Traveling parents should be wary of creating iPad junkies

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MY 18-month-old toddler still can’t say his grandmother’s name “Mima”, but he has already said the word “iPad”. The first time he said it, my husband and I looked at each other in disbelief.

“What did he just say?” my husband chuckled.

“iPah, iPah,” my son repeated, removing any lingering doubt, before outstretching his little arms to wrestle the sleek tablet out from his father’s clutches.

When my husband finally relented, we both stepped back to marvel at my son sliding his stubby fingers across the screen, moving pages until he found the icon he wanted. He tapped it effortlessly and right on cue, his favorite show, The Wiggles, started to play.

But over the next few weeks, our wonderment turned to exasperation. In just a short time, my son had transformed into a crazed, tantrum-throwing iPad junkie, not content unless he had the tablet firmly in his little paws and Wags the Dog playing on the screen.

No doubt our fragile mental state was compounded by the fact that we were being subjected to watching four middle-aged men perform Leo Sayer’s “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” on repeat – in Greek, no less — at all hours of the day.

How did we get to this point?

It started with our recent trip back to the States. As expats living in Sydney, we make the journey every year to visit family. This time, it was going to be a particularly grueling one: a 20-hour flight to DC, followed by a 10-day road trip driving down the East coast until we reached Miami, my hometown.

Add a toddler to the mix, and we knew it was going to be as enjoyable as running naked and barefoot across Kakadu National Park. We needed some sort of diversion. Enter the iPad.

Ever since the late Steve Jobs launched “his baby” last year (coincidentally the same month I gave birth to mine), the pricey tablet has infiltrated the children’s market.

Kids’ iPad apps have flooded the industry, touting everything from storybook readers to interactive kids games. PC World even dubbed the gadget “Children’s Toy of the Year”.

But that’s just the beginning. A recent Nielsen poll showed that 44 percent of kids aged 6-12 wanted an iPad more than any other gadget this holiday season.

Being tech junkies ourselves, we jumped right on board. We bought the latest model and fancy case, and loaded it with a bunch of games. We even got a special mount to strap it to the back of the car seat.

But before you give us the “Bad-Parent of the Year” award, let me clarify that we did have some boundaries. The Ipad was strictly for that bleary-eyed time when we were in transit and needed to maintain our sanity.

The first sign that our son was starting to get antsy — at the airport waiting in Customs — we popped it out. It was the ultimate pacifier. Japanese tourists in line smiled and nodded affectionately at us. An older American couple chimed in: “Now that’s a child of the times.”

This is great, we thought, we might even get to watch a movie ourselves and enjoy a cheeky glass of wine on the flight. Who said crisscrossing the world with a toddler was tough?

Fast-forward to Week Two: My son wants the iPad at all hours. When we’re sitting in a restaurant waiting for food. When he wakes up with jet leg in the middle of the night. He nags, cajoles, cries.

The breaking point comes one night when we take the gadget away after he refuses to go to bed, and a two-hour marathon tantrum ensues.

I had to face reality: my son was turning into an iPad junkie, and I only had myself to blame.

There’s a fine line between using the Ipad as an educational tool and an “electronic babysitter”. And somewhere along the way – between back-to-back red-eye flights and days on the hop – we had managed to cross it.

It was our crutch. And we were only half way through the trip. We couldn’t kid ourselves. We still had to get back to Sydney, and sadly that iPad was our ticket to getting there in one piece.

To that end, it succeeded on all counts. But we’re back home now, and some things had to change. We’ve got stricter rules now surrounding our son’s usage.

For the most part, we keep the iPad hidden and out of reach, bringing it out only for special times like before bed. I’m sure things will change as my son gets older, but hopefully that’s still awhile off.

For now, I’m keen for him to enjoy the simple pleasures of being a toddler. Instead of watching The Wiggles on the iPad, we’re off to see them live in concert today. Surely, that’s as good as it gets.

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