parenting

Gadgets at restaurants quiet kids, but not critics

March 20, 2013 at 10:09 AM ET

Back in the day, parents would toss crayons and coloring books into the diaper bag before heading to a restaurant with the kids. Today, we charge up our smartphones and download a few apps to maintain the peace.

Unfortunately, while other patrons may appreciate the blissful silence coming from our tables, it doesn’t mean they’re not judging us for how we’ve obtained it.

In a recent article in The Telegraph, British journalist and father of two Henry Yates asks whether iPads and such should be banned at the dinner table after visiting a child-friendly pizzeria and finding most of the kids glued to their handheld devices instead of chatting happily with family.

“At the tables all around us, children’s glazed faces are lit by tablet screens,” he writes, going on to say he understands the desire to buy a little peace with a game of Angry Birds and other placating apps. “The temptation to defuse the tantrum timebomb – or at least put more time on the clock – with an iPad can be overwhelming,” he writes.

Shelly Sachwitz hands  an iPhone with a game on the screen to  her one-year-old grandson Lucas.
Eric Ginnard / The Gillette News-Record
Shelly Sachwitz hands an iPhone with a game on the screen to her one-year-old grandson Lucas.

But it’s our job as parents to resist that temptation, he adds.

“I reckon we’ve got to fight against the easy option,” he writes. “As work’s tentacles encroach on our family time (tentacles facilitated, it has to be said, by on-the-move access to emails), our mealtimes are becoming one of the few isolated chances to really connect with our kids. You know, the old-fashioned stuff: talking to them, listening to them, asking about the school cake sale, humouring their daft little stories punctuated by endless ‘ums’ and ‘ers’. Strengthening your family’s foundations for the buffeting to come.”

It’s no surprise many of us disregard conventional dining etiquette and hand over our phones and tablets when dining out. Most kids clamor for those little screens and the games pretty much guarantee our children will be quiet, content and tantrum-free until the food arrives. Also, after years of being bombarded with stories of so-called “brat bans,” many of us are terrified of even the smallest outburst from our kids while at a restaurant.

Recently at Sodahead.com, a user by the name of Trish posed the question: "Are restaurants that ban young children okay?" The majority of respondents felt that banning kids was A-OK. One reader was particularly enthusiastic:

"I did not know there were such restaurants, but I would love to have that list! How many trips out to eat have been horrible experiences thanks to the screaming and otherwise unmannerly conduct of other people's unruly chilren. Ugh! Yes, pet peeve!!!"

As parents, it seems we’re caught in a culinary Catch-22. We are judged if our kids run amok, but also judged if peace and quiet is obtained through the use of a hand-held device. What do you think? Do you let your kids use smartphones and tablets at restaurants or do you think it constitutes bad manners?

Dana Macario is a Seattle-area mom who has been known to hand over her phone at restaurants from time to time.

TOP