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Young Children and Technology during a mealRecently I was invited by one of my friends to share a birthday lunch with her and a group of her friends. Being of a similar age, most of the adults there had children who ranged in age, probably from about three to twelve years old or so. The lunch was at a nice pub with great food at reasonable prices, and the place was packed.

I took my five-year-old with me to the lunch, and although he didn’t know many people there he enjoyed himself. He ate all of his food and chatted happily with some people. We couldn’t believe that three hours had passed by the time we finally left.

What’s controversial about that? Nothing at all. It’s what the rest of the kids were doing that is the reason for this post.


What Do Children Do When They Go Out For A Meal?


According to this experience, they sit quietly while staring down at their i-pad/tablet/phone and play games.

Picture this: with the exception of my son and about three others who sat with their parents, the kids were seated at their own table which was at one end of the big table that was booked for our lunch. And no joke, every single child around that table played on their device during the entire time they were there!

You may be thinking something like “Get over it love, that’s the way it is these days!” or “What’s the problem with that? The kids are behaving themselves, let them be!” And you may be right, the kids weren’t causing any problems for their parents, staff or another other customers. And their behaviour, since they were all doing the same thing, appeared “normal”.


What IS Normal? And Is It Right?


My question is, does “normal” behaviour when dining out now involve our young children burying their heads in their devices, not actually engaging with anyone else who’s there? Here’s the funny thing: it didn’t even occur to me to take an electronic device for my five-year-old to play with. And it didn’t occur to him to ask me to. Yet for the other parents there, I’m pretty sure it didn’t occur to them NOT to give their children a device to keep themselves occupied with.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not having a go in any way, shape or form at the other parents there. I’m not in any position to judge anyone, and if I were to share my view it would be that they are all great parents who love their children and want only the very best for them.

The point I’m making is that a culture has developed where young children and technology go hand-in-hand at the expense of social skills. The fact is that the majority of parents are not giving their children the opportunity to socialize in anywhere near as many face-to-face situations as we were given when we were our children’s age. It’s not even a deliberate or conscious decision, it’s just what’s becoming expected and normalized behaviour.


So Young Children Use Technology: What’s The Problem?


Obviously technology is and will continue to be a very large part of our children’s lives. There’s no disputing that and most attempts to avoid it are futile. And in any case, children will need to be tech-savvy in the most part for their future careers if nothing else.

However, no matter how much our children want to bury themselves in a screen of some sort, they will always need well-developed face-to-face social skills if they’re going to lead a truly happy and successful life.

Happiness for most people ultimately comes down to relationships. Relationships of course can be developed online, but engaging in person with another human being is another thing entirely. It’s important that as parents, we offer our children as many opportunities as possible to develop their physical social skills – particularly where they are placed in a situation where they don’t know other people.


Are Your Children’s Social Skills At Risk?

Family meal young children and technology

All children are different. They all have their unique personalities that make them so wonderful and fun to interact with. Some may be more talkative than others who may be shy. Regardless of whether your child is outgoing or the quiet type, building on their face-to-face social skills is vital for their future.

Many of us as adults are not keen to talk to people we don’t know at a party or other type of event. It takes courage to walk up to a stranger and strike up a conversation. Most people are far more comfortable just sticking with the people they know.

However the few that break out of their comfort zone and are willing to talk to new people are the ones who experience amazing opportunities that just don’t appear for others. I have seen this happen time and time again.


What’s The Secret?


The secret, or the trick to having the courage to communicate with more people and consequently to open up these opportunities is to start young. Character traits like self-confidence and self-esteem are well developed by the time a child turns 7 years old. Having these traits helps immensely with almost all aspects of life.

Most young children in a playground have no problem chatting with other kids. Their inhibitions don’t stop them yet and they make new friends very easily. It’s only as they grow a little older that suddenly they may lose that confidence they once had in the playground.

Thoughts like “What if they don’t like me?”, “What if they don’t want to talk to me?” or numerous other thoughts (depending on their experiences up until then) may enter their mind and hold them back from making new friends. Maybe they’ve had an experience where they’ve started talking to someone who hasn’t talked back, and now they’re scared to open up to anyone else? Who knows? The problem is that their fear of what might happen overrides their self-confidence to meet someone new.


How Do You Develop Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence In Your Children?


Young children especially need to be given opportunities to socialize with other people, both children and adults. If a situation doesn’t go well, for instance if another child isn’t nice to them, it’s important that they don’t blame themselves for that – presuming of course they were being nice to the other child!

It’s also important as parents that we don’t say inappropriate things to our children. For example, if your child approaches another child in a play area and the other child doesn’t want to play, it’s not going to help for you to comfort your child by saying something like “Well, he’s not very nice then is he?!” Criticising the other child won’t change that child’s behaviour, and even worse, it teaches your child to do the same.

What might be more effective would be a comment along the lines of “That’s OK, maybe he just isn’t in the mood to play right now. Why don’t you play with someone else?” This way you’re not putting down the other child, and you’re also not giving your child any reason to think that they are the problem.


Young Children And Technology In Social Situations


Going back to the original point of this article, a table full of children at a meal out was obviously a great opportunity for children to socialize in person, both with friends they knew and a few children they didn’t know. I personally found it quite sad to see this opportunity completely missed by so many children at the lunch I attended with my son. Who knows what friendships might have been formed or how existing friendships might have been strengthened if the children hadn’t been given any devices to play with?

Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Was it really that big a deal? I don’t know. It was just an obvious reflection of where our society seems to be heading as far as young children and technology goes, and it compelled me to ask the question, “What would your children do if they weren’t given any electronic devices to play with when dining out?”

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