By Charlotte Hilton Andersen, REDBOOK
"Tell the waitress what side you want," I prompted.
"Superman!" my son chirped happily. I sighed.
"You can have orange slices, carrots and dip or..."
"But they have 'Superman,' Mom! I want to watch 'Superman' too!"
I followed his finger pointing to the next table at the little Greek place my husband and I had picked for our weekly family dinner out. Sure enough, the kids at that table were glued to an episode of "The Justice League" playing on an iPad the parents had propped up against the condiment basket.
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"You guys giving out iPads in your kids' meals?" I asked the waitress wryly. She just laughed and walked away. During the meal, I couldn't stop looking over at the other table and neither could my kids. They were just as glued to the show as the intended recipients were.
"What do we do?" I asked my husband.
He shrugged, "At least they're quiet." True.
Every parent knows that the first rule of dining out with children is Don't Make a Scene. Quiet is everything. It's the reason I carry four tubs of Play-Doh in my purse at all times. It's the reason restaurants have crayons (well that and they make a good toddler appetizer, argh). It's the reason, frankly, that a lot of parents don't enjoy dining out with their kids. We're so busy trying to keep the little savages from acting out their true natures that we often end up with cold food in a takeout box.
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And yet every week my husband and I insist on taking our four young children out to dinner at some place child-friendly but that doesn't have a drive-thru. Sure it's nice to not have to cook one meal out of 21, but the real reason is that we're trying to socialize our kids. We talk about dinner table etiquette at home and then practice it in public. They learn how to speak clearly to other adults. (They also learn that if they throw a screaming tantrum over getting a red gummy worm in their dirt cup instead of green that mommy will haul their butt outside faster than they can say "chicken strip," even if it's -10 degrees.)
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But one of the primary lessons we are trying to teach our kids is how to handle boredom. Not to get all back-in-my-day up in here, but my siblings and I used to spin quarters and practice napkin origami (and eat sugar packets, hush) while we waited for our spaghetti. I'd like my kids to get used to the fact that in the real world there will not always be something specifically intended to entertain them. Except now there is.
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If it isn't an iPad propped on a table, it's a DVD player in the car or an iPod in the doctor's waiting area or a game played on mom's cellphone in the pick-up line at the pharmacy. Nobody wants to hear their kid whine or be that person on the plane on the plane. But the only way to teach our kids how to live in this world is to let them try it, even if that means they're disruptive sometimes. Frankly I would have rather heard the neighboring table's kids argue than the unrelenting narration of the cartoon.
Related: What do you think: Is it rude to have an iPad playing a movie in a restaurant? Or do you think anything that helps keep the kids quiet is kosher? How do you teach your kids to manage boredom?
Is it rude to have an iPad playing a movie in a restaurant?
- No, whatever keeps the kids quiet is fine with me.
- Yes, kids should learn how to behave without constantly being entertained.
Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the new book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything
photo credit: Vito Palmisano
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