Do Your Children Play on Smartphones in Restaurants?
By Martin Aungle - 25th October 2012
Late last year, I was sitting in a pizzeria in Balmain having dinner with my then 14-year-old. The restaurant was full with most of the tables taken up with families, not a great surprise on an early Saturday night.
However, as I looked around the room, I noticed a pretty astounding thing. Apart from our table, every single child in the restaurant – and I mean every single child – was playing on some smartphone, tablet or games device. And these were children of all ages, from kids in prams and high chairs to older teenagers.
Ever since then, I’ve noticed how often toddlers are given their parent’s (or possibly their own) smartphone or tablet to keep them occupied.
I’ve also noticed how acceptable it’s become for teenagers to switch off from the conversation at the dinner table and focus on whatever is happening on-screen.
At one end, I worry about what sort of influence this screen time is having on the brains and behaviour of toddlers; and at the other end, I wonder what sort of message are we sending to our older kids? That it is perfectly acceptable in a social situation for them to ignore the people around them in preference to the latest message on their Facebook wall?
At first I thought I was the only one who was concerned about the influence this screen time was having on kids, but I’ve been heartened to read some articles lately that recognise the potential problem we are creating.
I’m always a bit sceptical about the diagnosis of a new mental illness. The Sun Herald recently headlined this 'Screen-addicted children may have newest mental illness' writing “The formal inclusion of the new addiction has been welcomed by Australian psychology professionals in response to a wave of ‘always-on’ technology engulfing kids.” Read into that what you will but there is growing recognition of the problems being created.
However, I can really relate to what Fiona Smith had to say in the BRW this week: “While social skills, eye contact and body language are skills that require practice, ‘it may be that in the workplace, people are finding it much harder to communicate face to face’.”
More than just having an impact in the workplace, our kids are potentially losing the ability to interact socially – especially when it comes to inter-generational interaction, which is so critical to a fully-functioning, healthy community.
So why are kids turning to screens? I think it often comes down to boredom, and a lot of parents who find it hard to say no.
Most kids get bored. On long car trips or rainy afternoons in the holidays, we hear the same complaint from our kids that most parents get – “I’m bored, I’ve got nothing to do.”
I remember hearing a radio interview with Ben Elton many years ago – before MP3 players, smartphones and social media. He was talking about bringing up his own kids and how important he thought boredom was for developing creativity and thinking. I managed to track down an article from The Age last year where he was quoted speaking about much the same thing in the context of social media.
"Will anyone ever be bored enough to learn to play guitar when they can pick up their phone and watch every single television clip on Earth? It takes boredom to write a book, it takes boredom to learn to play an instrument, and nobody is ever going to be bored in the old sense. They'll be numbed, but not bored, and I think it's a dreadful, cataclysmic catastrophe of the imagination. If you never stare out of a train window how the hell are you going to write a novel?" asks Elton.
In our house, when our kids tell us that they are bored and have nothing to do – occasionally we let them watch TV or a movie, or use the computer – but most of the time we tell them that boredom is a good thing, and if they really put their minds to it, they’ll think of something to do.
And, funnily enough, they always do.