The iPad Playdate (And an Alternative)

 Hi ybnhzbzibd
Folks! This wise essay comes to us from Ernie Allison, who describes himself as a “bird nerd” since he was a kid. He loves contributing to conservation efforts and spreading awareness about bird issues and nature in general. Writing for has given him “the opportunity to spread awareness as well as learn about hummingbird migration patterns.” He says he spends his days trying to get his grandchildren outside, writing, and watching his hummingbird feeders. Sounds extremely pleasant! – L. 

Helping Kids Embrace Nature

The other day I was visiting my grown daughter and 5-year-old granddaughter. It was just a short visit; I was in the neighborhood and decided to drop by and catch up. My daughter had set up a playdate for her daughter with another girl her age. The plan was for the two girls to play in the living room or the back yard while Beverly (my daughter) chatted with me and got some housework done. The playdate had been contrived so that the mother of the other girl, who also had a toddler, could have a couple hours to herself.

As we were talking, we heard shouting and struggling from the other room. The two girls were not getting along very well, but we just let them be, assuming it would work itself out. Then it was quiet for a while. Very quiet. Suddenly, the silence was broken by angry shouting and foot stomps. “MOM! Lilly is playing with my iPad instead of me! It’s my turn to use it!”

We were confounded. The girls hadn’t been quiet because they were getting along, they had simply stopped interacting and were focusing on technology instead. “The iPad is going away. You have a guest, go play with her.”

There is no question that technology is becoming a huge part of people’s everyday lives. Many of us are glued to our cell phones. We spend our down time watching TV. These habits are passed on to our kids.

There is, of course, a lot of research about the benefits of nature on children. The studies state that kids who spend a generous amount of time outdoors have more focus, creativity, and cognitive abilities. Many of the studies stop there, though. They don’t go into why.

I believe the biggest reason spending time in nature is beneficial is because it allows us to experience things. There is no simulation, just actual occurrences. In nature, plants and animals do what they want. Observing these actions allows us to draw conclusions, make connections, and think for ourselves.

So instead of encouraging an obsession with technology, encourage your child to learn to appreciate nature on another level. Here are some ways how:

  • Eat meals outside. Whether it’s at a patio table or a picnic on the grass, having meal time outside allows family bonding. It removes some of the distractions of technology, and puts you in a place where you can watch trees change with the seasons, and really observe your surroundings.
  • Place bird feeders in your lawn. Make a check list of local native birds and have your children mark off the ones they see. When they see a new wild bird species, teach them about their migration patterns, eating habits, and other facts. Watching a feeder is an educational experience that can be made into a fun game to replace tv time.
  • Go. Whether it’s too the park, the zoo, a science museum, camping, a hiking trip, fishing. Wherever it is, just go. Experience nature in new ways. If it’s winter, go snow shoeing. If it’s summer, find a lake to swim in. If you’re going into the wilderness, have children keep their eyes open for new plants and wildlife.
  • Use Outside Play as a Reward. Not that rewards are necessary for good behavior, but you can use outside play time as something to look forward too. “After you get your homework done, you can go outside and work on your tree fort.”

With the increased paranoia about the “dangers” our kids are in, many parents are afraid to send them outside by themselves and don’t have the time or patience to watch them. But if you teach your children to be responsible for themselves, then there is no reason they can’t go to the park across the street. Chances are they’ll enjoy the freedom even more than their afternoon television shows. – E.A.

Black Chinned Hummingbird, Hummingbird Library

Come find me!



63 Responses to The iPad Playdate (And an Alternative)

  1. Backroadsem February 26, 2013 at 11:32 am #

    Wonderful article with great advice.

  2. Emily February 26, 2013 at 11:35 am #

    Yeah, great advice, except for the last point–I don’t think outdoor time should be a “reward” that kids have to “earn,” partly because some kids aren’t outdoorsy, and it wouldn’t be an incentive for them, but more because a lot of kids NEED active outdoor time in order to focus and pay attention during a long day of school. If kids sit all day in school, then they shouldn’t be forced to sit down and do homework as soon as they get home from school–they should be allowed to play outside first, if they want to, while it’s still light out.

  3. maggie February 26, 2013 at 11:35 am #

    Yes, yes, and yes!! Great advice! Our family does all of these things; I couldn’t imagine living any other way, and feel bad for children whose lives have been taken over by technology. My pet peeve? Going to the park and seeing kids playing on electronic devices because they’re bored. WTF???

  4. maggie February 26, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    I agree, Emily. I don’t want outside time to be a reward; rather, it should be a natural part of life, just like eating and sleeping!

  5. vjhreeves February 26, 2013 at 11:54 am #

    And furthermore, while we are on the subject, I also hate seeing a family out to dinner with everyone’s head down looking at a device. Presumably you all went out to dinner to enjoy some time together…so interact with each other, for crying out loud!

  6. emandink February 26, 2013 at 11:59 am #

    I read the outdoor play as reward suggestion totally differently. I don’t think the author is suggesting that it should be the main way that kids get to play outside, but rather that we should characterize outdoor play as something that is so desireable, they should want to do it more than anything else. My kids go to the park and play outside all the time. But sometimes the book report or the laundry or something has to be done, and I’ve found “Finish your task and we can go to the park” to work pretty well to incentivize doing something that has to be done anyway. Rewards only work if they are something kids like and want. I see the point here is offer up extra outdoor time as opposed to ice cream or a chance at the iPad.

  7. pentamom February 26, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

    I agree with emadink. I didn’t take it so much as “you don’t get to be outside unless you spend X time cooped up doing something” as “obviously you love being outside so when you get done what you need to do, here’s something to look forward to!”

  8. Ernie Allison February 26, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

    Emandink and Pentamom, that is exactly what I meant. Putting outdoor activity as something desirable instead of video games encourages kids to find fun things to do outdoors and look forward to it. It also builds healthier habits rather than glorifying junk food and vegging in front of the tv.

