How to enjoy a family meal where the kids are quiet – happy, even – and you get to chat with your other half while sipping a delicious glass of something cold?
The answer, depending on which side of the argument you’re on, involves a slim, high-tech rectangle and a pair of headphones.
On Monday, former Saturdays star Frankie Bridge, 31, who lives in Surrey with ex footballer husband Wayne, posted a photo of herself beaming, cocktail in hand, dining out at a stylish London restaurant.
Flanking her on either side were her two sons, Parker, six, and Carter, five, both of whom were sporting headphones and entertained by the individual screens in front of them.
The mother-of-two penned alongside the snap: ‘The reality of dinner out with the kids… I’ll admit it… I’m an iPad Mum…swore I never would be…but here we are… the boys are happy…we’re happy… we’re all happy! Cheers!’
Scroll down for video
Former Saturdays star Frankie Bridge admitted she’s an ‘iPad Mum’ after posting this photo of her sons Carter, left, and Parker, right, enjoying their screens during a night out at a nice restaurant in central London
While the honest photo has earned nearly 70,000 likes and plenty of praise from fellow parents who agree that dinner is a meal best served without children dominating, others called the snap an example of ‘lazy parenting’.
So, should parents try harder before reaching for a digital nanny?
Leading parental engagement expert Dr Kathy Weston says grown-ups shouldn’t be judged for occasionally bringing out the technology to entertain their kids.
Dr Weston told FEMAIL: ‘Every parent with young children knows that having a meal out can be a challenge! Whilst family talk around the dinner table plays a critical role in helping hone children’s social skills, the occasional meal out where they are rewarded with some ‘down-time’ via an i-pad, isn’t harmful in the slightest.
‘I would argue that it is much more important (for children), that their parents are able, from time-to-time, to converse in peace and invest a little time in their own relationship.’
She says ‘mum-shamers’ should pipe down: ‘Parents all over the country have experienced the most challenging of times balancing home-school, occupying their children during lockdown and managing their own fears and worries about the virus. Let’s be happy here for a parent of young children who has managed some fleeting summer holiday joy amid the Covid chaos!’
However, there are plenty of parents who have banned devices full-stop from restaurants and their own dining tables at home. Here, four mums who’ve done just that explain to FEMAIL why they think parents need to try harder to entertain their kids.
Brenda Gabriel, a publicist from North London, lives with her partner Brad. She has three children, 22, seven and five, and regularly eats out at nice restaurants with her two younger children…
Publicist Brenda Gabriel, from North London, says she never takes a digital device out to a fancy restaurant – because letting her two youngest children, aged seven and five, watch one is disrespectful to people at the table, and the people serving the food
‘Handing out iPads at the dinner table is a short-term solution that will leave us with long-term problems; children have got to learn to interact’, says mother-of-three Brenda, pictured with her two youngest children
SO, WHAT ARE THE IMPACTS OF TOO MUCH IPAD TIME?
Says parenting engagement expert, Dr Kathy Weston: ‘The research shows that screen time is not harmful per se, although it can affect eyesight and posture if too much time is spent on it.
‘I am sure Frankie’s children were watching something fun and engaging, in what looked like a posh restaurant, after a day full of other activities.
‘Their engagement with what they were watching allowed a devoted mum and dad some breathing space. It is always a delight to see loving parents ‘getting along’ and hard-working parents being able to relax.’
My younger children are seven and five and we like to eat out quite a lot, particularly at gourmet restaurants. We enjoy the experience of dining out as a family and respect that it’s a privilege to have a really nice meal out.
I’ve experienced families using iPads to placate children in fancy restaurants first hand; we took my eldest out for their 21st to Hakkasan in Central London and noticed that a family with pre-teen children were watching screens for part of the meal.
I understand that if you’re having a snack in a cafe or perhaps you reach for the iPad at the end of a meal but letting children watch screens throughout teaches disregard for people at the table and people serving the food.
Eating together is about learning social skills. We’ve had melt-downs at the dining table when the kids have been tired but often a member of staff has helped rally them.
I think handing out iPads at the dinner table is a short-term solution that will leave us with long-term problems; children have got to learn to interact and they can’t do that if they’re engrossed with technology.
Kids learn by example and adults are often so absorbed with their phones that children follow their lead – but I think making the dinner table a technology-free space from the beginning ensures they won’t ask for screens, making parents less likely to give in.
Emma Taylor, lives with her husband Andy, and their children Lilia, 11, and Gabriel, six, in Henley-on-Thames. Emma admits she’s ‘hardcore’ about banning tech at the table when out for dinner…
Emma Taylor says herself and her husband Andy have learned techniques to entertain their two children while out at a restaurant, including having pens and paper on them (Emma pictured with son Gabriel, now six)
Emma says her children aren’t ‘easy’; eldest daughter Lilia has autism, and Gabriel, pictured with dad Andy, is awaiting assessment for autism
I really don’t like seeing children glued to tech at the table. I think it teaches them a really bad lesson; that it’s okay to ignore your fellow diners, and stare blankly at a screen while shovelling food into your mouth.
Of course, at home, we all have times when we might do that, but when you’ve gone out to a restaurant, surely the point is to do more than simply re-fuel your body, but to connect with your fellow diners, and enjoy their company and your food?
When my husband, Andy, and I take our children Lilia, 11, and Gabriel, six, out for lunch or dinner, I am hardcore about them not being on their tech.
