Toddler Gadget Detox: Reducing Gadgets and Digital Screens for Your Young Child

By Farah Bashir
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Published on 24 August, 2017

Let's face it – although we read about so many negative effects of gadgets and tablets to young toddlers, we can't help but use them to keep the kids occupied and help us get through the day. I, for one, am not one of those moms who are against tablets. I mean, they are lifesavers for me. Besides, my one and half year old toddler at the time learned so much from YouTube. She knows all her alphabets, shapes, colours, and nursery rhymes mostly from watching YouTube at her grandparents’ while I was at work.

 

But then, somewhere along the way, she became addicted. She can't see a tablet without wanting to use it and coupled with her ‘terrible two’ phase, she would throw the biggest tantrum when we asked her to stop watching it or refuse to give it to her. Not only that, somehow watching the tablet made her very moody and she would have a meltdown sometimes for the most random reason. If you suspect your child may be addicted to a tablet device, you can check out the symptoms here.

 

We knew we had to do away with her usage of gadgets because it was up to a point that she can’t even see us using our smartphones, without wanting to play with them. It made it impossible for us to answer phone calls or messages in front of her. So, with much sadness, we had to say goodbye to the iPad, that had helped us earlier on in teaching her the ABCs and all the lovely songs she was singing.

 

The plan was to completely eliminate all gadgets for 3-5 days until she’s able to control herself at the sight of a phone or tablet and not ask for it. (Note: TV is somehow okay as she doesn't get addicted to it, probably because it is less interactive and she can't control it with the tip of her tiny finger)

 

Here’s what you need to know if you plan to embark on this gadget detox programme:

  • Hide all the gadgets in a place where they won't be able to find them, and won't be able to see even when you are carrying them (adult’s eye level)
  • Buy several new toys, preferably one for each day of the detox, as they will need the novelty of a new toy to keep them entertained.
  • Do not mention the words ‘iPad', ‘phone' or ‘tablet', in your conversation with other grown-ups, as it will remind them of the gadgets if they hear you mention those words. Instead, use code words instead or spell it out when you want to refer to these words.
  • Be prepared for gadget withdrawal, it will definitely come. But come what may, you need to be firm. If they know that their screams will magically bring out the iPad, then it will be much harder for you to try the next time.


The strategy is to keep them occupied and entertained at all times so that they don't remember their “best friend” (those gadgets) and avoid everything that reminds them of it. For example, my daughter likes to watch the “5 Little Monkeys” video on YouTube, so it’s sensible that we don’t mention the song at all, or she will start looking for the iPad. So how do you keep toddlers entertained and get them to overlook the gadget?

Here are some helpful tips:  

  • Do not check your phones. The only time that we could check our phones is when she was asleep, or when we pretended to go to the bathroom.
  • You will find that they get bored really fast, and you’ll run out of ideas on how to entertain them. This is when you bring out a new toy. The novelty of a new toy will keep them busy for a while. A new Playdoh set, cooking toys, building blocks, sticker books, and washable marker pens are some good options to keep them occupied while you settle some house chores.
  • Bring them outside If you have the time. Playgrounds, parks, libraries, and kid-friendly cafes are some examples of where you can bring them to pass the time and keep them away from gadgets. This would also be a good time to check out various activities offered on our website (at discounted rates too!) to bring them to during the detox period.
  • Sometimes, if nothing else works, I would just take them out for a drive. Usually, they will fall asleep within minutes and I would just enjoy a quiet drive, free from a screaming toddler for about 45 minutes.
  • After 3 days, try to check your phone in front of them or use a tablet and observe if they still request for it. If yes, continue with the detox for a couple more days. In our case, we were able to use our phones in front of our daughter without her requesting it, but we had to take away the iPad permanently because she couldn't get over it. The only time she gets to use the iPad is at her grandparents’ place. Even in that situation, we set a time restriction.

 

In our experience, she was able to control herself with gadget usage around the age of three. By then, we discovered that she was able to adhere to time limits, and can even stop on her own after the promised number of videos. However, we still only allow it sparingly, to avoid further episodes of addiction.

 

Good luck parents! It may be hard at first, but it's definitely worth it once you see your toddler no longer dependent on gadgets. In fact, you’ll even notice their remarkably improved temperament and behaviors.