Just one generation ago, the idea of kids watching a show on a laptop while shopping with parents was ludicrous. Today however, this is a common sight. So is seeing kids staring at a screen in a restaurant instead of actually talking with the family. Previous generations did just fine shopping and eating out without the aid of a screen, so why should kids today not be able to do the same? Of course, kids today are just as capable. It’s the parents who are too lax and enable this screen time habit. I’m not saying all screen time is bad. I just don’t believe screen time is necessary when you’re out doing errands. We hear enough Paw Patrol already. Why subject ourselves to more of it while we’re out?
It’s a Parenting Cop Out
Let’s be honest, parents are lax and enable screen time for their own benefits. In some cases, the parents are also addicted to screen time so screen time for the kids allows screen time for themselves. It’s also the easy and quick “parenting” method. Yes, I put “parenting” in parenthesis on purpose because I would argue it’s not really parenting. Allowing screen time is easier than managing the kids. It’s less effort to stick a screen in front of the kid rather than interacting and dealing with potential restlessness and fussiness.
Is this what we want for our kids though? Of course not. Sure, it’s annoying when our son whines while we’re waiting for the food to arrive at the restaurant, but that doesn’t mean we stick a screen in front of him. Instead, we talk with him and engage him in the surroundings.
Simple Things Instead of Screen Time
There are so many simple ways to engage kids in their surroundings rather than give in to screen time. Did you forget that people watching is one of the great joys in life 🙂 We’ll also look around and ask our son what he thinks something is used for or just point out how something is interesting. At a restaurant, we might examine the lights and all the different seating options. We may make predictions about what patrons are ordering or what they might do for work. Sometimes we may even walk a little around the restaurant or outside if our son is getting really restless (this works for our 1 year old son too).
At the grocery store, we let our son help with the shopping like getting the bananas or the milk.
We might observe the mist sprayer for the produce or the workers stocking the shelves. Kids are curious by nature. If you make a point to engage them in their surroundings, they will usually be entertained.
What About Long Car / Road Trips
I often hear parents who monitor screen time carefully say they make a screen time exception for those long car trips. I get the mindset since it’s a greater length of time and the kids are confined to the car seat, but I still disagree. When I was a kid, I took many road trips and I learned to appreciate all the sites right outside the car windows. If I and previous generations sat in cars on long road trips without screens in front of us, there’s no reason why today’s kids can’t be expected to do the same.
The issue I have with making this exception is that it’s a slippery slope. Once kids know they get screens in the car, what began as an exception for long road trips becomes something they want and expect for shorter 1-hour drives. Then it becomes a battle as they begin to want it every time they are in the car.
Kids Need to Be Bored
It can certainly be tough for kids to sit contently through long car trips. But the thing is that they can do it and they don’t have to be content the whole time. While no one enjoys hearing kids whine and cry, it’s okay that they do. In fact, it’s good for kids to learn to be bored. We should not parent with the mindset that kids need to be stimulated or content all the time. As they grow up, they will be bored in classrooms, bored waiting in line, and bored in all sorts of other situations. It’s important to prepare them for this inevitability.
I truly feel proud seeing my son sitting nicely looking out the window or singing to himself on long road trips. I feel proud when we’re just passing the time talking with one another. We’ve done 8+ hour road trips and not once have we introduced a screen. This means a screen is not even something he thinks of as an option. Yes, he gets restless at times, but again, this is okay and even a good thing.
If some entertainment is truly needed in the car, there are lots of toy options that don’t involve screens. Check out some great options here.
Share Your Thoughts and Tips
Got any great ideas or tips you use to keep kids entertained without a screen? Please share them via the comments below.