Ask Amma

Addicted to gadgets?

In How on 10 May 2013 at 7:35 pm

Recently Sunita Amma sparked a discussion on an article Toddlers becoming so addicted to iPads they require therapy – that appeared in the London Telegraph.

Whether it is a not-so-subtle form of advertising or filler material on technology and society, articles like this one usually don’t tell readers much of anything new.  Those who avoid introducing gadgets to toddlers are all the more convinced of their stand, and those whose toddlers are the ones introducing technology to them, are likely to dismiss the alarmist voices as so-last-year, like the AARP, oops I mean the AAP’s note on Media and Children.

What do you think?  Here are two responses – one from me and one from Sonika Amma, including a list of some of her daughter’s favourite titles.

Ready as I am to jump on the gadget-bashing bandwagon, I believe that there is another issue here, which often appears, almost unnoticed, in articles concerning children and video games or iPad-type gadgets.  While I don’t think they are appropriate for young children, what disturbs me more is the concept of using them as a “reward” or “pacifier” in lieu of responding to and being involved with the child.  Almost every article, including the AAP’s message Babies and Toddlers Should Learn from Play Not Screens, refers to parents’ use of digital entertainment to engage, distract, or manipulate children, using them as incentives to sit still, eat or otherwise comply with a parent’s wish.  Apart from possible impact on sensory development, motor skills or social values, when articles bring up the word “addiction” it usually signals another problem.  The problem, according to such articles, arises when the child wants the device and the parent does not want the child to have it.  The conflict may further increase the gadget’s role as “reward” and gadget-withdrawal as “punishment.”

For the problems that result from this, I cannot blame the gadget. When one trusts one’s child, one will not be in a situation of “taking away” the “reward.”   This kind of power dynamic is what is likely to cause problems of the kind mentioned in the Telegraph article, whether the reward is a gadget or a hug or a trip to the playground.

My concern about television, computers, video games and other devices is related not to discipline, but to the impact that electronics have on the eyes, ears, hands, brain in the developing years, the corporate messages these media convey, and their potential when used early and often, to take away from the wide range of activities and environments familiar to humans from generations.

Sonika Amma shares her experience with screen-based devices and how her little one, recently turned three, has been using them.  Look for her list of favourite titles at the end!

The example in this article is extreme.

Thought I’d share our personal experience on this. As a baby (7-8mo) we observed how R was naturally attracted to devices that emit light and the ones with little buttons. A friend did a little experiment with her around that time. He kept a cuddly bear and his phone (not smartphone) at some distance from each other and we observed where R would crawl to from another direction a couple of times. She invariably crawled to and grabbed the phone each time

As she grew up, we did go through a phase (between 18 -24 months) of using the device as a means to pacify or encourage eating at the table, although viewing time would not be more than 10-15 minutes at any given instance. It wasn’t our unwillingness to engage in conversation but our failure to grab her attention any other way. I think we started a vicious circle, and for a while we felt trapped. One thing we did do at that stage that was good, I think, was introducing select content – alphabet and phonetics videos and a handful of educational kids songs which she took a liking to and would ask for repeatedly.

Then suddenly, we just stopped the whole thing of phone at dinner table….and after a little hiccup, so did she. One trick that really helped was putting all devices in airplane mode. So no youtube browsing by herself, which she had gotten fairly adept at by age 2. She understood the concept of no network and when she’d be unable to go online, she’d hand the phone back saying “No network!”

Cut to now, it’s great to see her self limit. As she’s learning to read the watch and has internalized the concept of time, if after 5 – 10 minutes of her browsing independently, we interrupt and ask her how many more minutes she would like to watch, or say 5 more minutes and then sleep or eat time, she agrees. Usually from then on her attention is diverted to the clock and she starts observing the movement of the hands. On most occasions, she generally gives the phone back in less than a minute saying that it’s going to be 5 mins soon. 🙂

I think overall R’s device usage is reasonably limited and the content managed (by her and us!), while not keeping her totally naïve of something that is essentially going to be part of her life- whether we like it or not. The most satisfying aspect has been inculcating the ability to self-limit in terms of time and self-guide towards good content, while also enjoying and playing along with the good stuff she sometimes discovers online or on our devices “all by myself”! J

Here are some favourites:

  • A bunch out of Ms Patty Shukla’s collection especially: Little Red; I gotta have a puppy, and; I’m excited ‘coz I’m going to grandma’s house today
  • Barefoot books music prelude to all story CDs
  • Manhattan from English Vinglish.. and the title track too
  • Hush little baby (Sylvia Long version)
  • Party in my tummy by Yo! Gabba Gabba
  • Ring of fire.. “burns burns burns” by Johnny Cash
  • The Duck Story.. “pom pom pom”
  • Various versions of Phonetics songs & Alphabet songs
  • Taste of India by Aerosmith
  • Charlie and the numbers (videos and music – English and Spanish)
  • Chai Chai Coffee Coffee and My name is Madhavi by Usha Uthup
  • Several Hindi songs and rhymes. Big time favorites thanks to dadi and nani respectively: Yeh zindagi usi ki hai from the movie Anarkali & Titli Udi from the movie Suraj
  • Go away from my Window by Joan Baez
  1. Good to see the additional articles. Should add though..we have a zero TV zone in the entire house, so TV is not even an issue (an exception may be made during presidential debates- but that’s a one in four year gig). Agree that TV viewing time and content (advertising?) is much more difficult to manage. Also wanted to add that the list of R’s favorites is all on different devices. Some like the Barefoot books music prelude, Johnny Cash etc. are music CDs, which we all love to get up and shake a leg to (even before Mrs Obama patented the idea), and several others are just music on devices (no videos)!
    As parents we constantly debate about this and self correct, but some of my unwanted fears were allayed after some more reading and thinking. Here’s what Alfie Kohn has to say about it: . As a conscious and regulated activity in a basket with ‘enough’ other non-screen related activities, I think it has its place 🙂 ~Sonikaamma
    P.S. Shoot! How could I miss Elmo’s song “lala la la” 🙂


  2. I have so much to say on this topic. Someday Aravinda.. in person or on Skype. Maybe I will do a video clip and share. I feel there is a huge basic underlying issue to be addressed before one crimps the life of a partner or child technologically… “Control”. If one can lead one’s life and let others lead theirs, there seems to be a greater chance for peace, connection and love. i am so looking forward to meeting you and Khiyali this summer.


    • Dear Hema, thanks so much for stopping by! Your phrase “from control to connection” comes often to mind and has been so helpful in various situations. Please do send in that video clip.


      • Don’t know why I often miss comments. Thanks Aravinda. With a few recent developments in Raghu’s life I am feeling ready to make that video.


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