Exactly one month ago, I made a new rule in my house. That rule was that, at dinner, all electronic devices must be put away while we eat.
My five year-old refused to eat dinner without watching his iPad at the same time. My daughter was always on her iPad watching highly inappropriate YouTube videos as she ate. I was constantly checking my phone. We all were eating, but we weren’t exactly talking except to yell to each other, “Can you turn your iPad down? I can’t hear mine!”
Well, we’ve hit the 30-day mark now, and guess what? Banning devices at dinner changed nothing. Actually, it changed one thing. We eat faster now.
My new rule banning electronic devices had nothing to do with the many, many experts who say that too much screen time can “slow your child’s development,” like this article suggests. It includes an interview with a Dr. Austerman, who says, “The more screen time a child has, the poorer outcomes they have with academic success, so, they don’t do well in school..The more difficulty they have interacting with peers, the more difficulty they will have in developing appropriate social acumen and being able to interact with people socially – it’s directly related to the amount of screen time they had.” Hmmm…really?
The doc also says, “Children with an abundance of screen time may lose the ability to understand the emotions of others. This can lead to a child having fewer friends, poor relationships and lower self-esteem. In addition, research has associated higher levels of early childhood screen time with emotional and family issues.” Um, again, not so convinced after my 30-day trial period with no devices at dinner.
My children interact socially with others. They both have a ton of friends and playdates, and both are truly confident. Trust me, my children spend a lot of time on their devices. I’m not even sure why exactly I decided to make this ‘no devices at dinner’ rule, but I think a part of me honestly thought that my family – my daughter, my son, our nanny and myself – would have amazing dinner conversation. I was also a bit smug, thinking that taking their devices away at dinner time would make us closer. I thought we were going to be THAT family who shares the highs and lows of our days. We’d give advice to each other and tell funny stories of what happened at school and gossip about their friends. And we would laugh…a lot. The joke was on me. Or maybe on all of us. None of that happened. None of it. You know what did happen? We all started eating a little faster so we could get back to our devices.
At first, I thought my kids would throw a hissy fit once I told them about my new rule, but they took it in stride, probably because I don’t really have that many rules in my house anyway. According to the above article, “Signs your child may be engaging in too much screen time include a complete obsession with digital media – to the point where they become angry or sad when it’s taken away or cut back.”
My 5 year-old and my 14 year-old weren’t angry or sad over this new rule of mine. And my daughter and son are both, in my opinion, obsessed with their devices, as if they are addicts. In fact, I’m the parent who encourages screen time. I’m the parent who LOVES that iPads were invented. I’m the parent who won’t leave the house without bringing my five year-old’s iPad, for fear he’ll misbehave, be bored, or constantly annoy me, especially if I’m taking him somewhere he doesn’t want to go, like to watch his sister play hockey or out to a restaurant. To me, electronic devices are the best babysitters in the world…when you can’t actually get a real live babysitter.
I’m not a great role model when it comes to devices. I’m always looking at my phone. I’m always looking at my computer. The truth is, if I ever need to punish my daughter, it won’t be by taking away her devices. If I take away her iPad, she still has a computer. If I take away her computer, she still has an Apple Watch. If I take away her Apple Watch, she still has a damn iPhone! We are a family of devices. The only thing we argue about, really, is who stole each other’s chargers.
Embarrassingly, it was probably more difficult for me, than my children. I literally had to put my phone in a different room, I was so in the habit of looking at it during dinner. Have I learned more about my kids and their days, after banning electronic devices at dinner? To tell you the truth, again, not really. The fact is, I talk to my children all the time, whether it’s when I’m driving them to school and activities, or cuddling with them before bed.
So why are people, in this day and age, obsessed with no devices at dinner? “Sitting down to a family dinner is very positive for social, family and emotional development,” Dr. Austerman says. “So it’s especially important to turn devices off during dinnertime.” I mean, it’s hard to argue with the experts at the well renowned Cleveland Clinic. I mean, who am I to argue with professionals? BUT…
Is it? Is it really THAT important to turn devices off during a meal? Apparently not. At least, not in my house. I think I also felt sort of pressured to be that kind of ‘good’ mom who limited screen time, because every mother out there seems to limit it.
For example, I was over at my friend’s house the other day, and her two year old was begging to watch a show on his iPad. My friend’s response was, “No, you’ve already used 20 minutes of your allotted 30 minutes a day.” She then looked at me and said, “We don’t let him watch for more than half an hour a day,” to which my response was, “Does your two-year old understand the difference between 20 minutes and 30 minutes? He must be a genius to be able to tell time already!” (Well, I said all of that in my head.)
But it also made me feel like a rotten mom, as if I was the only mother who allows as much screen time as her kids want. Maybe it would be different if my kids weren’t also so active and didn’t love to play outdoors and pretty much tell me everything already, no matter how much they are on their devices.
I’m going to keep the ban on devices at dinner going, not because I think my kids may turn into serial killers if they are watching their screens while eating, but because it IS kind of nice to not hear two loud iPads, with each kid turning their volumes up higher and higher so they can hear over one another.
But banning devices at dinner didn’t end up changing my relationships with my kids. It did not make our relationship stronger or better. Like I said, it just gave me a bit of heartburn.
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