In the beginning, it was adorable.
“Mooo-fee!” my little two-year-old would chirp, as we walked home from playgroup. Our family owns no DVDs or televisions; “moo-fees” were simply family videos that my daughter had filmed over the years, and our little toddler delighted in watching them. Over and over again.
It’s the age, I told myself, as I observed yet another toddler lumber down the grocery aisles toting his mother’s smartphone, watching “moo-fees”. That’s the way kids are these days. Born with a silver microchip in their mouth.
“Want moo-fee!” baby cried when it was bedtime. And faced with the prospect of a tantrum, we inevitably obliged. What could be so bad about family videos – right?
Pretty soon, it was “moo-fee” when he first awoke in the morning, “moo-fee” when he got up from his nap, and “moo-fee” at supper time.
Along the way, our baby had also become more sophisticated. Instead of merely watching movies, he started flipping through them – fast-forwarding, rewinding, switching countless times in the middle. That also seemed cute at first – pretty sophisticated, actually.
“The kid is a genius!” we said proudly. “He’ll be set for a career in video editing by age three.”
Then one day, I noticed something perturbing.
While his brothers ran around the house in various incarnations of astronauts and soldiers, Baby played with the computer.
My baby wasn’t eating. He wasn’t sleeping very much. And he rarely played. While his older brothers ran around the house in various incarnations of astronauts, bus drivers, and soldiers, Baby played with the computer. His stacking toys went unnoticed; his books went unread. After all, who had time for anything else when something as all-consuming and important beckoned?
And that’s when I came face-to-face with the startling truth: My baby had an addiction.
It seemed impossible at first. Addictions are so…extreme, aren’t they? I mean, what were the chances an innocent little child of two could become a true addict? Yet the facts were clear as day. As reality slammed through me, the second blow wasn’t long in coming. If my child was truly addicted to the computer, then he’d probably stay addicted for the foreseeable future, and the only way to get him to stop would be a painful, tear-stained process.
Did I want my baby to be a technology addict? Suddenly, the whole adorable little game crumpled. My baby had just one chance at childhood. Could I, in good conscience, allow him to continue on this obsessed journey? But could I handle the angst of pulling the plug? That brought me up short.
Unless I was completely invested in re-creating my baby’s lifestyle, I would not have the necessary stamina to endure the transition that lay ahead. So I forced myself to weigh the pros and cons. The most obvious “pro” of my baby’s addiction was free, nearly constantly available entertainment. Aside from Shabbos and Jewish holidays when the computer was off-limits (inevitably resulting in a total meltdown), the computer was Baby’s best friend, obliging sitter, and very affable playmate.
But the “cons” put this admittedly irresponsible “pro” to shame. Here was a child surrounded by countless opportunities for learning, for development, and enrichment, who would never reach out and grab hold of those opportunities simply because he was chained to a Technicolor screen. If at age two he was addicted to family movies, who knew what lay ahead at age four or six or ten? What about building social skills? How about learning fair play? And when would he learn to take his hands off the mouse and eat a simple sandwich? There was no escaping the next step.
It was a nightmare.
There are two ways to break a habit: slowly and gradually, or cold turkey. For a few reasons, I had decided to go cold-turkey. That meant our first morning looked something like this:
Baby opens his eyes bright and early and sounds the ubiquitous warble: “Want moo-fee!”
Me (smiling hopefully): “No moo-fee now. We’re going to playgroup!”
Baby (looks confused): “Soon moo-fee?”
Me (vaguely): “Maybe.”
But that afternoon, when the entire walk home from playgroup was peppered with excited pronouncements about “Watch moo-fee” I had to bite the bullet and lay down the law which led to all-out mutiny. Kicking, screaming, raging, my addict needed his fix and I wasn’t allowing it. My heart broke to see him suffer. I also digested a heaping helping of guilt, knowing that I had enabled this habit to develop instead of nipping it in the bud. But I rode it out, offering lots of support and alternatives. Day One, we both went to sleep crying.
The computer is now completely off-limits to my baby and he’s stopped asking for it.
Day Two, Baby was still hopeful that yesterday had been a fluke. But I gently broke it to him that today, too, there were to be no moo-fees. Instead, I offered a plethora of books, games, and toys. We went through the expected firestorm, but it seemed that a certain resigned acceptance was beginning to set in. He was starting to figure out that Mommy was serious. And that the world hadn’t quite come to an end.
Today, a few months later, the computer is completely off-limits to my baby and he’s stopped asking for it. Instead, he does all the wonderful, healthy things two years olds should do. He plays, he runs, he rambles and sings. His appetite is now in full bloom (amazing what you can do when your hands are free!). My baby is no longer an obsessed, technology-addicted child.
I have since learned that the American Association of Pediatrics has come out with an official statement encouraging parents to seriously limit screen time of any kinds for young children, eschewing it entirely for kids under the age of two (Yep – even those “brain-building” Baby Einstein videos!).
I can’t help but wonder how many parents are taking note.