Posts Tagged ‘ tv ’

Restaurants, Please Turn Off Your TVs. My Family Is Trying to Have a Meal Together!

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Last weekend my husband and I decided to treat our three kids to lunch at a favorite casual spot. We walked in to find a new addition to the décor: a flat-screen TV. We chose the only booth where our kids’ eyeballs wouldn’t be glued to it, which was the table directly beneath the TV. We’re early lunch eaters and we were the only ones there, so I asked our server (nicely) if he could turn down the sound. He did.

Still, I’m bummed. In a time when it’s challenging enough to get everyone in the family to look up from the screens on their devices and phones and share a meal together, and maybe even (whoa!) have a conversation, flat-screen TVs in restaurants have never felt less necessary—nor more ubiquitous. The list of our favorite eateries that now have one or several flat-screens is growing: our favorite pizza place; the tiny ice cream shop that doesn’t have room for a lone table, but does have a flat-screen above the counter; and even a rustic eatery on a lonely road near a peach farm in the middle of nowhere, where my kids were treated between bites of their turkey and apple sandwiches to a freeway police chase.

I know I’m not alone in my dismay that dining out is now served with a side of screen. “We were in some tiny pizza joint in Astoria, Queens, and there was a horror movie on TV,” says my Parents colleague Erika Janes, a mom of two young boys. ”My kids were mesmerized. I had to ask them to change it.”

We hear so much about how it’s important to pick and choose what young children watch, especially when you consider sobering statistics like this one: The typical American child will be exposed to 12,000 acts of violence on television a year.  So, I do my best to select movies and video games carefully. When I tune to our on-demand channel to find my preschooler a free kids’ show, I mute the sound and tell her to avert her eyes, since the movie promo that flashes on screen while I quickly click to the kidfare is typically a violence-fest of fiery crashes and shootings. But when we’re out and about and TVs are on at the doctor’s office, the dentist, the checkout line, and restaurants, I know I’m in a losing battle.

I recently brought my girls to lunch at our closest fast-food joint (yeah, we occasionally eat there! choosing my battles one at a time here). It had just been remodeled in snazzier fashion, and was quite the step up for us—lounge-style seating, even a faux-fireplace—but there was that new addition again: a flat-screen TV. I found one of very few tables without a view of it, but while taking my preschooler to the restroom, I passed a boy who looked about 6. His eyes were fixated on CNN on the screen, which was featuring a segment about ISIS, and the boy asked, “Daddy, who are those men with guns?” My heart sank as the father fumbled for an explanation, even as I wrestled with perspective: We’re much luckier, so much luckier, than the families we are seeing in the news on television.

People complain when they see parents of younger children in restaurants these days, their kids glued to games and animated shows on iPads and their parents’ phones. And theoretically, I agree—these glowing devices can be an intruder on others’ dining experience, and on what might be shared family time. But here’s another thing to think about in our TV-obsessed culture: If my choice is between Dora on an iPad in my child’s lap, and CNN airing a segment about the Taiwan plane crash on the restaurant wall, well: Which should a parent choose?

Maybe we’re just eating in the wrong places. I think of restaurant critic Adam Platt’s hilarious “Flat-Screen TV Axiom,” which states the following:

“The more flat-screen TVs that glow on a restaurant’s wall, the harder the food will suck.”

But Mr. Platt wrote that for New York magazine in 2008, before TVs were everywhere. And we do most of our dining out in suburban America, not hip New York City. Flat-screen TV’s, once mostly a staple of sports bars, now seem to be symbolic with a place having gone more upscale, strangely enough. Flat-screens have become part of the remodeling blueprint for chain restaurants looking to polish their image, along with glossy hardwood floors and leather seating, and also hang in the chicest of cafes. And some restaurants are already experimenting with “smart tables,” spill-resistant touchscreen tabletops that you can swipe while you dine. When that happens at the restaurants near me, I give up.

Someone must be enjoying all this TV watching in restaurants, or we wouldn’t see them everywhere. Maybe my perspective has just been so skewed as a parent that I see the issue differently than if I were a single, childfree 20something popping into any of these places with some time to kill. Who’s to say I wouldn’t enjoy a comfy couch and a nice large TV?

