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  • Michael Philp

Leave the ipads at home when going out for a family dinner

It's a common sight. A family at dinner, parents talking, kids quiet, engrossed in a game or video on their ipad. As a parent I can certainly sympathise - the opportunity to have a conversation with your partner or friends, uninterrupted is a priceless commodity. But there is a downside and that is we lose the opportunity to communicate to our children and also for our children to learn how to communicate with others. 

Humans are social beings and we learn from imitation and practice. That's why a baby will imitate (or attempt to, which is cute) facial expressions of adults. So when we go out for a family meal and give the kids ipads, what we gain in quietness we miss out on learning. There is value in our children learning how conversations play out - the ebb and flow, the pausing and letting others take a turn to contribute, the reflection of what has been said, the empathy we develop for others. We miss out on letting our children practice this vital skill (and of course, as a population we blame our younger members for lacking social skills). We miss out on connecting with our children when they are desperate to connect to us, only to lament our teenagers who are desperate to get away from us. 

I see parenting as helping our children learn how to be effective adults - not only to have a good job, but in developing social connections with their peers, learning how to manage difficult emotions in effective ways. These come out in watching, observing and replicating what our parents and significant others do, with encouragement and shaping from parents. 

So, are you going to be able to have a conversation with your partner uninterrupted? Probably not. But you will have multiple chances to help your child learn when to talk, when to listen, and what is appropriate to contribute. And when you really want to chat with your friend or partner, then it's time for a babysitter. 

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