  9. James February 26, 2013 at 12:42 pm #

    Two points:

    1) It seems like a lot of parents over-worry about the amount of “screen time” their kids get. Kids are resilient. If the iPad is the only thing we let them do, it’s a problem. But especially in the northeast, during school vacation week in February, kids just aren’t going to spend that long playing outside before they’re cold, wet, and exhausted.

    2) Playing alone together isn’t some kind of new phenomenon. When I was a kid, I definitely had play dates that consisted of one person reading a comic book while the other person stared at him anxiously. It’s just a thing some kids do.

  10. Lola February 26, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    Last week my kids spent most of their afternoon inventing ways to catch an abandoned sparrow nest they spotted on a tree. Finally they managed to get hold of it, and they’ve taken it to school by turns, to show their respective classmates.
    Can you imagine? Not one of the kids (23 in each class) thought it was cool.

  11. lollipoplover February 26, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    Sharing a love of the outdoors (and family traditions) with children is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to keep them entertained. It should be a reward because it is such a rewarding way to spend time and burn kid energy. My kids love ponds and ducks and fishing. We have a great blue heron we call Ol Blue who snacks from the water traps most days and the kids love to go spot him.
    I love how this author encourages observations of birds.

  12. Sally February 26, 2013 at 1:42 pm #

    What a lovely post. Will take the advice to heart and try it out. Thanks Ernie.

  13. lynnie February 26, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    My almost 3 year old son loves being outside. He loves it so much that I sometimes resort to bribes for him to come inside (horrible, I know).

    I was raised being outside pretty much all the time in the summer. We climbed trees and went to the river. We had a tree fort and basically ran around like banshees. It became apparent after we had grown up that our mom didn’t really know where we were some of the time when my sister and I were talking about our childhood and my mom said, “You guys did WHAT!?” Can’t get into trouble for that now, I think the statute of limitations has ran out.

    I plan on raising our son (and any other children I may be blessed with) pretty much the same way. We have quite a large piece of land that we live on and have all sorts of dreams for it-filled with outside activities.

  14. Lisa February 26, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

    Everything in moderation, right? My 10 year old *does* need to finish some things before she can be rewarded with time outside (or anything else she enjoys doing with her free time) – no matter how worthwhile it is, it is her job to have her homework done, room clean, etc.
    I am finding that my thoughts about electronics are evolving all the time. Lately, my thought is that it doesn’t matter what item she is using, what matters is what she is doing. So I’m not likely to force her to go outside and play in the yard, or to read, or to play with toys other than electronics, if she’s on her iPad researching her latest interest (she’s a big fan of the electronic version of National Geographic Kids). All of those are acceptable things to do in free time. Similarly, she will not be *allowed* to do any of those things if I’ve told her to do her math practice (a web site they’re using for school) or clean her room – those kinds of things are equivalent, even though one is electronic and one not. It’s not about whether she’s using a device, it’s a matter of fulfilling her responsibilities before play.

    I agree that if a child invites a friend over, he/she should not be a rude host and play on the iPad (or read a book, or anything similar) – the kids should interact. It sounds, though, in this case that it was more a matter of the moms getting together and bringing their kids. If I have somewhere to go, social or otherwise, and I am bringing my daughter, I often tell her to bring something to do (usually a book, or her sketchbook, but maybe the iPad, or maybe her soccer ball). She might play with my friends’ kids, or she might play alone… I think either is fine. Is this about indoor vs outdoor play? Or electronics vs. not? Or active vs. sedentary play? Or is it about two kids, whose moms were enjoying time chatting, finding a way to each do their own thing when they didn’t seem to be enjoying each others’ company. Do our kids *always* need to want to play with our friends’ kids? Or is it ok for them to choose not to? The issue seemed to be that they both wanted to play with the same toy, which was a one-person toy. If it had been a hula hoop instead of an iPad, would that have been different? It could still have ended in foot stomping and arguing!

  15. hineata February 26, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

    I think there are ages and stages with this sort of thing. My girls still spend a lot of time outside, but my (16 year old) son and his mates are hooked on XBox at the moment. I have to limit the time, an hour or so most weekdays, a couple a day at the weekend. He/they do get out for bike rides sometimes, but it’s like pushing rocks uphill some days to get them going, and there is a limit to how much say I feel I should have over an otherwise well-mannered, fairly well-rounded teen.

    He does have a job, plays a couple of sports, attends/leads the church youth group, but has a lot less interest in the outdoors than he used to have. Kept trying to kick him out to go to the local beach over the summer, but when you’re extremely (as in bony) thin, evidently taking your shirt off in front of the girls loses its attraction. Though he’s doing weights at the gym at the moment, so maybe by next summer that mightn’t be an issue 🙂

    Am hoping that all the time he spent outdoors when he was younger will make it more attractive again when he gets past this stupid little box thing. He does enjoy working outside, so I guess that’s something, sigh….

  16. Susanna K. February 26, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

    My boys love to play computer games, and while I don’t want to take that away from them completely, I do limit their “screen time.”

    One thing I’ve noticed is that when I say they can’t play video games, they’ll play-act the game in real life. For example, they’ll play “real-life Minecraft” in the back yard, digging for treasure and building their homesteads. I think it’s a good compromise.

  17. Heather E. February 26, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    Yes!! I regularly kick my kids outside and make them find something to do. I’ll go out and play with them too but I think it’s far more important for them to observe and create activities on their own outside rather than me always leading the way.

    This year i instituted no screen time during the school week…at all! No computers, tablets, television, video games, nothing. At first I really thought I’d have some fights on my hands. At first too their weekend screen time was out of control but now, 6 months in, they are so much better at keeping busy and have been amazingly creative!

    I think it’s important too that kids know that they can go outside anytime they want. My kids know they can play in our yard and don’t have to ask (they’re 8 and 4). I’m astounded when I go over to other people’s homes and their kids have to ask permission to play outside. And we aren’t living in a huge “dangerous” city either….my town’s population is 900!!

