On the hunt for a 12-step program to break toddler iPad addiction

www.jeffvrabel.comSeptember 9, 2013 

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Is iPad addiction a real thing? Just try taking the device away from a 2-year-old.

CLEM MURRAY — McClatchy-Tribune News Service

The Internet is chock plumb full of awful parenting advice, blank scare tactics and a bunch of stuff that people just make up (like there's really a guy named "Benedict Cumberbatch"), but now and again it hits on something: It was on the Internet that I first read of "iPad addiction," a new addition to the ever-turning Carousel of Things to Fear Regarding Your Toddler. (Since I live in the Lowcountry, I'm still keeping my No. 1 as "snakes and alligators," and yes I realize those are two things but I'm convinced they are in cahoots.)

The cause of iPad addiction is simple: Parents in need of a few sweet moments of work or dishes or not-playing-robots time grant the child a brief electronic distraction. But the effect is simpler: Before long the child gets really super crazypants attached to the device, and when you try to eventually take it away for something imprudent like "a bath" or "eating," the child contorts his face into a demonic visage of rage and shrieks murderously, for like a half an hour, in your face, even during a bath.

Or at least that's what my son does. I don't know what other kids out there are doing, but I bet it makes their lips turn less conspicuously purple.

Naturally, I fear that my almost 2-year-old has this iPad addiction. I say "I fear" because I don't know for sure. We haven't had him officially diagnosed, because I'm pretty sure my insurance doesn't cover "Temple Run 2." But from an amateur point of view: Is it an "addiction" if, when you try to reclaim the iPad from a child, he clamps onto it with the sudden force of a 1950s space robot, screams and holds his breath until his cheeks turn neat colors, then flings his head backward with enough force to bonk it on the hardwood floor? Because if so, addiction.

The thing is, my 2-year-old man knows his way around the iPad, and I'm glad he's developing skills he'll need in classrooms -- although, of course, by then we'll all be doing the "Iron Man" moving-holograms-around thing or whatever. He can unzip the protective case, turn it on, swipe between home screens, find the folder with his games in it, open that folder and launch barnyard games before I can say "Wait, you're tall enough to grab stuff off the counter now?" Our parental involvement is no longer required regarding the iPad; it's the cause of the boy's first look that says, "As long as you guys are still in the room, can someone bring me a Mountain Dew?" Screen time in the house is limited, with the exception of "MythBusters," which is watched by my 9-year-old with such regularity that it's a minor miracle we still have a water heater in here. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't allow a few extra minutes of the Goofy Letter Noises Game (not its real name, I'm pretty sure) in the name of general peacekeeping.

Now, to be fair, it's not like Short Pants uses it for straight TV absorption or Candy Crush or anything (no one in the family plays Candy Crush except for my dad, according to disturbingly regular Facebook updates). The Apple Store is filled with delightful, winning kids games that teach letter sounds and animal names and art. They just happen to be delightful, winning kids games that teach letter sounds and animal names and art on a device that my 2-year-old is gradually using to replace me. It's cool -- the iPad is a lot more lenient about flinging yogurt on the floor.

There's one adorable night-night game in which a series of cute animals are put to bed by a soothing British voice-over, at least until my son somehow changes the voice to French. The French voice is a lot less somnolent. It's actually sort of confrontational. Neither of us like the French voice much.

There's another which compels the boy to drag the right letters into the right spots in a word, a game that is single-handedly teaching him the alphabet, which is SUCH a time-saver for me.

I could go on; there are leagues more apps and games that I feel offer a legitimate academic grounding and enrich my son's growing language and reading skills, and I'd talk more about them if it wasn't for the fact that he basically snatches the iPad and finds Angry Birds Star Wars and would be perfectly happy if we didn't talk to him for four hours. Is this a thing in other families? Are you guys dealing with iPad addiction? Or, for that matter, a Candy Crush one?

Jeff Vrabel will not accept your invitation to play Candy Crush, no matter how often you resend it. He can be reached at www.jeffvrabel.com and followed at www.twitter.com/jeffvrabel.

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