I’m Not Judging But If Your Kids Wear Headphones And Watch Screens At Dinner You’re A Monster
Recently, I was at a restaurant with my family in a holiday town and I noticed a family of four.
The parents were pleasantly chatting. It seemed like this might have been the first break they’d had in a while and they are enjoying each other’s company. They were very cosy, smiling at each other, perhaps the way they used to when they were falling in love. This is everything the holiday was supposed to be for them and it’s beautiful.
Then I saw their children -- a boy and a girl who looked to be around eight and 10, respectively. They seem healthy at first. Well-nourished.
But then I looked closer. Both were transfixed by a glow coming from their laps: screens. And over their ears? Headphones.
They couldn't see or hear anything around them. They were hypnotised by their devices, closed off from the world. Zombies trapped in a box of their parents’ enabling, occasionally reaching for a chip and chewing it at a rate normally associated with people who've just emerged from a general anesthetic.
My children are young, so I'm usually eating at the same time as a lot of other families. And I see this kind of thing all the time. It's frightening and overwhelming and horrifying and deserves our unrelenting condemnation. We are witnessing the dissolution of the Australian family and we're just letting it happen.
But listen I get it! Parenting is hard.
It’s the hardest, best, most important thing you’ll ever do. Most of us are thrown into it and we're just doing the best we can. So I am NOT here to judge.
But parents who put headphones on their kids and give them screens to lull them into a stupor at a restaurant should have those children taken away from them.
Okay, maybe not literally. I know these parents aren't necessarily bad people. They’re probably very good people with plenty of wonderful qualities that delight and enthrall their friends and coworkers.
and this is not a judgement
-- they are bad parents. That’s a fact. Sorry.
And look maybe they’re not bad parents. That's certainly possible. Maybe in private they love their children and are sensitively, intelligently developing them into productive members of society.
But that’s not the message they’re sending.
The message here is: My children are so rowdy and obnoxious that if I don't sedate them audio-visually, they will destroy my meal and everyone else's. This place will become a disaster area. A crime scene. That's how terrible my children are.
Well if your children are that dangerous and unpredictable, maybe they should be kept at home with a relative or babysitter or highly trained police unit.
Now, I should say that I am not talking about all ages of children. I have witnessed first hand what a toddler can do to a civilised eating establishment and I would not wish that on anyone.
And my toddler is no exception. At a moment’s notice, he will unleash hell. He will enact a Godzilla-like vengeance upon humanity. He will get on his dragon and burn it all down because if he can’t love then no one can. You don't want to play around with that kind of power. Not in a crowded restaurant.
So yeah, I’ve given him an iPad (with the volume at zero). You got me.
But I wouldn’t give a child younger than two a screen to hypnotise them, killing their brain cells along with the ability to develop human relationships later in life. And I wouldn't try to sedate a child over six with anything other than a book or a puzzle or, God forbid, a conversation.
And I sure as shampoo draw the line at headphones.
I mean, why stop there? Why not put a virtual reality helmet on a child so that they can really experience being somewhere else, far away from you. Maybe one day we'll even have portable dream chambers that make children feel like they're frolicking in a playground with parents who actually want to pay attention to them.
Why did you even have kids if you didn’t want to talk to them? Yes, I've heard all the excuses: Kids are magical but most of the time they're boring. And dumb. And they stop being cute after five.
Well what’s so great about you? If your kids aren't good looking anymore, whose fault is that? I'm not a geneticist but it's probably yours.
Now, at this point you might be saying, “So, Mr Perfect Parent, if I’m not allowed to put headphones on my children and shove a screen in their faces, what am I supposed to do with them?”
Well, thank you for the compliment, but I am not a perfect parent. I have done things. Horrible things. Hideous things. And yet I am pretty close to perfect. Disturbingly close.
And that’s why I have the confidence to provide practical advice whenever I decide it's necessary.
So here is a list of things you can do with your children when you’re in a restaurant:
- Play card games
- Play board games
- Play "the most dangerous game"
- Go around the table and say what you’re grateful for -- over and over again until it’s time to leave
- Do that game where everyone says one sentence and you build a story that you've purposefully withheld from your partner for years
- Describe in great, sorrowful detail what you fear most in life then insist on silence for the rest of the evening
- Imagine what the conversations at other tables are like; act them out with fun, but socially responsible, accents
- Abuse the waiter
- Demand to “see the chef” every five minutes
- Dance like no one’s watching
But, seriously, do whatever you want. I’m not here to judge.
(Just take off those headphones.)
(Take them off.)
If it works for you and your special parenting style.