Until 2009, I lived, happily or not, without a smart phone. I didn’t have access to the internet at every given moment. I didn’t have the capability to take great quality photos and share them with friends (and strangers) at the drop of a hat. I didn’t have games, news, recipes, a calculator all carried in my pocket.
This isn’t a post about whether smart phones are a good or bad thing or whether they have had a positive or negative impact on living life today (my personal opinion is its a bit of both). I didn’t have this device until 5 years ago and I didn’t even have a phone to make calls with until 2000. I managed to bimble along. I survived. No, what this is about is about how my, yet to turn, 2 year old is obsessed and I mean obsessed with my iPhone.
For as long as he’s been able to reach for things, our iPhones have been a source of fascination for Oscar. When it first happened I just thought it was a fluke – he was reaching for everything right? But then it became clear the object he wanted to play with more than anything was a piece of technology – sod Sophie La Giraffe!! It took us a little while to realise this wasn’t because of what it was, but because it was the thing he saw us ‘play’ with the most and don’t all children just want to be like their parents? It started with chewing it (ewww!) and handling it. That was fine if gross. The problems started when he realised that a) just because we put it away, it didn’t stop existing and b) there was another world held within that tiny box!
My first mistake I guess was thinking this was cute. Oscar didn’t really watch much TV at the time and I was happy for him to occasionally watch YouTube clips on my phone. He was a Sesame St nut – mad for everything Elmo. So I downloaded an Elmo app. Elmo would Facetime my phone and Oscar would giggle at the calls, particularly at Elmo mooing like a cow! He thought it was immense fun and he could control that fun. Who wouldn’t want more of that?
But it was a slippery slope. I started downloading more (free) apps for him. I put them all in his own folder and before I knew it he could find them without any help from me. I even tried moving the folder around to see if he could actually recognise it or if he was just remembering the location. He found the apps he wanted every time.
I actually started to find his interest in the iPhone helpful. For one thing Oscar’s a runner, the iPhone keeps him safer. I could take him swimming on my own and get changed without him running off. But it’s also incredibly useful as a distraction technique. I could take him to the barbers and he’d sit (mostly) still while playing on my phone. We could go for meals and keep him amused until the food came. We started to be able to avoid boredom melt downs in public. Why wouldn’t I want more of that?
My problems with it started fairly recently. Now he wants it all the time. And when I don’t let him have it on demand, or take it off him, when I feel he no longer ‘needs’ it he freaks out. Proper screaming, body throwing tantrums. I’ve heard these referred to as iPaddys! And I don’t know what to do. Its so easy to cave when a supremely bored toddler is wreaking havoc in the bank, much to the disgusted looks and comments of the other customers (yep that was yesterdays joy!) You know the thing that will work, so you just do it, regardless of whether its the best thing for them. I’ve tried taking toys and books where ever we go, but they don’t have the same effect. Not on my son anyway.
I feel like the worst Turkey Twizzler feeding mummy every time I give it to him, but am I really harming him? Depends who you read. We hear a lot about how ‘screen time’ can be harmful, but research into smart devices, although in its infancy, shows that there is a marked difference between a TV screen and an iPhone screen. The difference seems to be primarily in the interactive nature of the apps. There’s an interesting blog post about it here if you’re interested. I am also of the opinion that technology now plays such an enormous part in our every day lives, beyond the box sat in the corner of the room, that children should be introduced to it. It will be part of their upbringing in a way it wasn’t in ours. That doesn’t make it wrong or bad. Its a fact.
But that doesn’t make it any easier to see him desperately and immediately happy when he gets his fix. His problem is not his, it’s mine. It’s how I became lazy, falling back on my iPhone in this part of my life like I do in every other part. How do I wean him off smart phone time if I have no desire to do it for myself? Its a serious question I’m going to have to ask myself if I want real answers.
I don’t think this is a ‘phase’. I don’t think he’s going to get bored of this just like he did with Captain Calamari or his other baby toys, because this keeps evolving, changing, showing that it can always be more. Its whats kept me hooked for the last 5 years, why wouldn’t it do the same to him?
Sometimes, when he’s freaking out, when he’s having an ‘iPaddy’, him using my phone is all I can think about. But my son loves other things too. He loves ‘reading’ books, he loves being sung and danced with, he loves any toy with wheels, his favourite foods include courgette and banana, his favourite words are Car and Mama, he loves being in the garden, he loves running, he loves any ball. He also just happens to love the iPhone.
How much he uses it, is up to me.