. It would not have substituted for engaging my children in conversation, a positive dining experience, or my parenting. During my son’s young hyper years, engaging in conversation, and having a chaos free dining experience, was simply not an option. My son was GirlColoringneuro-chemically incapable of it. Pre-ipad, it was common to see parents pulling toys, snacks, books, out from their magic bag of tricks, to keep their children happy while dining out. The only way an ipad is different, is that it seems to be more effective!

However, I do agree with Ms. Simson’s point. The problem is not in Ms. Simson’s opinion that parents are relying too much on technology, and may pay the price for it later. This is a fair observation, and may very well be true in some cases. The problem is that the post seems to take a one-sided, all-or-nothing approach, and doesn’t address the possibility that technology may have a valid place at the table for some families, in some situations!

The truth is these two, seemingly opposing opinions, are both right. Some parents do rely too much, and unnecessarily, on technology to entertain their children. Other parents rely on technology, with discernment, using it as an effective parenting tool, and with very valid reasons for doing so. When we witness a family setting up iPads for their children while dining out, we have no way of knowing if they are copping out on parental responsibilities by letting technology entertain their children so they don’t have to, or if it is a thoughtful, preemptive strike, in an attempt to keep their children from negatively reacting to a noisy, unfamiliar, stimulating environment and to avoid inflicting that chaos onto the restaurant’s other guests.

The observation, about which Ms. Simson wrote, took place at a resort. This tells us the family in question was traveling. The children were not in their familiar environment, nor following their regular routine and schedule. There are many children who appear perfectly “normal”, who have invisible, or hidden, disabilities. (ADHD, Asperger’s SyndromeLearning Disabilities and Sensory Integration, to name just a few!) These children’s brains are often highly sensitive to transitions (i.e.: home to hotel, quiet hotel room to noisy dining room), audio and visual stimulation, and a break in daily routines and schedules. These things can cause children to become overwhelmed, and mentally and physically uncomfortable. Such situations often lead to what appears to the casual observer, as undisciplined children acting out, the product of poor parenting. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Parents of children with hidden disabilities are usually very engaged and involved parents, as they are in a constant state of doing everything possible to help their child. If the iPad can provide the opportunity for the family to enjoy a peaceful meal while dining out, for themselves and the rest of the dining environment, it is well deserved!

But what about those parents who supply an iPad for their children while dining out, but whose children do not suffer from invisible disabilities? While some parents do choose to let their children engage in technology, rather than engaging with their children, letting countless good parenting opportunities pass them by, this isn’t the choice of every parent who supplies their child with an iPad while dining out. Sometimes, good parents, with well-behaved, non-disabled children, have an unusually challenging day too, and just need a break and pull the iPad out in an isolated incident! There could be many scenarios that lead to a parent setting up an iPad while dining in public. As observers, we must remember, we have no idea what transpired in the lives of those we’re observing before we were brought together in the same space.

Technology is neither all good, nor all bad. Like most things in life, it has it’s pluses and minuses and needs to be incorporated into our lives with discipline and balance. While I agree that Ms. Simson’s premise is a valid one, it is not the only valid perspective of iPad use for children when dining out. I submit that there are many cases where technology is an effective parenting tool…even when dining out!

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