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Do Screens Hamper Socialization?

Screens in public… do kids need them?  I suppose a screen per kid could have led to a more blissful early childhood for my partner and I with us maybe having conversations at dinner, perhaps getting chores done more quickly, but I’ll never know.  We lucked out.  Early on, we had no way to provide the kids with screens.  We were poor grad students so buying the kids a screen of their own was out of the question.  In retrospect, our lack of screens provided more opportunities than it took away.

Yeah, we did miss going out to eat for the first six months or so, (we couldn’t eat out all that much on our budget anyway).  Here’s the thing though.  As the first kid learned to sit up on her own and learned to crawl, all of our problems started to fade.  When we went out she involved herself with us, the condiments, her silverware, her napkin, her food, and ours.  She quit screaming.  Not all together, and not all alt once, but over time she tapered it off.  Other things began to happen as well.  The kid watched us like a hawk.  All the time.  Before long, she was holding her fork, not like a kid, but in the exact same way I learned how to hold mine when I was oh, I don’t know, ten years old, as opposed to one.  She learned how to drink from a cup without a straw—straws would go on to become the bane of my existence with the next two kids—or a lid.  She also learned how to talk to waiters, restaurant managers, the people eating at neighboring tables, anyone who caught her attention really.  By the time she was four, she was proud to be ordering for herself.  By the time she turned six, she began to experiment with not sitting with us at all.  She’d pull out a bar stool at the counter while the rest of us found our table.  We’d tell the waiter that we’d cover the young lady at the bar’s tab.

The oldest kid’s storied rise to restaurant independence wasn’t the only perk of staying away from screens.  The next two kids learned to handle themselves more quickly.  In the intervening time, as they learned, my partner and I had also developed some new skills.  If the youngest started to scream, one of us would simply just head outside, bouncing them in the wrap, cooing until they calmed down.  The parent that was left inside had great company for their meal: the older kids.

Finally, without the screens, with nothing else to do, the kids started to form connections at the joints we frequented.  They really had nothing to while we were out but talk.  At slower establishments, they started to build their own friendships with the staff.  The connections were distinctly theirs, not ours.  Three year-old No. Two insisted that we go into our local coffe and wine bar to say hi to Marvin every time we passed anywhere near the place.  Even if we were ultimately going somewhere else, we had to stop in to say hi.  Two was learning to maintain his network.

So, screens or not?  I'd be delighted to hear your thoughts, but for us?  I’m delighted we missed them.  Our life wouldn’t be nearly as fun if we hadn’t.

Oh yeah, the straws.  The older two kids learned how to drink from cups almost instantly—keeping in mind time perception was perhaps one of the first skills to exit my sleep-deprived, addled parent’s brain.  Annoyingly—for me at any rate—every so often a person, just trying to be helpful, would bring us a cup with a straw.  A simple cup in the hands of a two year-old is just the right height for them to pull off the table and then tilt back to their mouth to get a sip.  Add the extra height of a straw to that, and—for a kid that already knows how to drink from a cup—you’ve got a disaster.  They tend to leave the cup on the table, leaning it back enough to get the straw into their mouth.  This pores the water into their lap, and the hilarity ensues.  For me, kid-friendly is almost never kid-friendly.


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