Kids in Church :: iPads are NOT the Answer

I have pocketed quite a few lessons in my first three years of parenthood :: my ankle will inevitably crack loudly upon walking away from a sleeping baby’s crib, character band-aids heal injuries very quickly, and if I want to enjoy the entire snack-sized bag of Doritos myself, I better hide in the bathroom to do so.

I also more recently learned there are words that I never thought I would have to speak, some of those being, “Please turn around and stop looking at that boy’s iPad” to our son while in church.

This last lesson reminds me that from day 1, I have tried very quickly to swallow any judgements about other parents and their decisions for raising their children. After all, the majority of us are doing the best that we can with what we have, and bottles or breast, cry it out or comfort, we are doing a pretty darn good job. Most days I know my place in questioning what others choose for their children. I am not walking in their shoes, and my own walk so very often includes mistakes. Who am I to judge?

But I have now discovered the line. I am certain we all have one. It might be a moment, perhaps an act, or even an object that hurls us beyond the let’s-do-this-parenting-thing-with-open-arms-together fence.

My line was crossed about a week ago after settling into our seats for Sunday Mass in the cry room of our church. My husband and I hoped to sit in the main part of the church, but when our three year old said he wanted to sit in the back, we figured we might as well play it safe. While the room can get loud and distracting, we know it’s a place where we can attempt to guide our little ones to behave in Mass while at the same time not completely disturb those around us.

As we waited for Mass to start, a family walked into the row behind us. Mom proceeded to hand her four year old an iPad before she even sat down, and Dad grabs another device and tells the two year old, “Look, it’s Mommy’s iPhone.”

I saw the iPad come out, and the aggravation began stirring within. My line. There it was.

Seconds later our son was turned around in his chair glued to the screen of the boy behind us, and what started as a speck of discomfort spiraled into a ball of irritation.

After several whispers to please turn around and a removal from the room to kindly explain that he’s not in trouble, but iPads don’t belong in church, on my next attempt to direct our son’s attention to the service, Mom put her hand on my shoulder, smiled, and said, “It’s okay.”

What!?!?! It’s okay? What’s okay? The fact that my son is staring at your son’s iPad, is that okay? He’s not disturbing his game play? We wouldn’t want that.

Or was she judging me for my parenting style and attempting to guide me in the right direction? Did she mean that it’s okay to allow your son to watch what’s going on back here instead of what’s happening in church. Not a problem.

Completely caught off guard, I smiled politely, turned around, and gave the did-that-just-happen look to my husband. Had I not been so shocked, I should have responded, “No. No, it’s not okay, and here’s why.” But you can’t do that in the middle of Mass. And I wasn’t going to do that. I also wasn’t going to cause a scene with a tantrum-throwing three year old in order to force him to face the front. Perhaps it’s my parental failure in that I didn’t have the skills to keep him focused on Mass. Judge away.

I’m not judging these parents for failing to engage their children in the Mass. We are ‘guilty’ in that case of bringing snacks and a book or two, but these activities don’t last the entire service. We do our best to direct our son’s attention to parts of the Mass and invite his participation.

Perhaps I’m judging them for their laziness. Sure, I’d like an electronic device to entertain my child for an hour so I don’t have to discipline them and engage them.

Perhaps I am judging them for their lack of religious zeal. After all, not only did they bring said devices and offer them to their kids before their bottoms hit the chair, but they played, loudly I might add, with the kids during Mass. I have no idea why they came to church that morning. I understand my heart is in the wrong place passing judgments like this one.

After reading this article, my husband posted his feelings on Facebook about our iPad encounter, and the responses opened my eyes a bit. Perhaps my heart needed to hear them, but from encouraging words for us to use it as a teachable moment, to suggestions to trust in our parenting and not worry about others, to a comment praising the parents for at least being present and bringing their children to Mass, the responses all seemed to echo that mother’s “it’s okay” in my head.

But they aren’t settling the issue for me. It’s not okay.

We live in a society where, for better or worse, preschools boast “kids can learn on iPads,” and restaurant tables are often filled with every member of the family on some sort of smart device. Often times I believe we are giving them too much power, and they are stealing moments. This past Sunday they stole moments of faith from every member of my family, except sweet 8 month old J who, in fact, slept the whole time.

Don’t get me wrong. My husband and I both have smart phones. I would admit that I check Instagram or Facebook more often than I should over the course of the day. There is an iPad in our household. Our son sometimes plays more than the recommended time.

These, however, don’t travel to restaurants with us and certainly not to Mass. I am strongly opposed to using these devices in church to pacify children, perhaps selfishly because they draw the attention of other children.