    Hoorah for outside time all the time!!

  18. LRH February 26, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    My kids play outside, and love it. Screen time is very minimal, and I’m referring to television. Computer time is absolute zero, and that goes triple for our computer/tablet items.

    Frankly, I can’t stand hearing about and seeing parents let their kids use electronics a lot, ESPECIALLY the PARENTS’ electronics, and I’m not one to meddle in a parent’s business or advocate it. But when I see that, I cringe.

    My kids never, ever, ever, ever, touch MY phone or MY Android tablet, EVER. Period. It’s not just the aspect of not overdoing screen time, it’s also an issue of boundaries. My phone is for ME to use. Like hell should someone try & contact me but can’t get a hold of me because my child is busy playing with my phone. In like manner, when I need to use, I better be able to use it, as in a split second from the time the thought enters my head.

    They don’t like it, they can get the hell over it. Tough. As it turns out, they don’t care, they’re happy without it anyway, but if they weren’t, it wouldn’t change my mind, and I’d lay down the law about it if necessary.

    A few days ago I saw something that epitomizes what I’m referring to regarding parents letting their kids play with their phone. I was in a doctor’s office and observed a lady on the phone talking to her friend or whatever, and her child who looked to be about 2 started crying wanting to play with the phone. She actually ended the call saying “my child wants to play with the phone, I got to go.” If that had been me on the end, I’d expressed my outrage over that, because it was and is outrageous.

    Anyway, this child proceeded to throw the phone on the floor, the mother went & got it for her and let her play with it again, at which time the child threw it AGAIN, this time breaking it in the process.


    It was all I could to to bite my tongue and say something outloud it. It wasn’t my place or business to do so, she can parent that way all she jolly wants to & no one has the right to interfere, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see that and have an opinion about it.


  19. Amanda Matthews February 26, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

    iPads can go outside. *shrug* I think it’s silly to punish the child because she doesn’t get along with this particular kid. Take the ipad away from the other kid, sure, but I see no reason to take it away from the owner, and force her to play with a kid she isn’t getting along with, just so the other kid’s mom can get some free babysitting.

  20. Emily February 26, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

    I took weekday tv away, aside from specials a couple of months ago. They each get 30-60 minutes of computer time (school enrichment sites: my second grader is beating the whole in the math one), they play outside weather permitting but get more Wii time on gross sleety-freezing rain days like today. Otherwise, they SHARE an hour a day. The 2nd grader has an hour of reading a day, the kindergartner has 15 minutes but often listens to his brother.
    They actually get locked out of the house in the summer if they won’t stay out. I usually have to do it two days before they know I mean business and to get out and stay out.
    This summer, my 7 year old will be allowed to go to the summer program across the street at the park. It’s across a rather busy street, so he will be taking our cheap pre-pay cell phone (to call me when he’s ready to come home) but otherwise he can stay as long as he wants.
    I’m trying my best to balance free range, with the issues in our neighborhood and their special needs. I think I do a rather good job.

  21. Jo February 26, 2013 at 6:08 pm #

    The article says the playdate was ‘contrived’. Why should two girls have to play together if they didn’t choose that situation for themselves. How would an adult feel if forced to get along and ‘play nice’ with someone they hadn’t chosen for themself?

    My son’s ‘screen’ time is not limited, at all, ever. Yes, he goes outside. My husband and I are field biologists. We know about ‘outside’! When screens are limited, they become precious, kids want them all the more. My child turns off TV (or computer, or iPod, or Wii) and chooses to go outside and whittle, or shoot his bow and arrows….’screens’ and ‘outside’ are not mutually exclusive. And some people (yes, children are people!) are just not outdoorsy types. Where would we be if Bill Gates had been limited in his computer time and forced outside!?

  22. Puzzled February 26, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

    Unless I’m wrong, I see something positive, even if not ideal, in what was going on with the kids. Presumably, the girl whose iPad it was was taking turns with the other girl. Sharing is good, inventing rules together is good – the real problem I see is the going to the parent to resolve the issue rather than taking the next step and enforcing/compromising rules together. However, most adults I know don’t seem to be at that stage of maturity yet – including myself, as I learned over the last 2 days.

    On the outside/inside issue, maybe I should be more concerned, but I’m not. A while back, they might have thought we were nuts for letting kids as old as 7 play at the park – they should be at work, for crying out loud! Times change, norms change – and technology can be stimulating. Again, think back – a lot of the outdoorsy stuff we do was high-tech at one time – they probably worried about their kids overusing it.

    Anyway, kids, if not brainwashed, can figure out what is good for them, and in what combination.

  23. LRH February 26, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

    Jo I agree a LITTLE, insomuch that playdates shouldn’t be necessary, play should be more spontaneous vs scheduled. However, as far as “how would an adult feel if they were forced to get along and play nice” etc–well, where I come from, the kids don’t have a say in such matters, the adults tell them what to do & they do it. Sure the adults should let their children express their feelings & account for it, but at the end of the day, the adults decide.

    As far as “screens are limited, kids want them more,” that pales compared to a parent that lays down the word “no” with discipline behind it if necessary. This goes for anything. To me, a big problem nowadays is parents are too scared of their kids being upset at them for the decisions they make. You can’t be that way. I’ve seen toddlers refuse to let go of something they shouldn’t have with the adults pleading with them all day to give it back. When I suggest “why don’t you just take it,” their usual reply “that teaches them that ‘might makes right.'”

    Bluh. Whatever. Me–I snatch, and when they whine, I discipline them for whining. They’ve learned most emphatically–yes, I listen to their opinions, but you aren’t going to get me to change my mind based on whining about anything. If anything, I’ll respond by taking the privilege or whatever away for even longer as punishment for the whining. Know your place–I’m the adult, you’re the child. You do as I say, and that’s that.

