We’ve done about five long road trips in the past two years that were seven hours plus, but our next big trip will top that to about 21 hours of driving. One of the most common pieces of advice we receive any time we share news of a long drive is to download apps and movies on the iPad. We don’t even own one.
And while I totally relate to the intent behind this advice, as I am certainly not above some Moana on my phone to boost our way through a tough stretch, it’s just not something I like to rely on.
I want my children to travel and dine out with their eyes up and their hands free. And if they meltdown, as any child would do when overwhelmed by change, I want to treat their meltdown consistently as I would at home – with patience, space and understanding.
My intent behind going screen-free-ish in public is not from a place of saying this is a better parenting decision as I have no right to speak for what works best for other families. It’s also not from a place of hating technology, as that would be hypocritical. I also use and love screens myself, in doses.
But I think it is valuable, in the age of the “perfect parent,” to remember that our children have a right to just be children in public. A lot of the reliance that I have witnessed with screens comes from a pressure to keep our kids quiet and still. It has become a perceived courtesy. Most parents today seem afraid of the judgments they will get if their toddler tantrums in public vs. the judgment they might get from having their toddler play on an app – because at least then they are quiet.
The irony behind this pressure is the fact that we are NOT teaching courtesy to our children at the cost of lending momentary courtesy to the adults around us. Instead, we are creating a battle with our children where learning to be quiet and still comes by way of disengaging. Learning the social skills of waiting, speaking quietly and using manners comes with opportunity to practice and engage. That might be messier and louder, and it might annoy a few intolerant onlookers, but our children deserve a place in public. Period.
There should not be guilt associated with any parent who wants a break and uses technology to do that, but more importantly, there should not be guilt associated with our children being children. They will spill, yell, whine, beg, cry, get tired, get antsy, ask embarrassing questions, point their fingers – because they are kids and they are learning.
My biggest issue with screen time and littles is not against screens themselves. My issue is when it becomes a tool that we think we need to use in order to stop behavior that is otherwise normal behavior.
I refuse to give my kids an iPad in the car or at the table not because I think we are being perfect parents but because I want my kids to have opportunities to be exactly the opposite – imperfect.