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Please turn your iPad away from my child!

 iPad in a coffee shop

So, here’s the scene:

You’re sitting in Starbucks, you’ve got a nice two minutes of peace assured because you’ve just purchased an overpriced cookie for your toddler to enjoy while you suck back a Christmas Blend coffee, and then … oh wait, what the? The guy over on the next table is watching Game of Thrones on his iPad and a racy, sex scene has just come on the screen. Naturally, your toddler is captivated by the moving pictures and is staring right at this guy’s laptop as this scene starts to unroll.

Do you:

A) Just keep drinking that coffee. You can probably get a good 5 extra minutes of quiet coffee-drinking now.

B) Politely ask the guy to turn his screen away or, better yet, turn the show off, while doing a Vanna White hand motion towards your toddler, so that he gets the hint.

C) Cough really loudly, while doing the Vanna White thing noted above, in the hopes that you can avoid a confrontation.

D) Simply get up and find another seat away from the iPad’s skin-baring scenes. It’s his quiet coffee time too, after all.

When I was first asked this question by a reporter with The Star, I basically shrugged my shoulders and opted for Option A. Hey, it’s not like it’s an R-rated thing … it’s a television show, right? How bad can it be? (Granted, I’ve never actually seen the show Game of Thrones. I don’t think it gets played on my crummy cable package.)

But when the article went live today, I brought up the topic at the family dinner table. Hubby took a firm stance that one has an obligation when in public to view only things of a PG-rated nature. I thought, sure, that’s what he and I would do … but does a stranger have this obligation to our children? I wasn’t so sure.

So then he said: What if someone was walking down the street naked? Sure, they have the right to be naked, but not in a public space. It’s the same thing.

Well, not really, I countered, because public nudity is actually against the law. But watching something on your own private screen? Nope.

Okay, he said: What if someone is sitting loudly in that same Starbucks and swearing a blue streak?

Now, that is on par, in my opinion. Many people, myself included, don’t swear in public out of respect for the other people around them. It’s the same with what you view on your laptop screen. In a Starbucks, one has the option of moving away. But on a plane? Not so much.

Like most things, I am now a touch undecided. I know that I definitely wouldn’t watch anything that isn’t appropriate for all in public. But who knows, instead of finding me sitting peacefully in a local Starbucks, you could find me coughing up my coffee while madly undertaking a less-than-graceful Vanna White impersonation.

What do you think? Would you say something in this scenario I’ve described above? What if, like Tanis Miller in the article, you end up unwittingly being the offending laptop viewer? Do you freeze, clap the laptop lid down like a clam, or just shrug and keep enjoying your show?


  1. I’m undecided on this one, too – but it does remind me of the time we were driving down a dark road at night behind a guy in a van who was watching what was a very explicit porn movie on his drop-down DVD player!

  2. HA! Dani’s comment is HILARIOUS. Guess that was some serious inspiration to pass. Quickly.

    I’m pretty sure I would do D, only because I fear and avoid all confrontation ever and always, and just cannot do it. So I’d just avoid the situation, as is my wont.

    In general, though, I actually agree with your first instinct – that he’s free to watch what he wants in public. You’d think explicit sex scenes might make *him* feel a little awkward (Lord knows, if this happened to me I’d want to shrivel up under the table and DIE), but meh, I would say it was okay if he wanted to watch it, especially with headphones. I’d think it was weird if someone was reading a book over a stranger’s shoulder, so likewise, it’s weird to think others are going to be watching your iPad over your shoulder.

    • Coffee with Julie says:

      I’m with you on the confrontation thing. If it’s not that important in the big scheme of things, I tend to avoid it because, really, who needs the hassle? As example, when Stella and I went to Jamaica, a young couple was sitting across the aisle from us. They pulled out their laptop and starting watching a movie — with full volume, no ear phones! It make me chuckle because they were so clearly clueless and looked genuinely surprised when the attendant  told them they had to use earphones if they wanted to use it (I think other passengers complained to her). I think it was their first flight. I thought it was annoying and dim-witted, but I didn’t say anything to them. Meh.

  3. My reaction would depend entirely on my mood that day. If I was feeling testy I might confront Mr. Game of Thrones with a pointed “do you MIND?” But 90% of the time I am not so that grouchy so I would just pick up and find another place to sit.

    I think as long as the person is wearing headphones it’s passably ok. The situation is akin to reading a magazine on a bus. People can infringe upon the readers (or watchers – in this case) space and peek over their shoulder, but privacy is implied. Know what I mean? Proximity has to factor into this conversation somewhat.