    Believe me, this house runs smoothly most times because of this. It’s not that I’m some genius, no one here is better than anyone else, but it’s just because I don’t worry about them being upset. They’ve learned–make me happy FIRST, and THEN I’ll throw in the goodies. They even get goodies like pie and ice cream at such times. They’ve learned–you get such goodies by being OBEDIENT, period, no excuses.

    Sorry if I’m preaching.


  24. pentamom February 26, 2013 at 6:41 pm #

    I dunno, by “contrived” I think he just meant they had worked things out to get the girls together to play, with the particular arrangement made (at Ernie’s daughter’s house, rather than the other mom’s house) so that the other mom could have some time without the kids. That doesn’t mean the kids weren’t friends who wanted to play together anyway. I don’t think we should just assume from the word “contrived” or the fact that it was arranged conveniently, that they weren’t happy to be together. It never says the girls didn’t get along, it said that their quietness was not due to the fact that they were getting along, but to their absorption in separate activities.

  25. Nanci February 26, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    Thanks Jo!!

    I’m glad I read this tonight. I was just feeling that mom pressure again to go and tell my kids to leave their electronics alone and do something more productive. After reading the articles and replies I’m leaving them alone. I realized it’s once again something I’m made to feel bad about, I’m not a good mom if junior spends 2 hours vegging watching Netflix on his Ipad, I should get him engaged in something more productive. The thing is, it’s been raining and sleeting all day here. Despite that my son did bundle up and attempt to play in the snow this afternoon. He lasted an hour or so and came in drenched clean through his snow pants. He built with Legos for awhile, he made some stuff with PVC piping in the basement and now after dinner if he wants do nothing I’m not going to stop him. We are in active family, we camp, we hike, the kids run all over the neighborhood exploring the woods and creek. But everytime I see the kids grab their Ipads and veg I start feeling that horrible mom guilt that I’m not doing a good enough job, and they are going to be lazy couch potatoes. I’ve decided right now as of tonight I’m not going to feel bad anymore! They get plenty of outside time, they do arts and crafts, they’re creative, and they can have some downtime with electronics without me being on their case, I’m giving up the guilt 🙂

  26. Jenna K. February 26, 2013 at 7:19 pm #

    We don’t even own any of that technology (handheld gaming devices or tablets, etc.) because we’ve never had the money for any of it. To the point that our kids “make” their own out of paper. They have an awfully fun time cutting out and drawing what is on their tablet, scratching that and drawing another one, etc.

    On another note, I hate the cold and really don’t care to send my kids out in it because of my dislike for it. However, my kids came bursting through the front door after school today and the first thing on their lips was “when our homework is done, we’re going outside!” It’s only 27 degrees here today! If they want to go out, I let them go out. They only stayed outside for 20 minutes, but I’m glad they get to do that here and everyone in the neighborhood seems okay with kids playing outside unattended by adults.

  27. Lisa February 26, 2013 at 7:27 pm #

    @Nanci, I completely agree! Well-rounded, mostly well-behaved, healthy, happy children can be allowed to choose how to spend their time without artificial limits. Right now, my daughter is watching TV in the living room (likely while playing a game on her iPad) and I am in my bedroom on my computer (having just hung up a phone call). Long day, we could both use some down time… in a few minutes, I’ll go out there and we’ll put a show on that we both enjoy.
    @LRH, about kids not being allowed to use parents’ phones ever: are you assuming that every member of the family has their own phone and other devices? Because I can’t imagine not letting my kid use the phone – at a minimum, she needs to be able to call her dad, her grandparents, and sometimes even friends. Even if I didn’t want her playing electronic games, I think she should be able to type up a story or poems she’s written, research topics of interest on the internet, and email friends and family. She likes video chat, too. I suppose interacting in person is better, but that only works for people who live nearby. I think using the tools available to us helps kids learn that geography does not need to be a determining factor in the closeness of their relationships. Now, I won’t get off my phone calls so she can play a game, but I have been known to end a call so she can make a phone call before it gets too late (I can talk to my friends after her bedtime, she cannot). I use my electronics to facilitate communication, amongst other things, and I don’t see anything wrong with kids doing the same.

  28. hineata February 26, 2013 at 7:52 pm #

    @LRH -your kids are quite young still, I think, from other comments you’ve made. Mine are all over 12 now, and I do let them use my phone, particularly when two of them want to do ‘Google’ type stuff at the same time. Also handy when travelling, because they’re much faster at texting, and at tracking where we are on those map apps!

    Don’t think I personally would have let a two year old use a ‘smartphone’ – too darned expensive to replace…

    Like the way you managed to bite your tongue, though I suppose it is no one else’s business if she wants to let her kid break her own stuff – as long as he didn’t injure you and yours in the process! Hate sitting in the waiting room and having bits of toys flying past me – usually politely suggest the child desists in those cases. 🙂

  29. LRH February 26, 2013 at 8:04 pm #

    (Lisa) Somewhat, yes, assuming they’re old enough to have one. I don’t know that a young child needs a phone, other than maybe a family landline phone that they ASK PERMISSION to use. Maybe this is anti-free range, but as opposed to letting them use a phone whenever, I’m big on managing that, insomuch that I don’t want them doing things like, say, calling 911 because they’re hungry or one of us yells in a moment of frustration.

    It reminds me of Lenore saying, in response to why she didn’t give Izzy a cellular phone in the “ride the subway alone” deal in 2008, that she figured he’d lose it. I figure they’re going to lose it or make nuisance calls to the police or so forth, and I sure as heck don’t want them glued to a phone all day not going outside any.

    (Maybe I’m being a victim of the “you hear so many stories” nonsense that also occurs with kidnapping news articles etc.) Unless I know FOR SURE they won’t be prone to that sort of thing, they’re not getting the phone. (That said, when I hear of a 5 year old calling 911 and saving her mother’s life, I do wonder if I’m wrong about this.)

