| Dubai, United Arab Emirates


Electronic addiction

Relying on electronics to keep the kids amused this summer? Louise Emma Clarke is right with you…

© ITP Images

Picture the scene. It’s 9am and we’ve already been awake for 3.5 hours. We’ve read books, we’ve painted, we’ve drawn, we’ve moulded playdoh, and we’ve constructed a train set three times in a row – and now the toddler is running up the walls in frustration, shouting ‘Outside! Outside! Outside!’ However, the temperature outside is 45’C and the husband has taken the car to work, so we are stuck indoors for the foreseeable future. With a small baby in the house, I have had very little sleep – and there are bottles lined up by the sink waiting to be washed and sterilised. Oh and did I mention that I am still wearing pyjamas and haven’t washed my hair for three days? That too.

I check my watch. It’s still only 9.03am. My patience is wearing very thin and there’s a jar of strong coffee in the kitchen calling my name. As I’m about to throw myself onto the floor and have a full-blown adult tantrum, something catches my eye. The iPad. My saviour.

It takes me seconds to swipe it from the kitchen table and wave it in the toddler’s eye line. “If you sit down nicely, Mummy will let you play on the iPad” I chirp, disgusted at the level of excitement in my voice.

Right on cue, the baby lets out a loud shriek from his cot and I wish for a second that there was a baby equivalent that I could dangle above the cot while I have a shower (I even fantasize for a few seconds about fashioning something from the ceiling, but am halted by the sudden realisation that there is only one iPad in the house).

As I retreat to the nursery and wind up the musical mobile to keep the small one entertained for a while (retro, I know), I ask myself the same question that pops into my head every morning: ‘What did parents do before the existence of iPads?’ And as the kettle boils and the coffee starts brewing, I thank my lucky stars that Mr Jobs invented them before the birth of my children…

I’m (half) joking of course – and the guilt of relying on electronics to entertain my children is something that plays on my mind constantly. As a pregnant mum-to-be just a few years ago, I frowned upon mothers relying on such means to get through the day. “I’m not totally against the TV,” I mulled to a friend over our gigantic bumps and mugs of herbal tea. “But I think I’ll limit viewing to just half an hour a day and make sure it’s educational.” I had no idea what it would be like to have a toddler quite literally hanging from my legs as I tried to get things done around the house, screaming ‘Mickey Mouse! Mickey Mouse! Mickey Mouse!’ It takes an iron will to resist that mouse.

For a while, however, I stuck to my guns. We spent our days listening to nursery rhymes, reading colourful books and looking at picture flashcards. It was all very textbook and, well, pretty easy. Then one day, over lunch with friends, it was suggested I downloaded an app on my phone with lots of colourful fish and bubbles to grip the baby’s attention. He loved it – and the recommendations kept coming.

My phone and iPad quickly filled up with apps, while at home we discovered that the TV kept him happy in the morning while we attempted to get dressed and eat breakfast. It became a habit – and while we hated the way we’d come to rely on electronics, we weren’t going to backtrack when we had a blessed half an hour to get ourselves ready for the day.

Then his brother arrived in the world – and as I attempted to sit and feed this hungry newborn for (what seemed like) 23 hours of the day, electronics became a better friend than ever. There were days when the guilt got too much and I hid the iPad and TV remote down the back of the sofa, but that wasn’t cryptic enough for my sharp little toddler and he quickly whipped them out with a gigantic smile on his face, along with a missing earring, one small sock, and six fluffy raisins. Oh and he ate the raisins, naturally.

So are electronics the friend or enemy? A bit of both, actually. But until I work out a better way to keep a two-year-old happy through the long, hot Dubai summer (or the long haul flight to escape it), I’ll be making sure the iPad’s battery is fully charged at all times. Until I lose the charger down the back of the sofa, that is. Then we really are in trouble…

By Louise Emma Clarke
Time Out Dubai,

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