I started giving my kid my iPad and mobile phone to watch when he was about a year old. This was the time when he started showing pickiness in eating. It was a harrowing time for me, like any other parent. I wanted my kid to eat more. I asked myself (against all the blaring sirens in my head): What could go wrong?
Well, what started as an innocent curiosity, became a full-fledged addiction.
I was happy in the beginning. He was eating better when he was watching his favorite nursery rhymes. He started learning the nursery rhymes by heart. He also learnt the alphabet, the numbers, the shapes and colours in no time. When I needed him to remain distracted, even in public, I could just fish out my phone and put on a video, and he would stay glued to the screen.
All the while, I heard, read and witnessed horror stories of children turning into little monsters due to excessive screen-time. But I kept denying that I had a problem. My kid wasn’t a monster (yet).
Fast-forward to when he turned 2 1/2 years. The following factors opened my eyes:
- Worse eating: Despite the initial spike, my kid’s eating began going on a downward spiral. He was pickier than ever. He would cry for the screen even to eat his favorite food. When he went to the day-care centre, he wouldn’t eat properly because he couldn’t get his regular ‘distraction fix’.
- Temper Tantrums: Even though I took his temper tantrums as normal behaviour during the “terrible twos”, I knew that it had to be curbed in some way. Going out with him was an absolute nightmare. He would throw tantrums in the middle of the road! He would fall on the ground and writhe like a snake. Imagine being that parent, when all those judging eyes are on you! Apparently, the screen started losing its charm with my little fella when it came to behaving in public places.
- Impatience: This goes hand-in-hand with temper tantrums. But impatience is a much larger issue. It was affecting his patience to play, to learn new things, to overcome challenges etc. He would just give up after trying a little – a scary thing to watch when he was just two years old.
- Warnings from people: Friends and family started showing their disapproval when they saw me giving my son screen-time, expecially during his meals. They told me that eating shouldn’t accompany bribes, especially something as addictive as screens. I saw how parents who caved into their kid’s screen demands suffered as a result of it.
- Speech impairment: My main concern was his speech impairment. He knew nursery rhymes by-heart, but never spoke very many words outside of it. He struggled with expressing his needs. He couldn’t say some of the basic words that his peers could say. He was ‘babbling’ a lot – while this meant that he wanted so badly to talk, he didn’t have the vocabulary to express his thoughts.
- Other developmental issues: What does it mean if your toddler screamed and cried for screen-time when he was bored? That he doesn’t want to play with normal toys. Playing with normal toys develops motor skills, eye-hand coordination and creativity. He had reached an age when he should start learning to brush his teeth, to put his clothes on and to eat by himself. Screen-time was a huge barrier to all this.
One fine day, I took the giant leap of taking away his screen-time altogether. I was expecting a hurricane to hit, but only a small storm swooshed over us. He became a little confused for two days. But then he came back to normal.
Of course, this meant that I had to get creative… a hell lot more creative. By goodness’ grace, I found out that my toddler gets competitive when it comes to food. Sly me! I would pretend to eat his food, and he would cry and snatch it away from me, and eat it himself. For now, that seems to work everytime.
Slowly, but steadily, my toddler and I were overcoming all the cons that screen-time brought with it. His apetite is improving, and so is his temper, speech, creativity and motor skills.