    I realize this is Free Range Kids, not John Rosemond’s site (I say that because I like John Rosemond’s teachings somewhat), but my feeling is that basically children use electronics too much and it’s just better for them to not use them so much, especially if it means they become addicted to them & then don’t want to do anything else & they’re always fighting over them and it shortens their attention span. That’s sort of what he teaches, and I agree with it–not because he says it, just as I agree with the principles of Free Range Kids and not just because Lenore says so, but I like what she espouses in that regard. But I do understand people have the right to run their house as they please & I agree with the idea of not engaging in “mommy wars” and being ugly about it. Sometimes I have to remind my own self of that, I have to admit. It also is about boundaries, in that children should respect property of the adults, and whatever is mommy’s or daddy’s you absolutely do NOT ever touch it without their express permission.

    At the same time, sure, you don’t want to stifle them. It’s a balancing act. It reminds me of when I was little, I liked to tinker with electronic things a bit. I would often-times use my mother’s scissors for cutting the wires etc and she’d get mad at my taking them. She didn’t mind me USING it, but I was to ASK, because they were hers. In time she got me a pair of my own so that such wouldn’t be a problem yet I would be able to experiment & create and that wouldn’t be stifled. Such is what I’m trying to do here.

    I also tend to think a $300 iPad is just too much money for a child, but then I understand people can spend their money however they please. Basically my thing is I don’t subscribe to the common practice I see of parents splurging on their children while not getting anything for themselves. Parents will buy themselves garage-sale clothes but act like buying such for their kids is blasphemy. I’m like–who’s to say an adult’s needs are less important than a child’s?

    Me, I have no problem buying my children garage sale clothes if they’re decent, my view–if they’re good enough for me, they’re good enough for them, they’re no better than me. By the same token, if I get my kids new clothes, then I should have new clothes as well.

    I could POSSIBLY be talked into letting our children have a tablet if it’s one of the cheap ones you see for $50 nowadays, and if they break it, they don’t get to use mine. They would have to be responsible about keeping it charged, and if we are (say) at the doctor’s office and I am goofing with mine and they forgot to bring theirs–sorry, that’s your responsibility to take care of, not mine to do it for you. They also could be told at any time “okay, you’ve played with it long enough, time to go outside” and if I say so, they’d better do just that, without complaint, or it goes off on eBay. Maybe that’s anti-free range, so be it.

    As it is, I have one, ours are only 4 & 6, I don’t think they need one and so they don’t get one and that’s that. If at some point I start seeing things to where I think they could benefit from one, then I may get one for them, but again they don’t get to use mine. Again, I’m thinking of the scissors example from my childhood.

    I meant to be brief, not so lengthy, my apologies for the length.


  30. Donna February 26, 2013 at 8:31 pm #

    @pentamom – Actually it does say that the girls were not getting along prior to the ipad being brought out. I also note that the writer refers to the visiting girl as “another girl her age” and not a “friend.” His description very much makes it sound like this was a playdate devised more so that the mother’s friend could get free time than a time for child friends to play. This could be because he is the grandfather and not really privy to the relationship between the children or because it was really a forced playdate not particularly welcome by the children.

  31. Lisa February 26, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

    @LRH: Your points are well-taken, and I might feel differently if I had more than one child, or if mine were younger. As it is: we have one computer, one TV, one iPad, and one phone. I wouldn’t have bought the iPad, but she saved for over a year; I pitched in $150, she covered the rest, and it’s “ours”. There are some things in my house that I feel the same way you do about: I’ve had that conversation about boundaries and asking permission. There are other things, though, that we share, and I think exactly what items fall into which category is different for everyone. I put my foot down often enough that it’s clear who is in charge, but I try not to make a big deal, or a lot of rules, around things that don’t really matter to me.
    Along those lines: I respect that some people have time limits on screen time. My preferred “limit”, though, is simply “when I say enough, it’s off”. Sometimes that’s a 30 minute TV show, sometimes it’s a weekend day movie marathon. Same thing with bedtime: it’s time to go to bed when I say it is. We’re very flexible, on everything except who is in charge 🙂

  32. Donna February 26, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

    I agree 100% with Nanci. Screen time has just become another thing that parents are made to obsess over and feel bad about in order to be “good” parents.

  33. katrin February 26, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    “How would an adult feel if forced to get along and ‘play nice’ with someone they hadn’t chosen for themself?”

    Jo, adults are in this situation all the time. Have you never been to a gathering that included people you would rather not see? If you marry, you have a whole new group of inlaws to get along with. Never mind getting along with difficult co-workers!

    When my kids were younger, I told them they didn’t have to be friends with my friend’s kids, but they had to be friendly and inclusive. If I needed to drop them off with one of my friend, my daughter had the option of finding another friend to stay with. But if her friends were unavailable, she had to stay with her brother’s friends family. It’s all part of getting along with others. This is a skill we all need.

  34. Ali February 26, 2013 at 9:37 pm #

    My ground rules for playdates (in this case, kids coming over to play contrived or not) include “no electronics”. I often tell my kids that with more than 2 kids in the room they shouldn’t need a Wii or iPad to keep them entertained; God gave them brains so they could use them! iF they get up early on a Saturday morning, then by all means enjoy a game of Minecraft.

  35. Donald February 26, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

    Be careful about conveniences. Salesman love to sell them because we love to by them. It makes us have to do less work.

    For example. A TV remote will save you the exercise of changing the channel. The outcome is that you get less exercise for your muscles. You can become dependent on it. (lazy muscles, or unable to cope without it)

    A Navman GPS will save you from the bother of looking up a map or remembering the streets. The outcome is that you get less exercise for your brain. You can become dependent on it. (lazy brain, or unable to cope without it) Playing outside is too much work and not very relaxing. Facebook or Youtube is easier

    Wow! What a combination! A generation with a reduced ability to think AND the increasing bombardment of scaremongering. This equates to more of the population running on autopilot. They use their hindbrain (automatic reactions) more and more and their frontal lobe (rational thinking) less and less.

