At least once a week, my almost three-year-old and I will wander through the “100 aker wood” with Winnie-the-Pooh and friends in search of heffalumps and woozles. At some point — a voice (mine) — will tell my toddler we’re about to leave the woods. This usually happens a few minutes before I end the viewing experience on my phone — a move that’s met with more than a simple Pooh-inspired “oh, bother” but, fortunately, not by much.
Others in this precious age group aren’t as compliant, suggests new research that found similar warnings tend to make tantrums worse. In fact, transitions away from gadgets aren’t as smooth as parents and other caretakers would hope when they issue a two-minute warning that their kids’ “screen time” is about to end.
Still, in all my 2.83 years of parenting, I’ve learned some ways to help stave off several screen-time related tantrums. One that I’m not terribly proud of is to blame sudden, mysterious outages on the grave failings of technology — to a point where my son will ask hopefully if a desired video is “bufferin’.” Another, more successful solution, is to simply wait until we get to a good stopping point in a show or movie such as the absolute end after the last credit has made its slow ascent off the screen.
Parenting in the age of brutally smart devices is constantly on my mind. Although I’m not at all against technology, I’ve found that my son’s mood will change the longer he uses the phone — whether it’s to listen to music, watch a show, or look at photos — and he tends to get more possessive and increasingly upset as I try to take it away. Which led me to wonder: How much is too much, are smart phones and iPads such a bad thing for young kids (they aren’t the best, according to several tech parents including Steve Jobs), how much longer before technology swallows my son whole?
After reading endlessly about the pros and cons of exposing young kids to smart devices, my husband and I decided to do the same thing we did when we first had our baby — ditch the books and expert literature — and go with what feels right. And for us, and apparently a vast majority of other parents, relying on books and toys rather than smart devices works perfectly as a way to keep our kid busy.
But before arriving at this highly enlightened place, we were struck by the horrible realization that to keep our son off smart devices, we would have to lead by example. That proved to be excruciating for me since I’ve grown quite fond of wasting endless hours on Facebook, Instagram and other similar timesinks. But after a few particularly low points when my son caught me surreptitiously checking my phone as I read to him, I decided to quit the addiction — all in the name of good parenting. (None of this was an issue during my pristine 80s childhood in India, so my parents can offer little guidance on the subject. I didn’t have seemingly smart addictions to mimic and spent most of my time reading Enid Blyton and playing with the neighborhood kids.)
I deleted my Facebook app; I moved my phone off my bedside table; I planted an old-school clock in its place; I failed. I still constantly check my phone a million times a day despite its plague-like qualities although I commend others who have chosen to quit their addiction and start living. Instead I instruct our son to “do as I say, not as I do” — a healthy parenting approach that seems to be working. We still allow him to occasionally use our phones, of course, especially in restaurants when we could do with a calm dining experience, but, for now at least, Pooh in print appears to be marginally more interesting than scrolling aimlessly up and down a bright screen.