My Two-Year-Old Addict

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video computerBy Riva Pomerantz

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.

And that’s when I came face-to-face with the startling truth: My baby had an addiction.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?

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 trueaddict? 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.

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.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.

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.

AISH.COM. Republished with permission.

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  1. I have a better suggestion. Remove the time-wasters and load appropriate content on the smartphone, such as alef bet lessons, and let the lady use a kosherphone.

  2. My kids get to watch a nature video every few months as a treat and a reward. They are not addicts.

    I have many friends with TVs and who even let their kids watch for hours a day. They enjoy it but they don’t stop eating. They still play with toys like normal kids.

    It strikes me as odd to blame an object or device for a child’s errant behavior. Kids don’t get addicted to the point that they stop being normal unless there is something else wrong.

    I’ve run this concept by professionals who agreed.

  3. Good article. Riva is a great writer. Number 2: You are either unbelievably naive or just sticking up for television against all logic and numerous studies.

  4. Whenever a kid has a bad habit (like wanting candy all the time), you have to choose whatever is for the child’s benefit- not the easy way out.
    My kid likes my phone videos too, and will kvetch for them too. But No means No even if the kid cries.

  5. Commenter 1: Please don’t be offended, but your suggestions are born of ignorance and misunderstanding about the ‘addictive personality.’ Substitute the smartphone for a techno addict with beer for an alcoholic and you’ll see why. The worst thing to give any addict is even the slightest food for his hunger. That’s what sobriety is.

    Commenter 2: You are very close to the truth, that there is an important difference between those who get addicted when repeatedly exposed to a stimulus and those who do not get addicted. But it does NOT mean that there is something WRONG with the person/child. It means they are slightly DIFFERENT from non-potential addicts, because they have an “obsessive nature”, which is the ability to FEEL that all their needs are fulfilled as long as they are doing the actions or receiving the things which they obsess about. So much so that when they are fulfilling their desire, everything else – all joy and reason and need – ceases to exist.

    We all have different natures, powers and abilities, bestowed upon us by our Creator, to play the part in His Symphony which He in his wisdom has written specifically for us. You can not blame parents or the child born, chas v’shalom, with a handicap or illness, for he was chosen to live with this condition so he can give something special to Hashem’s world (and so that we can daven for him). But understand that he was given the tools he needs to fulfill his mission in this lifetime.

    So too with the obsessive-natured person/child, who is more inclined to become addicted to something in his/her lifetime once they get introduced to the “drug of choice” that brings this false joyous feeling of being fulfilled, or in control. Hashem gave them that notiyah, that inclination, for a purpose which will bloom and bear beautiful fruit in their lifetime.

    As parents, if we see our children have an obsessive nature, our goal is not to FIGHT or Control their nature, nor to give in to anti-social use of their nature, but to CHANNEL it in positive, useful ways for the benefit of the world. As the Gemmorah says, if a person is inclined to bloodshed, let him become a mohel or a shochet. We do this all the time when we see our child has a talent, which is linked to an infatuation with music, art, etc – and perhaps infatuation is one level below an obsession.

    One important way we parents can help such children is to give them our unconditional love, and show them there are so many other ways to enjoy life and be creative and useful WITH working/playing hand in hand with other children. Games, organized sports that teach teamwork, play dates, simple conversations. There may be social skills that need reinforcing or even learning first hand, so the child doesn’t isolate. Isolation is the “Petri Dish” that negativity and obsession can grow in.

    To sum up, exposing your child to healthy interaction with others, by example too, praise and build self-esteem by channeling his/her nature toward art and expression, and keep all lines of communication open so they feel safe to share their feelings with you.

    And don’t forget to say tehillim and daven for your children like their lives depend on it.

    Because it does.

  6. Commenter 6
    I know nothing about your issues and I would never presume to comment on them. I am sincerely sorry you suffered and wish you the very best in life from now on.
    However allow me to point out a thing or two.

    The child is said to be two-year-old. That is, he does not tell right from wrong. If a 2-yr-old wants to flick the light switch on Shabbos and we can’t distract him or her, we allow the baby to do so and enjoy, we don’t make him cry for the sake of Shabbos. Which if you don’t mind, is quite a lot more important than the debate about how many times some boring family movie should be watched. Yet we don’t make the baby cry.

    The child is obviously very interested in videos. Guess what, children imitate. At the age of two, especially. If their parents use the computer, so do they, if their parents are studying they will take a book and pretend reading, if the repairman comes, they will pretend fixing something. I am sure you have children and you don’t need me to elaborate. This child obviously sees parents or older siblings spending a lot of time watching videos, which if I may say, is to me a bigger concern than the baby. Especially given that videos don’t seem to be shiurim or other productive activity, and not even their parnassa. In addition, I also wonder whether the child was not perhaps given the smartphone to shut him/her at a time the family wanted some quiet. It is unfortunately not a rare occurrence.

    The child has no yetzer hara at all: he will get it when he is 13 / when she is 12. Adults have a yetzer hara, and we have to work mostly on our own. This is also the best recipe for chinuch. You see, children notice a lot when adults rationalize their own desire for something. If a family enjoys shooting and watching family videos to their heart’s fulfillment (which, granted, may be watching them only twice – a baby sees something new and exciting in the video every time, and that’s why they watch videos repeatedly), how can they forbid it to the child? If we believed it’s no good, we can get rid of our smartphone at once, and ask family never again to show us cute videos on their own phone. We could even, very simply, let the phone discharge, and then leave it to the baby. “Does not work”! And never recharge it again. The lady in this story is not prepared to do this. Do you think a two-year-old does not notice his mother keeps opening and watching cute videos every time the phone beeps a notification? As for the statement that the child was not even eating, we are all familiar with children and we can tell what is realistic from what is perhaps a slight exaggeration.

    And no, I don’t agree a child should get unconditional love. There is a difference between right and wrong. However, what is not forbidden is permissible. The 613 for an adult are more than enough; chinuch towards the 613 is more than enough for children; babies under 3 are busy enough with growing healthy and happy.

    I promised I would not comment on addictions, because I am not a professional, but it is a statistical fact that we are now facing an epidemic of supposed addictions, and I wonder if this has anything to do with some grown-ups (not babies) who don’t like taking responsibility (and taking the blame) for their choices and actions. My own grandfather used to smoke for decades. When a doctor casually told him this was unhealthy (until about 1950 smoke was advertised as prevention for lung diseases such as tubercolosis, bronchitis or pneumonia) he was surprised and he asked questions. After going out from the doctor’s office, that same day he quit smoking and never smoke again.

  7. #6 all healthy people have desires, which are not to be eliminated, but used for the best. I never heard e.g. the proper derech is “sobriety” i.e. abstaining from alcohol. No question there exist health issues for some people, but they have to be diagnosed by a MD or psychologist, not guessworked by a concerned parent, relative, or reader on the internet. The author does not mentions having asked a pediatrician, and actually the article does not even tell us the opinion of Dad or Grandma. One last thing: imagine how this child might feel, in 20 years, stumbling upon this piece of literature, which Ima published with name and family name on the wide internet.


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