    By the way. I’m still offering a sundial for free. I build sundials of human involvement.
    I’m giving them to schools free of charge because I want feedback. At the moment my sundial looks confusing and too hard to do. It’s not. A 3rd grade class constructed my last one. It’s very easy and I am in the process of making a better set of instructions.

  36. Jennifer Tobin February 26, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

    When we first entered the play date age, it became a house rule that if you had friends over to play, there would be no tv or technology. It amazed me how many kids would complain or would make themselves miserable because they aren’t getting what they want. The kids would eventually find something else to play and would often not want to go home because they had so much fun. I know some parents thought it was a ridiculous rule and that I was being a bit harsh by refusing to budge but I think it is important for kids to play with each other rather than just spend time in the same room with each other.

    My kids are school-aged now and we do sometimes have friends over for a movie night or to play video games but we do encourage the kids to do something other than have screen time while friends are over by limiting the screen time to a specified time or activity. If kids are going to misbehave when visiting our home, it’s going to be an argument over what movie to watch, what game to play or whose turn it is on the Wii. Our best play dates involve play outdoors or some imaginative play in the basement.

  37. socalledauthor February 26, 2013 at 9:48 pm #

    Interesting debate about screen time and electronic devices. We ended up with an iPad and a Kindle Fire (one we inherited and one the husband ‘earned’ with a points reward program though his work.) My son, currently 2.5, IS allowed time on the iPad and the Kindle– but it’s strictly supervised and monitored. He is always sitting/ laying and does NOT carry these expensive things around. But they are useful– especially for times when the husband and I want to talk about day’s events or just reconnect, but our son is being loud. So we sell out and let him play on an iDevice for a spell.

    The main ‘limit’ I have with screen time (mainly TV time really, is that’s more passive than iDevice time) is that my son will usually get bored just watching and he goes off to play, paying little to no attention to the TV, which is then yammering on to no one. I absolutely HATE when a TV is droning on non-stop, whether it’s my house or someone else’s. So, if he’s gone off to play with his trains rather than watch them on TV, then I turn the TV off.

    I do think learning to be friendly to visitors is a useful skill. Depending on how comfortable the visiting girl is, it would be polite, imho, for the daughter to play with the visiting girl rather just leave her to her devices. If the girls have given getting along a chance and don’t seem to be able to make a connection, sure, let them just chill in front of the TV or whatnot. But first they need to really give friendship a chance– again, a useful skill at any age.

    Lastly, while I think the outdoors can be great, I admit that I’m not very outdoorsy (can’t see the computer screen 😉 and won’t do very well imparting a love of the outdoors on my son, I’m sure. If he wants to go outside, I usually obliged, weather permitting, but that’s just not really my thing. Though we do watch birds on the bird feeder, and my son’s grandpa (my dad) taught him the names of nearly all the birds. So my then-2 year old would not say “Bird!” but “Red Winged Blackbird!” That amuses me.

  38. Lisa February 26, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

    What is up with the big focus on kids needing to play outdoors? I’m not actually convinced that it is more valuable than other kinds of play. Taking electronics out of the equation: I can’t see caring if my kid would rather use her imagination and creativity to create artwork, make up a world with her toys, or play a board game with a friend rather than go outside. I prefer she choose a variety of things to do with her free time (and she does), but I have never once said “stop drawing and go outside”. I have said “go play”, “turn the tv off”, or “I’m busy, go entertain yourself”… why does it have to be outdoors?

  39. Donna February 26, 2013 at 10:28 pm #

    Outside of family (which is a whole different animal), I’ve never been forced, as an adult, to “play” one-on-one with someone I didn’t like for a period of time set by someone else. Of course, we’ve all been to parties where some of the guests are people we don’t particularly care for, so we exchange pleasantries with those people and move on to people we do want to talk to. Same with coworkers. If we have coworkers that we don’t like, we interact with them politely to the extent we have to at work but otherwise stay away. We deal with them at group functions but don’t invite them over for a tete-a-tete at our house.

    Kids get plenty of experience with being nice to people they don’t like in school, activities and other social functions. Kids usually get plenty of experience with uncomfortable family relations too so I don’t think we need to contrive playdates so that they have chances to exercise being pleasant to people they don’t like.

    Parents seem to think that kids should like each other just because the parents do. It’s great when that works out but it doesn’t always. Setting up a one-on-one playdate for your child with a child that your child doesn’t like is a bit rude. If you want to offer to babysit your friend’s child so that she can get some alone time, that is very nice of you. But I don’t think it should be described as a playdate for your child, nor do I think the expectations for the children’s interactions should be the same. If my child invites her friend over for a playdate, I would want her to play with the friend. If I’m babysitting another child, I would probably be okay with some ipad and tv sharing to get us through.

    I’m not saying that these kids were not friends. The description of the playdate is weird to me but my daughter occasionally has a bad playdate with even her best friend so that could be all this was.

  40. CrazyCatLady February 26, 2013 at 10:48 pm #

    Yesterday, I think I got the ultimate compliment from my daughter’s friend, age 12. We went to McNary Dam, in WA/OR, on a school trip, which our two families drove ourselves so we could spend extra time. All the kids were supposed to go and walk the nature trails, but got short on time, and we two families ended up being there alone.

    I took the other mom to a less windy area, full of giant sage bushes, blackberry bushes, trails and assorted plants. The kids, age 3-13, had a great time running around, and didn’t want to leave. (It really was cold and windy.) As we were going, the boy said to me “You guys really know all of the coolest places to go!” We will be going back again with this family, next time with their 16 year old who was disappointed that he wasn’t going yesterday because of his classes.

  41. CrazyCatLady February 26, 2013 at 10:50 pm #

    When friends come over, we have a no screen time rule, unless it is REALLY nasty cold or hot outside. And screen time only comes after several hours of playing with other games and toys first. And it doesn’t matter if it is a contrived play date or just a kid from down the road dropping in.

