Devices at the dinner table: a parenting debate

Screen time. One of parenting’s hottest topics, and sometimes it’s ok to let the screen babysit the kids for a few minutes…


The other night I was out at a restaurant with some teacher friends, and one of my friends turned to a couple of us and said the following:

“I want to know your opinion about something. I just walked past a table where a family was sitting, and both kids were on devices – one kid on an iPad, the other on a cell phone. How do you feel about that?”

This particular friend has two girls ages 7 and 4, and utilizes technology very well in his classroom, so I knew this wasn’t at all a judgmental question, rather an honest question for discussion.

My other friend and I both paused a moment, looked at each other, and responded to the effect of “I think it depends on the situation.”

Before we had kids, my husband and I spent quite a bit of time in restaurants, and whenever we saw kids of any age sitting at a table on a device, we would turn to each other and say something super douchey about how we would NEVER have our kids just sitting with technology when we were out as a family because they would just be able to deal with being present and talking to us.

Oh, how stupid we were.

Oh, how time (and two children) has broadened our perspective.

screen time

The great debate…

I go back and forth in the whole debate about screens and screen time… How much is too much screen time? I want to make sure that as they grow, my kids are able to interact with other humans appropriately and have an attention span longer than that of a gnat.

The flip side of this coin, however, is that this is the year 2017 and screens simply aren’t going anywhere. My kids are never going to know a world without emojis or Twitter or wifi.

As a teacher, I see how much easier life is in a lot of ways for kids who are technologically literate. I also see how kids who aren’t well-versed in technology can get behind their peers both academically and socially.

Even as young as Kindergarten, students who are able to navigate a computer and manipulate a mouse have a markedly easier time with sequence-based activities. From my observations, these students often have an easier time tracking how steps in a process all connect to get to and end result, and this can translate to many academic areas such as math, science, and even writing.


It’s all about context…

I think the true reason for my hesitation when my friend asked my opinion on the kids with devices at the table during dinner was that I needed more context for the situation. The facts I knew were that it was a Friday evening and the restaurant was getting pretty busy. Add to that knowing what my own pretty well-behaved kids are like at the end of the week (bonkers), and that I rarely get to have a full conversation with my husband with the kiddos around, and I completely understand the devices at the table.


Parental discretion advised…

What this whole debate really comes down to is individual parenting styles and actually living in real life. It would be amazing to say that my kids get exactly 30 minutes of screen time each day, and that all of that time is educational and enriching their lives, but that is simply not the reality that I live in.

When I get home from work, I’ve spent the entire day with other people’s kids, and I’m pretty fried. Even though I spend a good chunk of my day relating my lessons somehow to something funny my 4-year-old said, showing a cute picture of my baby girl to my coworkers, and thinking about how I can’t wait to get home to them, the reality is that I am exhausted by the end of the day.

Every time, my working mom guilt kicks in and I want to make sure that I am giving my children the attention they crave and deserve from their mommy. For a while, I found myself trying to muscle through the afternoon and evening, but the attention I was giving my kids was half-ass at best. I felt scattered after rushing home from work and not taking a moment to defrag, recharge, and catch my second wind. I noticed how cranky I would get with my kids in the evening, watching the clock until bed time, only to miss them the second they were asleep I hadn’t been truly present while they were awake. (Cue mom guilt part duex…)

Now, when I get home and I’m totally spent after work, these are the moments when I get out my son’s iPad, set a timer, and let him watch YouTube Kids for 10 minutes. This gives me some time to settle in, have a little snack, and connect with my baby girl without the wild man trying to wrestle us.

(Added bonus – it gives the wild man some forced downtime. This kid gets home from preschool wound up tight and WON’T just chill out. These 10 minutes allow his body to slow down a bit and have a little quiet time. More on my love for YouTube Kids in this post…)


My wider perspective…

I think my simple answer to the question “how do you feel about that?” is that I feel fine about it. Sometimes you just need a few minutes where the kids are occupied.

No, I don’t think that it is our job as parents to make sure our children are entertained 24/7. (In fact, I think spoon-feeding them constant entertainment does kids a disservice, but that’s a discussion for another place and time…)

What I do think is that, like I said, it is the year 2017, and like it our not, our kids are going to encounter way more technology in their daily lives than we ever imagined. I feel good about my kids being accustomed to navigating screens because these tablets, phones, and computers are going to be the tools at their disposal.

While I do agree with those who argue that kids are going to have enough exposure to screens in their lives that they don’t need more at home, my ultimate parenting goal is to teach my children how to use technology responsibly and appropriately.

Phones, tablets, and computers are everywhere. The earlier kids can learn how to engage with technology without completely disengaging from the world around them, the better.


What’s your perspective?

What are your thoughts on devices at the dinner table, screen time, etc.? Please share in the comments below!

(As always, please only leave diplomatic and kind comments. Disagreeing opinions are welcome. Nasty words will be deleted.)

Marie, creator of A Working Balance, is a mom of two and full-time teacher. While her first passion, her career in teaching, started long before children came into the picture, Marie’s dream was always to become a mom. A Working Balance is a place where she shares tips and lessons learned from her adventures as a working mom, as well as stories and the occasional epiphany gathered along the way. Through A Working Balance, Marie aims to help working moms find solutions to problems, to be inspired in both small and large ways, and to feel a little less alone in this thing we call Motherhood.

Follow Marie on Instagram @aworkingbalance,, and

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