    You compared the iPad viewing situation to loud profanity in a public space, but I think conversation is a better parallel here. Imagine two people having a “naughty” conversation at the table next to you and your innocent children. They’re speaking at regular volume but you happen to be close enough to hear. Do you have the right to ask them to stop? I don’t think you really do, because they are entitled to some degree of privacy within their own little sphere of personal space. 
    Related: Did you know that the Ottawa Public library has this same issue with the public terminals? I don’t think it was ever really resolved. Basically people are allowed to access ANY website on library computers… and as you can imagine, some of these sites are not kid-friendly at all.

    • Coffee with Julie says:

      Oooohhh, now that is an interesting point about public libraries! That must be an ongoing issue for them. And you’re right, it’s a proximity thing. If you are sitting so close that you’re staring over someone’s shoulder in a coffee shop, you’re the one being indecent! But, in an airplane, it’s trickier. 

  4. Maggie off Main says:

    Logically, the question is: Is it your own “private” screen? I would argue it is not when it is on a computer or laptop. Just as swearing in public can make others uncomfortable this goes well beyond that into the public domain whether intended or not. On a smart phone one could view more or less privately but not on larger devices so it is an intrusion into ‘public/community space’ with unpleasant, undesirable, possibly even illegal material and language. My 2cents worth!   

    • Coffee with Julie says:

      I think reading off of a tablet or phone is akin to reading “50 Shades of Grey,” in public. It doesn’t offend me at all and I shouldn’t be reading over their shoulder anyhow. But I suppose it’s the larger size of a laptop screen that brings in the debate as to whether it’s really a “private” screen or not. 

  5. I like to believe that most people have the common sense to not watch anything too risqué in public (granted, I am a naive and very practical girl who wouldn’t, and expect everyone else to do the same!), but if they choose to do so, I think that’s their right.

    Children, and adults, are exposed to many inappropriate, suggestive visuals in daily life that I think it’s up to parents to prepare and teach their children about what they may encounter. It’s not right, but that’s the way our society is. In this scenario my suggestion is: if you don’t like it, don’t watch it! On a plane, in a coffee shop, or on the bus, you can avert your child’s eyes, and your eyes, to something else.

    • Coffee with Julie says:

      You’re right … one hopes that common sense prevails!! In a coffee shop, I could easily keep my kids eyes from prying, but on a plane, I think it would be really difficult (there’s not much else to look at and everyone is sitting so close).

  6. Jacqueline says:

    To each their own in my opinion.  I agree with Andrea re private conversations being more explicit in many cases then a program being watched on a tablet in public.

    If my kids are staring at or listening to someone elses converstation – I tell them to mind their own business and pay attention to whatever it is we are doing at the time. 

    Growing up we coined “the Clarke stare”….we stare….its rude and not acceptable.  So I am trying to teach my children to simply go about their own business and only concern themselves with things that directly affect them.

    • Coffee with Julie says:

      The Clarke Stare! ha! That is a new one I haven’t heard before! But I think I would do exactly the same as you and teach my children the importance of minding their own business. All kids need to learn these kinds of social norms. 

  7. Giulia Doyle says:

    This makes me laugh – having grown up in Europe where you can turn on the Italian, French or even German channels during times when your children are up and see a LOT of naked people this is very much a non-issue. Just ignore it and tell my kids that it’s none of their business and that we don’t stare.
    And while it is illegal to be nude in public, it’s not illegal to be top-less in public – imagine the conversation with your kids if you’d see a woman without a top walking down the street 😉

  8. Stacerella says:

    Option E) (if possible) switch seats with the child. I realise this may not be possible, but if it is, and you’re not ready to leave the coffee shop, I think I would opt for this one or talking to the staff about the patrons’ choice of viewing material being aired where everyone can see it whether they want to or not. There are only so many things to look at instead when it’s in your line of sight, y’know?

  9. Toddler = 1 -3 years old. how much is he piecing together for any 18+ scenes? I’m not a parent, and I’m not investing any time in learning about what sexual behaviour retention children form during that stage, so do feel free to correct me. I feel the easiest thing to do (as mentioned) is to swap places with the child. with any luck, the Throne watcher will get the point.

    I feel if option B is perused, then the concept of “preparing your kid for life” is lost. and if option C is lost, you’re teaching your child how to be non-confrontational in the least productive way.

    • You’re right — switching seats is likely the best option. It wouldn’t inconvenience me (like having to look for a new table would) and it wouldn’t inconvenience him. (Also: thanks for joining in the convo here Nelly! I think it’s your first time commenting — really appreciate you coming to read and leaving a comment.) 

  10. Well if it was GoT, just buy your child another cookie, tell the iPad owner to scoot over and enjoy the show! Great series… 

    And more seriously, if it’s not being overtly broadcast and he/she’s wearing headphones, just shuffle around and move on, I’d say.

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