  42. sherri February 26, 2013 at 10:57 pm #

    Lisa, children (and adults) need to go outdoors to get fresh air, sunshine and exercise, and these are only a few of the many reasons outdoor play is so important.

  43. Helen Quine February 27, 2013 at 1:14 am #

    I agree with the posters here saying screen time and electronics have just become another thing to beat up parents over. This article seems a bit anti-Lenore’s previous statements about not feeling you have to parent your kids a certain way to fit in with someone else’s idealized version of childhood.

    Sure nature is good and learning to get on with other people even when they aren’t your choice of playmate is good. But electroniccs can also be good (they make my life better – look what I’m doing right now!) and kids can ignore each other outside too.

  44. Andy February 27, 2013 at 3:13 am #

    I agree with those that say that it is ok for kids not to play together on playdate if they do not want to. As long as they are polite to each other of course.

    I also do not understand blanket “no screen time” for older kids. For one, if my parents would do it, I would never become programmer. I spend a lot of time coding during high school and made life long friends on programming competitions and similar activities. Strong limits would make it impossible. (Two hours a week are not enough if you want to succeed and go into the next round.)

    Second, there is difference between content creation and consumption. Tablets are mostly for consumption – maybe with exception of painting. So yeah, I would limit games. But if what my kid does on computer is content creation, puzzle solving or something similar, I’m fine with that.

    I want my kids to spend time outside and in face to face communication, but it they already spend reasonable time with it, they should be free to have computer related hobby.

    Third, games are not created equal. I do not see that much difference between minecraft and lego for older kids. Similarly, puzzle is puzzle whether physical or on computer. Reading history on wikipedia is not worst then reading story book. For that matter, reading book on reader is exactly the same as reading book. And so on.

  45. JJ February 27, 2013 at 8:17 am #

    Andy, all good points. I also dont mind if my kids blow off steam by making videos in front of the mac. I can’t say they are particularly clever (ever) but they are creating something.

  46. pentamom February 27, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    You’re right, Donna — I really messed up reading that one.

    I agree with you and Nanci as well — screen time can have its downsides but it is not a unique threat. Limit it the way you’d limit anything so that it doesn’t become obsessive or crowd out other better or equally good things, but it’s not a monster waiting to eat our kids.

    And James makes a good point, too — up north, there is only so much time a child is going to enjoy being outside in the winter, especially an older child who doesn’t think that snowmen and snow forts everyday are the greatest thing ever. (Yes, my older kids enjoy playing out in the snow SOME but few teenagers have the insatiable appetite for snow play that a younger kid has.)

  47. pentamom February 27, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    Although I would also say (not to dispute the fact that they weren’t getting along) that two five year olds tussling is not a sign that they would never be able to get along and we should just throw up our hands and accept that they can’t play together. I don’t have a big objection to them doing non-cooperative play all other things being equal, I just think you can’t quite equate two five year olds getting into a squabble with two adults or older kids who will never be able to see eye to eye. Five year olds squabble.

  48. Jenna K. February 27, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    After reading some more of the comments, this seems to have become an electronics vs. not debate.

    I have noticed that my kids, who do not have regular access to electronics, other than limited Wii time (which they often lose because of behavior while they are playing), have much more vivid and active imaginations than their peers who have unlimited access to electronics. I have a friend who has five kids the same ages as mine and she is always complaining that her kids are bored in the summer and that the very short three-week summer that we get here due to year round school is too long. For me, I’m sad that our summer is so short because my kids find plenty to do outside and inside. They are not reliant on technology to keep them entertained, whereas her kids are never without their DS or their PSP or their tablet or their ipod. Same ages as mine (mine are 9, 8, 6, 5, and 1). I have noticed that many kids who spend hours and hours using these devices tend to be less creative in their play without it and are often bored without it because they can’t think of anything else to do. That is why we limit electronics. Electronics are here to stay, for sure, but I don’t want my kids wasting their childhoods with them. There is so much else in the world to learn about and explore and there will be plenty of time for electronics later in life.

  49. Donna February 27, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    @pentamom – I agree about the tussling. These may be the best of friends that were having a bad day, or bad 10 minutes. It is the description of the playdate that makes me think that this was not a kid-chosen playdate. That and the very common parental attitude to try to force friendship between the children of our friends. But it could just be awkward phrasing.

    @Helen Quine – I agree that this post is waaaay too “you must raise your children this way” for my taste.

    This whole anti-technology thing is just a branch of this idea that everything must be perfect, healthy, educational and meaningful for children at all times. That of our kids do something not at least one of those things for part of the day, they will never live up to their full potential.

    I enjoy mindless downtime sometimes. I’m quite taken with one of my child’s games and sometimes steal her nintendo to play. I don’t watch tv due to lack of decent tv programming in A. Samoa and not any view that tv is bad. A few months ago I grabbed “50 Shades of Grey” to read as it was making its way around the island, not because I believed it had literary merit but because I wanted to know what all the hype was about. In fact, the people who I enjoy the most are those who can discuss the “50 Shades of Grey, “Modern Familys” (I miss real TV) and the lastest internet cute cat videos in the world as well great literature. Intelligent people who just don’t take themselves and life oh so serious.

    I think some of this comes from trying recreate the parent’s childhood for our children. We can’t. The 70s are gone. Life has moved on. We need to give our children a good life in the times they live in and not try to recapture something that hasn’t existed in 30+ years. Nor do I think it is a reality-based recollection of our childhoods. While I remember running the neighborhood a lot, I also remember sometimes watching hours of TV as a child. And can you get more mindless than Gilligan’s Island, Eight is Enough, The Love Boat, Charlie’s Angels, The Dukes of Hazzard and Dallas? All my friends (except one who we all considered deprived) in childhood were well-versed in all current TV in the 70s.

    My kid is awake 14 or so hours a day, 365 days a year. She spends some in school, some on homework, some playing with friends, some playing by herself, some playing with me and some enjoying electronic media. She spends some inside and some outside. She spends some engaged in educational entertainment and some pretty mindless. That is what I want her life to be – well balanced.

