conversation · media · OBSERVATIONS · technology

No iPhone at the Dinner Table – Ever.

My daughter watches “Sesame Street” clips and Maccabeats videos to get through difficult situations, like having her nails cut or having to take a terribly tasting medicine. Mealtime, no matter how challenging, has never counted as a “difficult situation”.

I suspect many parents have dined out with a “misbehaving” child.  First the sippy cup gets tossed aside.  Next crayons are thrown on the floor.  Finally, the food parents suspected their child would happily consume gets rejected and crying ensues.  One has to wonder if a meal free from kitchen clean-up is worth the stress of a meal with a toddler in a restaurant.

Peaceful meals are what I want when my husband and I go out to dinner.  During the first months of my daughter’s life, we brought her to restaurants in her infant carrier.  People would remark at how she would interact with other patrons by smiling and waving back at them.  Sometimes we’d even be lucky enough to have her doze off during our meal, giving us time to dote on each other, rather than on her.

Things changed once she began sitting up in a high chair and eating solid foods.  Dinners out became challenges in entertaining her.  I recall a night, when she was quite small, that she got tired of sitting in the high chair.  I lifted her on to my lap.  She was wiggly and started reaching towards the floor.  I looked down and cringed.  The floor was strewn with food.  There was no way I was letting her crawl around.  So instead, I sang to her.  When that grew old I removed some board books from her diaper bag and let her flip through them.  Eventually I excused myself from the table and walked her around the restaurant to give her a change of scenery.  It was that night that I realized that getting through meals out was about being resourceful and having a bag of tricks.

Every time we go out to eat, I bring an arsenal of extra foods in a small bag so as to avoid a scene if she’s unhappy with what I order for her.  I pack a combination of cubed Cheddar, raisins, animal crackers, blueberries, and Plum pouches.  I always pack Cheerios, which can remedy nearly any don’t-want-to-eat-it situation.  Lately I’ve started bringing crayons, paper, photo albums, board books, and small toys when I take my almost two year-old to a restaurant.  Most of the time my efforts work since my daughter is still very social and likes to smile and say “hi” to other people when we eat out.  However, there are occasionally times when my best laid plans don’t work.  Therefore my husband or I spend part of the meal walking her around the restaurant.  Or we leave without having dessert.  Not the end of the world, but dessert is nice, isn’t it?

I have witnessed other adults who are able to have peaceful meals by pacifying their child.   The power lies in their iPhone. The smart phones parents utilize for constant contact serve as a toddler distraction during meals out.  I’ve seen many parents surrender their iPhones to their toddlers at the start of a meal as if they’re checking their luggage at the airport.  Once they’re handed over, the toddler, who often has a folder for his own apps and shows, is content and quiet.  There was one time I saw a family whose three children were so engrossed in their technology that the mother was literally feeding her children since they were too busy to eat.  I’ve come to believe that handing a smart phone over to a kid has become the 21st century way of ensuring one’s child is seen, not heard.

Maybe I’m naïve, but I want to see and hear my daughter when I’m dining out with her.  While she’s not a great conversationalist right now, I want her to become one.  I think the only way this will happen is if she’s engaged with us during a meal.  If I permit her watch a movie or play a game when we’re at a restaurant, then I fear I’m going to be setting a precedent.  I worry she’ll come to expect my iPhone for this purpose every time we go out to dinner.  I want meals to be technology-free times so we can enjoy each other’s company.

I’ve come to believe that allowing children to interact with media, rather than with people, during a meal is only going to impact them negatively as they grow up.  Kids need to learn how to engage in face-to-face communication even when they don’t want to.  Sitting through a meal might feel tedious to a child, but one day s/he may be sitting through business dinners.  What better way to prepare them for long meals with other adults than to have them partake in family dinners where they must focus on conversation (and eating, of course)?

Do you think kids should be allowed to use smart phones during dinner?  Do limit technology use at the dinner table?  Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

media · Waldorf Education

Media and the Young Child

Last month I blogged about the effects of television on young readers.  Since that time I’ve been turning off the television a lot more.  No longer does “Sesame Street” have a place in our dinner preparation routine.  Instead the television is turned off.  Most mornings, I have stretched without “The Today Show” going since Isabelle is always hanging out alongside me.  It’s quieter when the TV is off, but that allows me to attend to her more.  In that time I’ve noticed her receptive language skills have gotten even stronger.  She follows more two-step commands.  Her responses to my questions are often accurate (e.g., “Do you want to go downstairs to eat breakfast?” gets a true “yes.”), which makes life easier.  Could this be because she’s watching even less television than she was three weeks ago.  Maybe.  Maybe not. It’s too early to tell or to surmise about what’s really working.

We’re still talking about media in my daughter’s class.  This week my daughter’s teacher shared a video with us that discusses more of the reasons children should be kept away from television.  While it doesn’t focus on the effects of TV on reading, it is a fascinating video that will definitely make you question how much television your child(ren) should be watching daily.

I’d love to know what you think about this. Please share your thoughts about this video by leaving a comment on this post.

media · RESEARCH · Waldorf Education

Does watching televeision harm children as readers?

This month, in the Parent/Child Program my daughter and I attend twice a week, we are studying the topic of media and its role in our children’s lives.  My daughter’s teacher provided us with an article by Susan R. Johnson, M.D. entitled “Strangers in Our Homes: TV and Our Children’s Minds.”  This article provided me with a better understanding of how the brain works and why exposure to television is harmful to young children.

I have to admit, I do allow my daughter to watch some TV.  She watches about 30  minutes of “The Today Show” alongside me as we get ready in the mornings.  As cute as it is that she waves back at the crowds in NY when she watches “The Today Show,” I’m realizing that we probably don’t need to have the TV on at all.  (Therefore, it’s up to me to wake up well before her so I can get ready with the TV on so that I can get my fill of news for the day.)  In addition, I let her watch an episode of “Sesame Street” a few days of the week.  However, reading the articles my daughter’s teacher has provided us with has made me rethink the amount of TV she watches.  In fact, I’ve even turned off “Sesame Street” this week, which I usually let her watch while I cooked dinner.  I’m scaling back because I am beginning to truly understand why television is harmful to children.  (The AAP’s statement on media consumption before two didn’t resonate with me as much as this article did since it explained why children need that human interaction, which my daughter does get lots of, rather than the screen time.)

There was a portion of Dr. Johnson’s article that made the literacy specialist in me take note.  She wrote:

Our visual system, “the ability to search out, scan, focus, and identify whatever comes in the visual field” (Buzzell 1998), is impaired by watching TV.  These visual skills are also the ones that need to be developed for effective reading.  Children watching TV do not dilate their pupils, show little to no movement of their eyes (i.e., stare at the screen), and lack the normal saccadic movements of the eyes (a jumping from one line of print to the next) that is critical for reading.  The lack of eye movement when watching television is a problem because reading requires the eyes to continually move from left to right across the page.  The weakening of eye muscles from lack of use can’t help but negatively impact the ability and effort required to read.  In addition, our ability to focus and pay attention relies on this visual system.  Pupil dilation, tracking and following are all part of the reticular activating system.  The RAS is the gateway to the right and left hemispheres.  It determines what we pay attention to and is related to the child’s ability to concentrate and focus.  The RAS is not operating well when a child watches television.  A poorly integrated lower brain can’t properly access the higher brain (Johnson, 1999, 5).

If I want my daughter to be a successful reader, then I have to do more than model positive reading behaviors and read her stories.  I have come to realize that I must limit the amount of time she spends in front of the TV.  While I don’t think I’m going to go cold turkey on TV with her, I now know that I am doing her more harm than good by having it on.