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Screen time during meals, yes or no?

3 CommentsMonday, 24 June 2019  |  Admin

The Honest Confessions Of A Heart Mum

I am not ashamed to let screen time at the dinner table! We have just spent our very first holiday as a family of four away at the coast for four days. We laughed, we cried, we all somehow ate a lot of sand and stayed up late chasing our two year old around the entertainment venue. We watched blokes in their late twenties wear very tight and brightly coloured pants singing about goose's that I gleaned were now loose?!

We did have a lovely time and even had two days together before we had to go back to work. One thing I did notice as we tended to eat out a lot was that I am very unashamed to say that I let my children watch a screen at the dinner table. This is where I am sure everyone will have an opinion about this, bad manners, missing out on social interaction, too much screen time especially for a two year old, they won't ever learn, we didn't have that in my day but guess what... I really am not fussed about this!

In fact we've always calmed down our oldest at the table or even when we've been out with our phones, an episode of Bing here, a few of Peppa there or some Power Rangers in the Doctor's waiting room when needed. I would much rather have my children distracted for a little while and quiet rather than tearing up a restaurant, running about in a waiting room or throwing one hell of a tantrum. Sometimes letting kids be kids isn’t always the best or quietest option. Our youngest is about to turn two and as much as he wants to be grown up like his brother he just can't sit still long enough and does still need to go in a high chair. This of course irritates him as he looks around and wonders why he is the only one strapped in.

I can take books, toys, colouring pages etc. and they last about 2 mins before they are launched across the table. Our oldest with some slight encouragement will sit at the table now without too much fuss (depending on his mood) and will colour or talk to me and Greg and doesn't really want to watch anything that often. So, this is why I don't feel guilty, I teach the boys manners, it's something we are very focused on and we have a full family discussions and include everyone in them at the table. We reward them for sitting nicely and eating their meals etc. but as both a parent and as a customer I would much rather my child sit quietly and watch Teletubbies for a little while then the whole restaurant being annoyed because an annoyed tantruming toddler is on one because his dinner hasn't arrived yet and he hates being strapped into the high chair or booster seat.

Very selfishly as well if we are going out to eat I don't want to sit there red faced and feeling the judgement and resentment of other diners, I do want to enjoy my meal. Shock horror. Now, we are out of our meals turning stone cold stage because someone wants to be fed just as they arrived or eating one handed because you have a sleeping baby balanced on you I do not think it is such a huge crime for two parents to sit down and actually eat the meal they ordered even if it means you shove YouTube on for a bit. I used to despise waiting for the bus. Me and the oldest used to have to get the bus after nursery and it was always late normally about 20-30 mins late and after 5 mins we were already nearing meltdown territory of course I let him watch my phone until the bus came!

I used to dread doing that pick up every single week but at least having him calm and content made it more bearable. My kids don't really have much screen time in the great scheme of things. Yes, they watch TV but no more than any other children and they very rarely go on the tablet which sat abandoned for months on end, they don't have video games or consoles either. The only time they watch YouTube etc is on my phone if we go out and they need to be calmed down. We read a book everyday, go outside and do arts and crafts. We go for walks, go to the beach and collect shells and my oldest had a nature box and looks after bees by leaving them a waterer in the garden. To get tablet time our nearly five year old had to do a number of chores to get it for a limited time. I've seen some restaurants have started putting up notices about crying children and they did get my back up. We all know kids can just be on one. I've had some pretty rubbish meals out in my time where I've turned around and walked out with them as I can't bear the anxiety someone will come and say something or judge my parenting ability.

Someone kicks off in a restaurant and you always breathe a sigh of relief when it's not your child am I right? I try to catch the parents' eyes and give them a sympathy smile and as silly as it sounds if my two kick off I feel myself flushing red, getting sweaty and frantically looking around at whose judging me! Where as I know my youngest will sit contently (or at least long enough for one of us to eat a meal) when you shove Teletubbies on a phone at the table. Does this make me a bad parent? Perhaps. But I look around and see others going the same and we are all just trying to make it through eating a relatively hot meal before one or more of the kids tear up the restaurant/ waiting room/ bus stop. I'm not ashamed. It's all a balancing act, they have screen time, they have time outside, they have family time, they have one on one time where we read to them.

I know it won't be forever and it's just what we have to do right now. I'd rather be considered a bad parent for letting my son watch Teletubbies at the table after all of us managing to eat a whole meal and spending time as a family at least if you are in a restaurant with us you can also enjoy your meal! It’s never turned up loud and you can barely hear or see it. We are discreet as mindful of others. Our oldest child is a highly sensitive child and has some triggers in social situations so we are always careful and aware of our surroundings. No one gets left out of conversation and as soon as he's old enough we won't need to worry as much about wrestling a wriggling toddler into a high chair. It's likely we will instead be banishing each sibling at opposite end of the table after they've been wrestling with utensils again.


Vicki Cockerill is a NICU/ CHD Mum of two boys, working mum and freelance blogger.