My son doesn’t have any anyway, we think he is too young and he simply has the television at home, and my daughter knows better than to go on her phone at the table – if she does, then I take it away and put it in my bag till we leave.
It’s not that I have “easy” children. Lilia was diagnosed autistic four years ago, and Gabriel is awaiting assessment, so they both find it challenging to sit at the table and focus, but I think it’s a vitally important skill for them to learn.
If I allowed them to go on an iPad or phone, that might be easier for me in the short-term, but it would be doing them a disservice. My job is to parent them and teach them essential life skills, and being able to converse while eating using good table manners is one of those skills.
Mealtimes are about connecting as a family, thinks Emma. Lilia, left, and Gabriel, right, enjoying a meal out…with not a screen in sight
When they were both younger, Andy and I would take it in turns to walk them around outside to give them a break during a meal, Andy always carries paper and pencils for them to draw with if they get bored, and Gabriel has even been shown the pizza oven at our local Zizzi by chefs happy to give him a distraction for a few minutes. But that is healthy interaction, not staring at a screen.
Of course, there are times at home when they eat while watching TV – they can do this at the table as our dining room faces the living room – and I very occasionally let them eat on their laps on the sofa as a treat, but in general I am strict about mealtimes being a time to connect, relax, and chat.
I don’t judge other parents who use tech to keep their children quiet, but it’s not for us.
Samantha Priestley, a novelist, lives with her partner in Sheffield. The couple share five children together, aged from six to 23, and Samantha says her youngest step-child is particularly obsessed with his iPad…
Novelist Samantha Priestley, from Sheffield, says her youngest step-child, aged six, loves his iPad and the family have battled to stop him from using it during family meals
The novelist’s step-son asks for his iPad first thing in the morning – and is a huge fan of Roblox – but is learning that he’s not allowed to use the digital device when out at a restaurant with his family
My youngest step-son, six, has had the iPad since birth, he’s grown up with it and it’s very much his world. He’s obsessed with it, and it’s the first thing he asks for in the morning; with Roblox being his particular favourite – he even talks like the characters in it!
When we go out, he asks to take it with us in the car and we say no, you’ve got to draw a line somewhere. I don’t think he would think for a moment that he’s being rude while watching it – but it is rude to have it at a dining table, both to us and the people who are serving us. Eating out is a social event and it’s supposed to be a treat.
The youngster also won’t eat the food in front of him if his tablet is on, says Samantha
It doesn’t always go down well when we say no to him not having it – we’ve had crying, shouting and tantrum-ing – but we never let him have it while eating because he won’t eat his meal if he’s watching it; he’s too engrossed.
I think parents who resort to handing over iPads are a little bit lazy, it’s just too easy to just say ‘have that’. Many of us work full-time so we don’t get that family time together much – a meal out together should be appreciated.
Samantha’s latest book, The History of Gibbeting: Britain’s Most Brutal Punishment, is out now
Lucy Higginson, from Berkshire, says her children, Alex, 11, and Madeleine, 14, are as addicted to Snapchat as the next children – but not at the dinner table…
Tech has its place in restaurants – how many of us are adept now at scanning QR codes for a wine list or menu? But not as an electronic nanny while you’re eating out.
I take my children, Madeleine, 14, and Alex, 11, out to have a break from cooking, as a treat, but to teach them some manners too: make sure to thank that waitress, she won’t be earning much; you may not have had fishcakes before, but if you like fish and spuds, why not try them.
And, since I’m not dashing around the kitchen between courses, let’s sit and chat.
Madeleine, 14, and Alex, 11, love their social media as much as the next child, says mum, Lucy Higginson, but they’ve learned that dinners out are about chatting as a family
Stuck for something to say? Tough! Make an effort! What did you notice on the way here, how do you like the decor of this place, what do you think about this morning’s big headline, what are you doing this afternoon?
Conversation is something we all learn, and a dining table is the ideal classroom.
Chatting for a long time with young children, I admit, is tougher, and I don’t mind using props for that, but I’d rather it wasn’t a phone or Ipad.
Yes, there are brilliant and educational apps available but who, for one thing, really checks these are the ones being used once you’re halfway down a large glass of Sauvignon with an old friend?
When my two were smaller I used to keep a carton of coloured pencils in my bag: ‘Here’s a vase, draw me some flowers…’ ‘What’s on sale in this shop window?”
A rolled-up piece of cord is pretty good too for practising knots or making necklaces at the table until the beloved bread sticks arrive.
Games such as hangman or ‘foldover stories’, where diners each write a line on a piece of paper to make a story, have helped fill the time before food arrives, says Lucy
Restaurants have bent over backwards to make themselves colourful, engaging places… if it’s an open kitchen, go and watch the chefs cook.
On any day, in any high street one finds whole families simultaneously glued to their devices, apparently oblivious to the people they’ve chosen to be out with.
By all means photograph a beautifully decorated plate of food if you wish, but learn when to flip the phone over and focus on real life in front of you.
My kids now know the rules, and as they have grown up, have expanded their repertoire of time fillers til the food arrives; there is hangman, writing “foldover stories” with each child or person at the table adding a line at a time to create a mad fable.
They’re as addicted to Snapchat and Dude Perfect as the next child, but everything has its place, and the dinner table is not it…