Two parents. Five children under the age of 8. One iPad Mini. Two iPads. Four iPhones. Luminous screens reflect their slack faces back at them. An infinity of dead eyes. A little boy no more than 3 takes selfies.
The parents sit on the same side of the table staring at the wall and intermittently checking their iPhones while their children play on various electronic devices, heads bent over the incandescent beacons, souls slowly being leached from their bodies by technology.
When I take their orders, the mother asks her sons what they want to eat. They mumble into their iPads. She doesn’t encourage them to look up and make eye contact with me, instead translating their garbled, 140-character language into “macaroni and cheese” while her eyes flick back and forth between a spot somewhere just below my chin and the texts displayed on her phone.
The father pays for everything with a black AmEx.
I feel bad for the children. They don’t know what’s being done to them and they’re too young to fight the seductive pixels of racing games or Facebook or Twitter. I worry they’re not learning how to use their imaginations, that they’re unable to create their own fun, that basic human interaction is becoming a dying art.
I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve seen parents plop their child in front of a screen displaying cartoons and ignore him for the rest of the meal.
Having kids is difficult. I get it. And taking said spawn to a restaurant for a nice, relaxing meal can require Herculean effort. In order to avoid a meltdown for as long as possible, the solution is to keep the offspring entertained.
But there’s a lesson in boredom, there’s a lesson in having to sit through monotonous adult conversations that don’t matter to you when you’re 7 and all you can think about is eating soft-serve for dessert. Boredom teaches creativity and patience and maturity — all of which are severely lacking in kids these days, or at least the ones who eat at my restaurant.
When that 7-year-old hits puberty, my sympathy evaporates. These are the years when his sense of entitlement transforms him into a shallow husk of a self-actualized human.
There’s a difference between a sullen teenager (aren’t all teenagers sullen?) and a 13-year-old who doesn’t know how to say please or thank you, who is out to dinner with his friends and all of them stare at their cellphones until the food arrives and then, as soon as the hot dogs are finished, the screens consume them once more. They don’t acknowledge my presence except to grunt out their orders and ask for the check. I am reduced to nothing more than a set of hands delivering their food and refilling their Cokes.
I was a horrible enough teenager without social networking, cellphones, tablets, and getting whatever I wanted. I can’t even imagine the hell that is about to be wrought when the children born after 2003 begin to mature.