  50. Lisa February 27, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    @Andy, great point about “content creation” vs. “content consumption”. I’m not sure I think the latter is inherantly bad, but I’d definitely lean towards allowing my kid a lot more leeway for the former. I’d only point out that tablets are not just for consumption – you’re a programmer, to the kind of content creation you think of first really does need a higher power computer. You do point out that painting is an exception on a tablet. My daughter enjoys recording videos; she is a decent singer and works hard at it, and wants to share her work. Photos are another creative outlet on the tablet, as well as writing. I would never tell a kid to stop writing a story and go play with something else.
    Outdoor play is important for all of the reasons that Sherri pointed out, but that doesn’t mean kids need to spend ALL of their free time outside. Assuming that a kid is active and enjoys playing outside sometimes, indoor activities are not a bad thing.

  51. Andy February 27, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    Why does everyone put equal sign between “electronics” and “playing games”? Am I the only one who finds it kind of sad?

    What happened to finding out how this thing works, exploring what everything I can do with it and how to modify it?

    Btw, I fully agree that not everything has to be educational and meaningful all the time. I found out that I need some brainless downtime too.

  52. Lisa February 27, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    “Why does everyone put equal sign between “electronics” and “playing games”? Am I the only one who finds it kind of sad?”

    I do, too! And I was never someone who cared about tinkering with things to find out how they work… I care more about what I can do with it. I want my daughter to know how to create a spreadsheet, run a mail merge, or put together a great powerpoint presentation. I intend to help her decide on a topic that she would like to research over the next school vacation week, and encourage her to put together a presentation on it. In 6th grade, I was staying after school to help my teacher learn to use the brand new computer we’d gotten for the classroom. I would say my computer skills have been at least as beneficial to me in life as anything I learned outdoors, so I have a hard time seeing electronics as evil (or as mindless entertainment).

  53. Emily February 27, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    I agree with Andy and Lisa. I have a laptop, and an iPod (not a Touch, just a 4th generation iPod I bought in late-ish 2010, but it’s still going strong), but I use my laptop fairly often to write poems and stories, and I make slideshows with pictures and music. As for my iPod, I’ve used that (or other-branded MP3 players, before I got my iPod), to listen to music for academic purposes when I was in university, I wear it on an arm band while walking or jogging for exercise (sometimes with my dog, Charlie), and also, I use my iPod as something of a “medical device,” for lack of a better term, because I have problems with anxiety and panic attacks when I’m in crowded, noisy, or confined places. So, if I have to go somewhere on a crowded bus, I put on my iPod. Sure, I use my laptop for idle browsing as well, but sometimes I learn things even from that, like with Wikipedia, as a previous poster mentioned upthread. Even this site is educational, in a way, because it’s taught me a lot about the way the world is now, versus the way it was when I was growing up, not so long ago.

  54. Helen Quine February 27, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

    @Donna Charlie’s Angels “mindless”! How dare you?

  55. missjanenc February 27, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

    Put feeders in the yard and let the kids be in charge of keeping them filled.

  56. Let_Her_Eat_Dirt February 27, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

    Folks, it’s not about the electronics, it’s about personal interaction. Nature is one way (not the only way, certainly) to help kids focus on dealing with each other as human beings. I love electronics too, but I recognize that kids (and adults) can lose sight of basic human interaction when they focus in on their gadgets.

    I had a very similar interaction at the dentist’s office yesterday. My daughters were happily watching the fish in the waiting room aquarium with another little boy. They were laughing and making a bit of noise, so his mother shushed him, called him over, and placed an iPad in his lap. That shut him up and kept him away from those giggly girls. Great lesson…

    Let Her Eat Dirt
    A dad’s take on raising tough, adventurous girls

  57. Lisa February 28, 2013 at 7:52 am #

    So, if a person is using their electronics FOR personal interaction, is that ok? Personally, I’ve never understood the thought that cell phones prevent us from having meaningful human interactions: if I’m on a phone call with my best friend and don’t say hello to a stranger, I have not avoided interaction – I have merely prioritized the interaction that is most important to me.
    There may be an argument for limiting electronic games, but Skype? FaceTime? Email? These are ways that my kid, and I, stay connected to the people who mean the most to us.

  58. Mark Peterson February 28, 2013 at 10:13 am #

    My friends and I were just as nervous about the sleepovers. We focused our energy on creating an assessment that we share with parents when they plan to host a sleepover. The assessment helps the parent review all the potential sensitive areas and issues PRIOR to hosting the event. Take a look at the assessment at

  59. Lisa February 28, 2013 at 10:53 am #

    @Mark: WHY?! Are we so skeptical of other parents’ ability to take care of our kids for 12 hours, that we need them to do an “assessment” before we give permission?! What exactly are we afraid of? That they have different rules than we do? That there are highly dangerous hazards throughout the house that somehow their kids are immune to, but ours will be permanently damaged from? If another parent made this big a deal out of a simple invitation, I would simply suggest to my daughter that she invite a different friend.

  60. Andy February 28, 2013 at 11:01 am #

    @Lisa what mark wrote was most likely just a spam to raise clicks on that safe child training site. They probably get money out of them.

  61. pentamom March 1, 2013 at 9:28 am #

    Well, Let Her Eat Dirt, your girls were STRANGERS you know.

    Ever notice how strangers only exist in private businesses or outdoors? Build a school or a daycare or a Y or something like that around exactly the same group of people, and it’s okay for the kids to interact with them without your prior permission or even knowledge. But if you’re in an office, a store, or a park, (assuming there is not an Official Instructor or Coach present) they’re to be avoided.

    It’s weird how we measure who is a stranger based on institutions, rather than actual acquaintance of the lack thereof. If there is an Institution in place, it’s okay, no matter how many previously unknown people of any age are surrounding your child. If there is no institution, it’s a danger.

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