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Screen Time in Public Places

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Q: My husband and I let our kids play games and use apps on our tablets and smartphones, but is it bad manners for kids to use iPads and iPhones in public settings such as restaurants? Do you have any tips for setting rules around screen use in public?

A: Great question. There are no hard and fast "digital etiquette" rules yet, though a growing number of individuals are thinking it through.

The first step as a parent is to find out if the establishment you're visiting has any specific rules about electronic devices. Some businesses are starting to set their own digital device policies, from stores asking people not to use their cellphones as they check out to businesses such as Burlington's August First Bakery going "screen free" and prohibiting the use of laptops and tablets in their café.

If screens are allowed, and you're OK with your children using them, set some ground rules. For example, sound from a game might be distracting to other patrons, so you might want to turn it off. And consider which tools keep your children engaged appropriately when out in public. If the game or activity gets them excited, it may be a poor choice in any venue.

If you'd rather not have kids tune out in front of a screen, you could also bring other items along. Books, art supplies and board games may occupy younger kids just as well as electronic devices. Or you could engage in face-to-face conversation, which can be easier to sustain with older kids. But that's a choice you need to make based on your family's values.

Elaine Young is the author of Tuned-In Family: How to Cope, Communicate & Connect in a Digital World, and is a professor at Champlain College, where she specializes in digital marketing and social media. Got a question about navigating the digital world with your family? Send it to ideas@kidsvt.com.

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