September 27, 2023

Tablets and Tables - Toddlers to Teens

Tablet/Tech thought for today:

One of the things I've noticed with tablets/phones and kids is that the opportunity cost of giving screens to small children can sometimes be low to start, but it seems to increase with age.  For example, I often see kids at restaurants watching screens while their parents/family enjoy a meal.  I can see the decision making process here - eating at a restaurant with a three year old is hard work, you don't really get to enjoy adult conversation, and it's probably a more pleasant adult experience if the child is entertained.

However - it seems that there would never be an end point to this.  I remember going out to dinner as a family when I was older.... teen or preteen age.  From what I remember, we talked and shared stories and enjoyed each others company.  I never had the option of screens at meals, but I can't imagine the toddler on a tablet will grow into a teen contributing to conversation.  

Basically, it seems very hard to undo habits you get into with kids.  Sometimes a screen may seem to have little downside now, but what if giving a toddler a tablet now means you don't get to chat with your preteen later?  At what age will the tablets be taken away from the children at the restaurant?   I can't imagine an 8 year old giving up the screen they've enjoyed for their entire living memory.

I know this sort of decision applies to more than just tech - but I don't know many people who have managed to reduce kids use of tech.  I am acutely aware that any tech we do introduce tends to increase, not decrease.  

I also think there is an unwillingness to tackle tech in a different way than other habits - many people give babies pacifiers.  Then they have to take the pacifiers off the toddlers.  It's hard work.  At the other side you have a child independent of a pacifier.  Almost no one would say "ahh well they are so much happier with their pacifier" or leave it until the child is ten.   The process of removing the pacifier is difficult but societally acceptable.  The process of decreasing kids use of technology is the reverse - it's difficult and societally acceptable not to.  

And I always come back to our own use of technology - as parents and role models.  I walk Isaac to primary school now past rows of cars with parents and kids waiting inside.  The parents are almost always on their phones.  The kids stare out the window or watch their own tablets.  I didn't grow up in an era of smoking, but I imagine that as a kid, if you sat next to your parents smoking every day, you would eventually want to smoke.  I wonder what these kids think while their parents scroll away.  I don't like it.


  1. I was on the BART the other day thinking exactly the same thing! In front of me was a Mom with a toddler in a stroller. The toddler was probably 1.5 or 2 years old and was actually being good but the Mom gave her the phone and the kid had it about two inches from her face. Plus the volume was way up (this is a pet peeve of mine). So the Mom just stared into space and the baby stared into the screen the entire ride.

    Like you said, I get it; we are on public transport and the Mom doesn't want the baby acting out in front of everyone, but isn't that also part of the learning? Shouldn't she teach the kid how to behave in public rather than just pacifying the kid with a screen? I know it is easy for me to judge, but I feel like maybe kids should learn how to have gaps in time that they don't need to fill with useless stuff. (Maybe some adults should learn this too. When I am at the store waiting in line, it amazes me how many people will whip out their phones for the three minutes they have to wait rather than just being and standing and experiencing their surroundings).

  2. I really want to reset my screen behaviour in front of my kids again. I think I'm pretty "good" and I keep it away as much as possible but it is so hard because phone use just inundates everything. For example, my son's Grade 3 class has an app now which is how his teacher communicates. I find it really hard to not need my phone many times a day...but I do hate it.

    That said, my kids do NOT have access to smartphones (we have an old phone without data they use to listen to audiobooks but that's all it works for so it's basically a glorified CD player in my mind) and never use them at restaurants/while we're waiting etc. But I notice more and more of their friends (yup, even my son in Grade 3) have phones WITH DATA PLANS! How can 8 year-olds have phones and be texting with people?!

    Lots to ponder here...

  3. It makes me SO SAD when I see parents checked out on phones with little kids around. SO SAD. I get it-- little kids are A LOT, but they look so ignored. There's an IG influencer mom at swim lessons at the same time I am there, and once her bigger kid is in the pool, she is on the phone THE WHOLE TIME and never once interacts with her toddler in his stroller. Like, she is SILENT. It's bananas. But also, we do give our 3 year-old a phone or a tablet when we are all out at a restaurant and she is tired of waiting for her food so that the whole dining experience is pleasant for those around us. Our teens have phones, and they don't take them out at dinner; nor do we. It doesn't HAVE to be a slippery slope, I guess.

    1. I totally agree about the swim lessons and phones - I've noticed the same thing over here. Out of curiosity when did your teenagers stop using phones/tablets at meals? How did you motivate that change?

  4. You make a really good point. I have thought about this often when I see young kids with tablets. If they're so used to/attached to it now, how will you discourage this behavior later? I think parents really need to be aware what they're encouraging by making it "easy "for themselves (I admit, I am glad I don't have that responsibility).