Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By KJ Dell'antonia
"Yesterday," R. wrote, "my 6-year-old child and the rest of our family visited another family with a child (also 6) who spent the whole time on an iPod Touch."
That would make me crazy -- and not one reader disagreed with that. "Inexcusable." "I would find it extremely rude of the parent not to take the device away." "That's just bad manners."
"Last summer," wrote StCheryl, "we had a disastrous few days on vacation with another family whose son has an enormous collection of toys for his (Nintendo) DS. ... The electronic games ended up causing a lot of friction between (the kids), and later, between us parents."
The experience of having another family produce electronics at a time you thought could be screen-free may just be universal, no matter where you stand on screen time. The first thing I'd say is the same thing I often say: We don't know where that family was coming from. Has the child been grounded from the gadget for weeks until this moment? Just come off a particularly difficult doctor's appointment? Are the parents under some kind of external stress?
I'm not wholly convinced that any of those things excuse letting a child dominate a visit, a vacation or (my personal peeve) a shared meal at a restaurant with his pocket video games, but if you assume the best and go from there, it might be easier to do what you have every right to do under those circumstances: Ask the parent, kindly, if it would be possible to put the game away.
Depending on the ages of the children, you can come up with all sorts of reasons. "I'd hate for us to spend the whole visit refereeing when they share!" Or "oddly enough, Lily has had a series of nightmares involving Mario Kart." "Oh, gosh, my kids were on their screens all morning-would she mind waiting to use it later?"
If that feels destined for failure and you know the device, you could push for the children to turn to a gadget-centric activity best done together: taking videos of one another, for example. And once it's happened, well, now you know. You can negotiate with the parents ahead of time, bend your own policy, or visit different friends, and know that soon, you'll have to leave this kind of jockeying to the children themselves.
I'm deeply heartened by boo's comment:
The good news is that some (most?) kids learn to regulate this themselves. My middle-schooler reports that there are now self-imposed electronics bans at parties, all due to one sleepover where the host spent a good chunk of time texting other friends who weren't there.
It wouldn't have occurred to me to ask kids to leave their gadgets at the door when they came in, but before her birthday party, my daughter spent an hour decorating a "phone box." She says that's what all her friends do.
If your child is stuck at a family visit watching another child absorbed in a video game, texting, or even playing solitaire with actual paper cards, you can always chalk it up to a learning experience, to be discussed on the way home or referenced later. Sometimes, people are going to be rude.
As for all those children absorbed in their gadgets and their adult counterparts that we're shaking our heads over? It's a good thing we enjoy that so much. Everyone thinks their policy with their children and screens is the right policy. Everyone thinks the moments they spend dashing off a text or perusing Facebook are exactly the right moments, deserved, necessary or polite under the circumstances.
We can't all be right -- which suggests that some of the time, other people are shaking their heads over us, and relishing every minute of it.
Contact KJ Dell'Antonia at: email@example.com