Dining with Kids…and Screens

During a dinner date with my wife last week, we observed a startling interaction involving children, their parents, and screens.

The restaurant was particularly busy, and a family of four had just been seated nearby. Mom, dad and daughter (a young teen) were immediately glued to their phones, while the youngest — a boy of about 8 who was probably too young for his own device, started squirming.

I was fully expecting the worst — a condemning technology fueled decrease in parent-child interactions. But then the mom handed her fidgety son her iPhone 6+ with a photo booth style app running on it (most likely Snapchat or Messenger Kids).

After he took a few selfies, he reversed the camera and took a photo of his big sister, who was sitting directly across from him texting her friends. After a few seconds of editing he passed her his mom’s phone with a photo of her head… shrunk to the size of a prune. The resulting laughter was infectious, and mom and dad soon also enjoyed head reduction treatments; and the girl stopped texting long enough to shrink her brother’s head.

After a few more minutes of photo fun (still no food) the dad did something unexpected with his phone… he started a trivia game. The phone generated a wide range of questions dealing with animals, sports and history, and it provided the answers in case of a debate. There was rich conversation, and plenty more laughter. This was a joyous family that liked one another, that knew how to use phones to enrich interactions.

This family was a reminder that screens and dinner don’t always have to be at odds with one another. Rather than separately retreating to individual screens, this family used screen power to enrich interactions between family members. This can happen when apps are selected carefully, and when the parents encourage and value social experiences.

Do you know of other ideas and/or apps that can promote social interactions?  Let me know so I can share them. Email me at buckleiw@tcnj.edu.

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  • Angela / 4 August 2018 4:14

    This is such an important observation, because technology is NOT going away. Maybe your center could develop some apps that promote engagement? Starting with engagement at restaurants maybe.

  • Kristin / 5 August 2018 1:06

    That’s a powerful picture and one that challenges me. I was dismayed to see the opposite scenario recently with Mom, 9yo son and 11yo daughter all silently on their screens while at dinner, and I couldn’t see if Dad also had his phone out. The son was so sedentary with eyes down I thought he really might be sleeping, and it all gave me a dark feeling about childhood and family being ruined by screens. So I need stories like yours, and I need to find those interactive apps to have at the ready with my two girls, when the sketchbooks at the restaurant table aren’t working. But I will still always take paper and coloring pencils out with us, as a reminder that screens are not our first resort. I will welcome your app recommendations!