Or, I’d like to think, I’d be talking to whichever friend I’d come along with. It’s the same thing I’m hoping for with my family: to share some conversation over a meal, without the distraction of a television. So, I’m favoring restaurants without flat-screens, though they’re getting fewer and further between.

How do you feel when you see flat-screens in restaurants? Have you ever asked the restaurant to turn a TV down, or off?

Gail O’Connor is a senior editor at Parents and a mother of three.

Manners & Responsibility: Eating Out with Kids at Restaurants
Manners & Responsibility: Eating Out with Kids at Restaurants
Manners & Responsibility: Eating Out with Kids at Restaurants

Photo of a TV screen in a restaurant via Shutterstock

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The National Day of Unplugging: A Screen ‘Sabbath’

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

National Day of Unplugging from devicesEver feel that you’re hopelessly addicted to your mobile phone—and that your kids are quickly learning to be just as tied to their devices? Welcome to the club. Between iPhones, iPads (and electronic-toy replicas thereof), and of course, television, I think it’s safe to say most of us, and most of our kids, are too absorbed with our technology at the expense of experiencing the world around us and interacting—face to face, not virtually—with each other.

One movement is proposing a solution, at least for one day: The National Day of Unplugging, scheduled for sunset Friday through sunset Saturday, aims to have families put down the devices for 24 hours. Modeled explicitly after the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat in Hebrew), the idea is the brainchild of a Jewish cultural group called Reboot.

Our family has a day of unplugging not just once per year, but every week: We are Jewish Sabbath observers, and as such we are offline Friday evening through Saturday evening every week. Aside from just putting away our devices and turning off the television, during the Sabbath we avoid spending money, driving in a vehicle, talking on the phone (even a landline!), and many other activities of everyday life.

And it works for us. Though we hear occasional grumbling from our kids, such complaints are rare. Instead, our kids play with old-fashioned, creativity-inspiring toys. We have family meals together, visit with friends, read together, and go to synagogue. We talk. Crazy, I know.

So is a “technology Sabbath” a good idea for your family? I highly recommend the idea of a day-long, family-wide device-free day (no need to go quite as tech-free as we do), but not without some advice and warnings. And while the idea of a specific, nationwide “Day of Unplugging” is a nice idea, this can be accomplished any day you think it would be successful.

For starters, have a plan for what to do on your day of unplugging. Merely putting down your devices without making this gesture part of a larger idea of connecting as a family is bound to fail in a blizzard of protests. Shabbat works for us not just because we disconnect from modern technology, but because we spend it as a family. For us that means good meals (with extra snacks), time with friends, and synagogue. For you it might be a day at an amusement park or other local fun destination, or a series of smaller activities at or around home.

Secondly, don’t feel a need to spend every minute together. My oldest is increasingly occupied with afternoon play dates, but even then, I know she is interacting with her friends and not just playing video games in parallel with them. And even if she’s out for the afternoon, chances are strong that we’ve spent far more time together as a family—and quality time at that—than any other day of the week.

However, don’t expect miracles. My kids don’t become little angels when the sun sets on Friday. They still fight, nag, refuse to eat anything healthy, demand to get their way, and otherwise act like the 7- and 3-year old they are. Not that I am complaining (well, maybe a little). It’s not like human nature is suspended for 25 hours, as this blog post, which made the rounds among my Sabbath-observing friends recently, so vividly dramatizes.

Lastly, despite the good intentions and enthusiasm of those behind the National Day of Unplugging, it’s hard for me to see how a one-off day of disconnecting would make much of a difference, other than giving families a small glimpse at what can be. Unplugging for one day per year is, I would guess, just as likely to cause intense grumbling and fights over the suddenly-changed rules as it is to foster a memorable day of communication and interaction.

So yes, I’d still strongly recommend you try unplugging for this National Day of Unplugging. But I’d recommend even more strongly making it a regular thing—as long as you make those days filled with togetherness and meaningful, fun interaction.

Plus: What’s your parenting style? Take our quiz and find out!

Digital Devices and Children
Digital Devices and Children
Digital Devices and Children


Image: Kids using mobile devices via Shutterstock

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