The other night I went out for dinner at a local restaurant. I was having a quiet meal with my family when another party, with a young child, was seated next to us.
The child was whining about something. Loudly. I couldn’t make out what the child wanted, but the whines got louder and louder until the child exploded in a full-fledged temper tantrum.
This child was at least four, so I assumed the parents would request their meals to go and take him to the car and probably home for a much-needed nap. So I waited. And waited. And waited. The boy kept crying and yelling– until he stopped, quite abruptly.
I was curious to see what magical trick his parents had employed to achieve this miracle, and was disappointed by what I saw: a cell phone.
The boy didn’t make a peep for the rest of the meal. He sat in the corner, ignoring his food, mesmerized by the game lighting up the screen of his mother’s phone. His parents got to eat their meal in peace, I got to eat the remainder of my meal in peace, so it was a win-win situation. I think.
I’m not a parent, but I know being one is challenging. I’m five years older than my younger sibling, and I’ve watched my parents working and learning with him as he’s grown older, so I know that parenting is no easy task. However, as someone who,is still growing up and being parented, I’m going to say that I would not have given the boy the phone.
Giving in to a tantrum, no matter what it’s about, only teaches children to have more tantrums. My parents had to leave a few restaurants when I was a bawling toddler. But after getting whisked straight off to bed a couple times, I realized that screaming wasn’t going to get me what I wanted and I stopped doing it pretty fast. (I have since moved on to other methods.)
As for placating children with phones, I deal with the result of that practice on a daily basis. Little kids who are glued to phone screens often grow into teens who are glued to phone screens.
Teenagers use their phones all the time, so it’s no big deal, right? It is. While yes, we do socialize via texts, snaps, and DMs, it’s equally important that we connect while we’re face-to-face.
Children who’ve been rewarded for bad behaviour by having a phone (tablet, DS etc.) plopped into their hand often don’t lose that sense of entitlement as teens. When they get in trouble and their parents take their phones away as a punishment, a teen version of the toddler-tantrum may ensue. Even though the parent may have paid for the phone and for the data plan, some teens have a sense of ‘phone rights.’
When these ‘rights’ are infringed upon, the teens lash out with escalating acts of defiance until their parents cave.
My point isn’t to tell people how to parent their children. My point is that not only am I a teenager, I am surrounded by them 24/7. My generation is the first to be raised with phones in our hands. Since we live part of our lives online, we need parents to guide us through the etiquette of the world beyond our screens.
Sometimes using that phone to quell a tantrum in a restaurant is the easy way out – but it’s feeding the dragon. Making the tough choice, and getting that order to go, followed by a quick ride home may have the long-term reward of a lifetime of lovely dinners sitting across from a well balanced teenager who can actually engage in a conversation.
Marlowe Evans is a senior student at Thomas Haney and head delegate of the Model UN Delegation who writes about youth issues.