My toddler pleads for more time on my phone, again—and I give in, again. I think of all the other parents who do it, too, especially when we really need it. In the grocery store line, out to dinner, in the waiting room and now, at home, because we're practicing social distancing together and I need a few minutes to myself. But I'm torn between needing them to be calm so I can relax and worrying that giving in to this obsession too often and for too long is causing harm.

Turns out, it's natural for toddlers to be obsessed with the phone. And as much as we worry about it, there are benefits.


So why are they obsessed?

About age two, a toddler's brain has developed enough for them to realize that they are a separate person from their parents and caregivers. With this awareness, they have a sense of control that enables them to become more independent. One way toddlers express their newfound independence and control is through choices (like insisting on the blue cup, not the purple one). Your phone scratches both these itches at the same—they can be autonomous when they are on your phone while making their own decisions about what they see and interact with.

Plus, around the same time, a toddler's attention span has expanded, allowing them to stay still long enough to focus on a bigger variety of activities for a longer period of time—about 3 to 5 minutes per year of their age. This ability to focus and pay attention makes them enjoy watching the same thing over and over again until they really understand it. Since it can be hard to learn so many things every day, repetition can also contribute to their sense of security because they are able to predict (control) their world, which is comforting.

Toddlers are also predisposed to developing extremely intense interests—like dinosaurs, dogs and babies—and when you combine control, attention span and repetition, you set the stage for obsession.

But is your toddler on your phone too much? Time limits can be debated. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends one hour per day of high-quality content for kids aged two to five. But in another study on screen use from the UK's National Survey of Children's Health, researchers found that their wellbeing—caregiver attachment, resilience, curiosity, and mood—was not negatively affected by the amount of phone use. This means that the 1-hour limit is meant to be a guideline for most families on most days, but not an ironclad rule—especially during times like these.

Here are a few things to keep in mind so you can worry less, mama:

  1. Make sure what your toddler is looking at on your phone aligns with their current interests, abilities and skills.
  2. Monitor that content is age-appropriate and encourages them to actively engage with you or someone else for social engagement.
  3. Ask questions and make descriptions and connections to the real world to help them learn if you are enjoying an app together.
  4. Have them move around at least as much as they are on your phone each day so that they explore and use all their senses and make friends.
  5. Remember phones provide an opportunity to become proficient in tech while learning.
  6. Just like any other type of play, pay attention to what they're seeing and what they're figuring out.
Bottom line: If you need to give them more screen time right now, don't stress. Embrace their obsession with your phone as a tool for learning to prepare them for the future—and as comfort when some days are overwhelming. And you get a well-deserved break, mama.

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.


The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.

As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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