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The Real Reason My Kids Don’t Get to Use iPads at the Table

Photograph by Getty Images

It’s dinner time on the fourth night of our family trip to Mexico. My husband orders a starter and a main course. I casually clear my throat to get his attention, which is the polite equivalent of giving him the husband-kick under the table. “What?” he asks sheepishly. I remind him that kids at the dinner table are like fish in the refrigerator; eventually they’re going to go bad. Someone from the table next to us leans over, “That’s why we always bring the iPad. The kids sit quietly at the table for hours.”

I’m sure it seems like I just forgot my kids’ iPads that night at dinner. I didn’t. I brought crayons and drawing books, but no iPads. That was on purpose. My kids do watch TV and use iPads, just not at the dinner table.

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Parents dining with kids who aren’t watching iPads almost look like they’re missing something. It’s pretty common to see kids sitting quietly in a restaurant watching a favorite show while their parents enjoy their meal calmly without their kids chattering away. As I look around the restaurant that night in Mexico, I realize my kids are the only kids there who weren't. For a second I wonder if I’m depriving them of something.

Truth be told, I love TV and so do my kids. I think TV is fabulous and I think iPads, which allow you to watch TV anywhere from the toilet to the top of the Eiffel Tower, are amazing. And it’s not like I think no screen time is the smoking gun when it comes to our kids’ intelligence. I grew up watching an hour of TV per week while my husband grew up watching endless hours of TV each day. He did far better in school than I did and went to a much better college than I did. Clearly all that TV watching didn’t hold him back. And yet I still don’t want my kids to use an iPad, phone, computer or game at dinner with me.

Why?

It’s simple.

I want to talk to them.

Some of my most vivid childhood memories involve dinnertime conversation, and I want my kids to have the same memories.

I know it’s sort of corny and makes dining with my kids much harder than it needs to be, but if I’m going to bring my kids to a restaurant with me I want to talk to them. Some of my most vivid childhood memories involve dinnertime conversation, and I want my kids to have the same memories. I don’t want them to check out when I’ve brought them out. I don’t want them to zone out and barely utter a word. I want to hear from them. I want to talk to them.

So while I know that meals with kids in restaurants are much easier if they are occupied and zoned out, I’d miss out if my kids were watching and not talking. Sure there are meltdowns and multiple bathroom trips. There are meals they hate and the times they’re bored. But in between those off-nights are conversations about ninjas and superheroes, with each of us deciding what super power we’d have if we could have one. There are the nights when we try to explain how an election works and why voting matters. There are dinners where we all talk in funny voices and dinners where the kids barely let us talk at all because they have so much to say. There’s always a conversation about what meal we’d eat everyday if we could only eat one meal everyday. And there’s the inevitable, “which is better chocolate or vanilla debate” that never seems to end.

And there’s always a moment when one of my kids says something that blows my mind like when my big one asked over sushi, “If God created the world, who created God?”

And there are always times they break my heart like when my little one had accidentally splattered marinara all over her face. She got upset and started to cry. As I dabbed her face with a wet napkin she looked up at me and said, “I never want to let you go.”

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I may be depriving my kids by not letting them watch an iPad at dinner, but I’d be depriving myself if I did. I don’t ban iPads at the table to make my kids smarter or so they learn to sit patiently at the table. I ban iPads at the table because my kids have a lot to say and I really, really want to hear it.

And if you want to know, vanilla always wins.

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