Kids, life’s greatest imitators, see parents on phones and tablets all of the time. Of course they want in on the screen time. I can’t blame my three year old for being unable to unglue his eyes from the iPad behind us last Sunday. I will blame the parents and wish I had the personality to kindly remind them that no, it’s not okay. I am not opposed to moving seats in the future in order to avoid the distraction.

We did talk with our son and asked how he feels when Momma or Daddy is on the phone and he wants to talk or play with us. We tried to make the connection that church is a time to spend with God, and using a iPad during that time would make God feel sad and left out. Wherever that conversation went, I’m hoping that a bit sunk in as we may unfortunately run across this situation again.

Did I allow the smart device family to steal my faith, to steal my joy that morning? Perhaps. But when we are doing all that we can to try to raise our children to have Christian hearts, by golly, can society please try to set a good example in the very least by unplugging during church?

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Whatever your technology philosophy might be, let’s plan to waver on the side of too little this Thanksgiving week and be intentional in spending time with and sharing moments with those around us.

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8 Responses to Kids in Church :: iPads are NOT the Answer

  1. Elizabeth November 23, 2013 at 10:58 am #

    Great post. Amen!

  2. Ashley November 23, 2013 at 8:26 pm #

    I so agree with you on this! We are a family that eats together & are big into teaching our children what it means to engage in conversation & having manners at the dinner table, so we don’t take our phones or iPads to the table. And I’d never imagine of taking it to church. If my parents could teach my brother & I to sit still & listen, then I will teach mine to do the same!!! 🙂 AMEN, sister!!

  3. Faith January 2, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

    I’ve been on both sides. I definitely believe in instilling manners and appropriate behaviors in specific places and/or situations, church and restaurants to name a few. I can count with both hands the number of times I’ve allowed my son screen time during church service or mealtime (more church than mealtime). Or handing them a coloring page or activity pad. I’ve held off as long as I could before caving, perhaps giving in as soon as the actual message begins, and requiring participation during singing, etc. But as a single parent- there are times when I need some screen time for my sanity. For a little while there, I was working one-and-a-half jobs and downtime for me was non existent. If caving to screen time (or any other activity during service) meant I could hear a good solid message during church without my son tugging on my arm every two minutes, then I threw in the towel. But where God’s grace met me during these moments of weakness or “caving in” is when God provided opportunities that I could openly discuss “screen time”, limitations and of course unplugging. My son’s been amazingly good at not abusing it and I’m thankful for that, but he’s also at the age where he craves more active play time and I’m thankful for that too, so there’s never any screen time battle. Great post, thanks for sharing your heart.

  4. Amy June 15, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

    I just found this today. I have family that allows their kids to use iPads in church and naturally my child wants to watch. I’m with you, it’s not ok. We may bring a car or snacks, but he is 4 yrs old and it’s time for him to interact with what’s going on in church. Time to bow during prayer, stand am during the singing, and sit quietly. It is work for us, but how will he learn what it means to be a part of church family, to learn about Christ if he is glued to a game on an iPad.

  5. Jen March 30, 2016 at 10:30 am #

    I actually disagree with you on this topic. I think an iPad is totally fine at church. He is not disturbing anyone and as Christians, we are taught not to judge, so I feel we shouldn’t judge other parents choices (as long as there is no danger to the child’s well-being), especially in church! My son actually watches Bible Stories on his iPad and he learns much more from that than he would in an adult service or a coloring book. We brought the iPad to church for a while and now we put our kids in the nursery and they learn from the wonderful teachers there. Maybe you could start a child’s program during the Mass so parents could enjoy the Mass and children could learn about God in a fun way at the same time. This may be a more productive use of time instead of venting.

    • Jenn March 31, 2016 at 8:22 pm #

      Jen,
      What a great suggestion! It’s actually one that I already practice. I attend Mass with my family and teach at the following Mass, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be with my family and show that there are times in life when unplugging is necessary. I’m also blessed with circumstances that allow me to teach as a productive use of my time. Thanks for reaching out!

  6. A June 10, 2017 at 8:35 pm #

    I thoroughly agree with Jen.

    Also im an adult who brings a tablet to church and Sunday School. I use several Bible apps. Bibles are heavy.

  7. Andrea June 11, 2017 at 7:41 pm #

    Sorry, but this is one of the most hypocritical things I have read. You do what you need with your family and let others do what they want. They aren’t judging you and you shouldn’t be judging them. Kids are distracted with anything. They could have brought a book with bible stories in it and kids would still want to look at gay book instead of what was going on at the pulpit. Let’s stop shaming people and try working on making ourselves better. And truthfully, if the worst thing my kid did at church is turn around and look at someone’s iPad I think it would be a great day! With that frame of mind we should be asking everyone around us to cater to our own preferences, what is that teaching our kids? They have to learn to control themselves j stead of expecting everyone else to eliminate any and all distractions. Sorry, but this was rediculous.

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