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August 3, 2013

Worth the Effort

Post Contributed By: Amy L. Svensson M.A., CCC-SLP

Parenting Advice | Healthy Technology Use for Kids

My husband and I, like most parents, struggle with the constant inundation of technology that surrounds us which means around our children too.  Yes, we want our children to be up to speed on the various technologies out there and have exposure like their peers do, but we also firmly believe that there has to be limits like everything else when it comes to parenting.

My husband and I are often amazed and at the same time saddened at the sight when we go out to restaurants.  Everywhere we turn, people are on their phones, children being entertained by tablets, and there is minimal interaction with one another.  Next time you are out for dinner, take a look around and I am certain you will notice it too.

Since before our children were born (our oldest is 9 years old), we vowed to not have any sort of technology while out on date nights with each other, out for dinner as a family, or while enjoying dinner at home.  I must admit, it was much easier with our 9 year old as there weren’t as many gadgets to entice as there are now with our 5 year-old.  However, we have held firm– no exceptions.

Our kids don’t know any different.  The first trick, we decided, was to start taking both children out for dinner right away when they were babies.  Our ‘out for dinner’ bag began with bottles and burp cloths.  One of us would hold the baby while we chatted and took turns eating. As the children grew, our bag contained crayons, stickers, post-its, books, small toys, doodle pads, etc.  These days, both children just automatically grab an item or 2 that they can entertain themselves with as we wait and still engage in conversation.  They simply know that technology is not permitted.  It has taken a lot of work to get to this point, (and a lot of interrupted and unfinished conversations) but it has been so worth it.  We can take our children out for dinner everywhere and anywhere we like.  This has also allowed us to expose them to different varieties of food and ambiences.  We are able to venture out beyond the ‘kid friendly’ restaurants.

My husband and I were reminded of this yesterday. As the four of us enjoy a wonderful family vacation abroad, my husband and I had another proud moment as parents.  It is not very common where we are to bring children to sit-down/nicer restaurants, especially in the evening for dinner.  In fact, each time we walked into a restaurant, we were seated in the back of the restaurants and got a bit of a ‘look’ from the servers.  Last night, our table was a bit small so both kids sat at a separate table next to us.  My husband and I were able to enjoy each other’s company and our children sat at their table with their napkins in their laps (without us asking), and chatted and drew pictures with one another until the food arrived.  There was a couple sitting next to us and when they got up to leave, the woman came to us and said, “Your children are so well behaved and they don’t even have a gadget to keep them busy.   I usually do not like sitting near or next to children when dining out, but they are lovely and it was a pleasure.”  That made us feel so good.   We were also sure to tell the kids of the compliment as well.  They looked at one another and gave each other a thumbs-up.

As a speech-language pathologist, I cringe when I see couples and families not communicating with one another.  As useful, convenient, and fun all this technology offers, it is also leading to negative outcomes on various levels with verbal expressive language and communication deficits high on the list.

I encourage parents to start with setting a positive example of healthy technology use.  This can start by implementing no technology at the dining table, whether eating out or at home.  I assure you that by being ‘unplugged’ more relationships and friendships will flourish and more mindful parenting will ensue. ~A




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