Tuesday, February 1, 2011

This is a judgmental post: Toddlers and TVs

I was perusing a parenting message board today, and some parents of toddlers were commiserating about how difficult it is to eat at a restaurant now that they have a mobile and inquisitive child. I'm thankful that Jack isn't quite to the point where dinner out is an all-out screamfest, but clearly the behavior that the parents were describing wasn't out of the ordinary: trying to stand in the high chair, yelling inappropriately and throwing food were all common experiences. Toddlers like to explore and expand their boundaries through vocalization and physical play. Requiring them to sit quietly for a meal really is asking a lot, and I'd never judge the parents who say that they prefer to stay home because eating at a restaurant is far more work than it is an enjoyable experience.

One mom chimed in with a response that met with some favor on the message board, but which made me raise an eyebrow: she said that they kept their toddler amused by bringing along a portable DVD player to the restaurant. Her daughter would sit for at least thirty minutes if she had a movie to watch.

I was astounded. Television has little place in a young child's life, but it has no place at a restaurant. Yet that mom wasn't alone in her thought - this article suggests that a portable DVD player can make a restaurant outing with a toddler "very enjoyable."

Maybe I'll eat my words on this. Maybe the moms of older toddlers are reading this post and shaking their heads at my naivety. Maybe six months from now I'll be heading to Target, heart filled with shame, to buy our own portable DVD player. Or, maybe it really is ridiculous to plug your kid into some electronic entertainment at every opportunity.

I totally realize that I write this from an ivory tower. My toddler likes to explore, but he is a new toddler: he isn't at the age where he needs to assert his independence much, and I know that may change someday soon. But even when he is two, or three, I won't expect him to sit quietly at the dinner table while my husband and I carry on among ourselves. Jack is a member of our family and dinner time is a time that we are together as a family. When we are out for dinner, we play games with Jack at the dinner table. We make maracas out of salt shakers, we play peek a boo with menus. We talk about the colors and shapes and patterns of the restaurant decor. We play with the toys that we've brought. We share our food with him (TGIFriday's Dragonfire Chicken is Jack's favorite restaurant meal). And we never, ever pick a quiet restaurant for dinner: the more boisterous and busy the place, the more acceptable an occasional squeal of excitement will be. Dan and I get our adult conversations in too, but we always, always include Jack. We keep him engaged. We enjoy him.

This has been a Judgmental Post from Monkey Butt Junction.

For some smart, non-electronic ways to keep your toddler busy during dinner, check out this list of suggestions.

Study: Increased television watching in toddlers is linked to struggles in school



Melissa said...

My son was diagnosed with Autism at 15 months and we had a terrible time eating out with him as a toddler. He would scream so hard that he could make himself throw up & we would have to leave. It was not fun at all! We tried everything and then we started doing these ideas: When we ordered food I asked them to bring whatever was done 1st (i.e. french fries, mashed potatoes, applesauce, etc.). We didn't make him sit as long as he stayed at the table (no food was presented). If he wandered then we walked him around. Because our outings were few & far between I would buy a toy (under $5) and give it to him if we needed a few minutes to finish our meal.

Jenn said...

Those are great ideas. Good for you for coming up with creative solutions!

Ash said...

oh god - ash watches tv all day with the maid. i cant do much about it as we both are working parents :((

sulfababy said...

I haven't read the studies yet so I'm sorry if these points were already mentioned there. Several friends of mine have been teaching public school for decades, and they all say they've noticed a change in children over recent years. Shorter attention spans. They need constant stimulation. And the visual mode of learning is much more prominent. Another friend who is a neuro-scientist says that modern entertainment has actually changed our brains. Interesting stuff.

Jenn said...

Sulfa, I had wondered whether television has that kind of effect on kids and adults alike. Now, with television, if we are bored we just click the remote to another channel and ahh, instant boredom relief. No creativity, almost no physical effort, nothing. A generation ago that wasn't the case at all. I would be shocked if that didn't have some effect on us, in how we think, in our physiques, etc.