When your children are young, a simple outing to dinner at a nice restaurant can seem very stressful. Teaching good table manners for kids isn’t always easy and it takes time. How do you know your children will behave themselves when they’re out in public? What if they start yelling and disrupting other customers? Or even worse, what if they can’t sit still and want to start running around the restaurant?
I’ve spoken with parents who just avoided going out at all when their children were at this point as it all just seemed too hard. I’ve seen other parents who have gone out regardless and whose children have created a nuisance of themselves in a restaurant. But what I see the majority of parents do in this situation to keep their children quiet and still is simply hand their children a electronic device, and it seems to work like magic. Crisis averted – phew!
But is this really a good idea? Let’s think it through below.
Why Use An Electronic Device In Restaurants?
It’s easy to see why so many parents resort to a phone or i-pad to keep their children quiet in a restaurant – it works! Dinner time out becomes a joy. Not only will the child most likely sit quietly and be still for as long as they’re playing their game, but they’ll be enjoying themselves too. And happy children mean happy adults that can actually enjoy quality conversation time that may otherwise not happen very often. It seems too good to be true.
So What’s The Problem?
In the short term, i.e. on the evening you’re having dinner at the restaurant, there is no problem. Everyone can enjoy themselves and it’s a win/win/win for your family, the other customers and the restaurant owners.
But what about the long term effects? What are you teaching your young child when you give them a device in a restaurant to keep them quiet?
From this young age, when we hand our children an electronic device we think we’re teaching them great table manners. We’re encouraging them to sit quietly and not to disturb anyone at the restaurant. The message is that a quiet child keeping to herself is a well-behaved child.
The Message Is Received Loud And Clear
Your children understand that in order to please you and display great table manners when they’re out at dinner time, they should play on an electronic device. They shouldn’t talk. They don’t need to join in the conversation. They don’t need to use any face-to-face social skills. And they’re great learners, this is an easy lesson they can understand and that they’re happy to follow.
What Changes When They Get Older?
Of course at some point most of us decide it’s rude for children or teens to stare at their phone at dinner time. Good table manners for kids now mean we expect them to be sociable at dinner time, now that they’re old enough to understand the need to respect other customers and the restaurant owners.
But at what point does that change? Is it good manners for children to play on their phones during dinner out one day, but rude to do exactly the same thing the next? How are our children supposed to know this? Talk about sending them mixed messages!
We’ve taught our children for years that playing on their phone during dinner time is the way we want them to behave, so why should that change all of a sudden?
Habits Are Hard To Change
You may have heard that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. We can all do it if we want to. But there’s no doubt that it’s much harder to break out of a habit than it is to form healthy habits from the start.
A habit is simply something we do without thinking. Lots of teens have grown up being taught it’s good to play on a screen at dinner time, so when they’re out at dinner they’ll do this without thinking twice. They’re not mis-behaving, or at least they don’t think they are. To the contrary, they’re not bothering other people so they think they’re behaving well. How can you blame them for behaving in this way?
Other Ways To Teach Good Table Manners For Kids
If it’s not ideal to keep our young children quiet with an electronic device at dinner time, what’s the alternative? If you think back to the “olden days”, parents took the time to consider this question carefully before heading out for dinner. They brought toys for their children to play with, or colouring in for them to do.
You may wonder what the difference is – while your kids are engaging in these activities they’re still not contributing to the conversation at dinner or being overly social. They’re still effectively keeping to themselves.
Here’s the difference. They’re still appearing well-behaved to others, and they’re doing something potentially creative. Sure, they could be doing something creative online too. But the key difference is that they’re not going to bring little toys to play with or colouring in to dinner when they get older!
The Answer To Teaching Great Table Manners For Kids At Restaurants
Every child is different of course, and as their parent you know your child far better than anyone else. Different children have different interests and different personalities. Some may be naturally able to socialise appropriately when out at dinner time from a young age – if you’re lucky enough to have a child like that, good for you!
The key lies in thinking ahead and being prepared to provide some sort of entertainment for your children if they need it that doesn’t involve a screen. Whilst grabbing your phone or tablet is the easy option, you may be shooting yourself in the foot in terms of teaching your children the face-to-face social skills they’ll need to develop when they become teenagers and then adults.