parent opinion

'My three year old broke our iPad. It was the best thing to happen to our family.'

On Father’s Day last year, my three-year-old son smashed my iPad.

By smash, I mean he had placed it in a box and literally stomped on it while I was in the other room on the phone to my sister, obliviously chatting away about the plans we had later that day.

While I say 'my' iPad, let me clarify: what started off as a business purchase morphed into a digital babysitter that was highly convenient for our family.

Watch: Author Maggie Dent on screen time for preschoolers. Story continues below.

Video via Maggie Dent.

It allowed me to cook dinner uninterrupted, it helped my son 'unwind' after a big day at pre-school, and let me be real, it gave me some much needed respite and brain peace. 

Sometimes it was 15 minutes. Other times, it morphed into a prolonged screen indulgence which I am willing to admit was probably unhealthy and would leave most parenting experts crying.

Looking at recently published research on pre-schoolers' growing screen time and its association with poorer sleep and language and cognitive development leaves me with some parental shame regarding the use of digital devices at home.

I should have seen the first red flag. When I would go to charge the iPad, my son would exclaim: 'What are you doing with Michael’s iPad? That’s mine!'


No, child. This $700 high-tech item is not yours... but I was too tired to argue.

Too tired to implement the screen boundaries all the parenting experts talk about. I fully agreed with them. But I (mostly) ignored them.

Then Father’s Day happened.

A day where we are meant to celebrate the wonderful-ness of fatherhood, with breakfast in bed and hand painted cards and visits to the grandparents. But it ended up with me and my husband looking at this expensive digital babysitter and thinking, 'What have we done?'

The busted iPad. Image: Supplied.

First, of course, we spoke about ramifications. Discipline, consequences, timeouts, whatever you want to call it... but it was hard to identify what we were most upset about.


The fact that our three-year-old has no respect for expensive items? Or that we had lost our digital babysitter?

It was both.

To be fair, my son knew. He knew straight away what he had done, and that it was a very big deal.

He came to me, his head bowed, and handed me the black screen, which looked as though it had been trampled by a bulldozer. 'I'm really sorry, Mama,' he said.

He was sad too. He lost his digital bestie.

There was grief all around, but it was a massive wake-up call we clearly needed.

The day that our three-year-old smashed the iPad was the best thing to happen to our family.

I’m not anti-screens. Far from it. But it did give us back an element of control that we clearly had lost with him.

And we keep that iPad on display because even though the incident happened months ago, we want to have a physical reminder for our little man that:

  • a) Things are expensive.
  • b) You have to earn back privileges when you don’t respect them. 

It was a rough few weeks.

Listen to Mamamia's podcast for families, This Glorious Mess. Story continues below.

We had grandparents offer to 'lend' us an iPad, but we said no thank you. He can have screen time at the grandparents (which is fine by us) but we needed a reset, that had nothing to do with a smart device.

By the way, we still use the TV. A lot. Probably more than the experts would say is healthy, but we have structure around it.


It’s like going old school, back to my childhood when my parents would hide the remote which was the cruellest punishment of all.

I use TV in the mornings to help distract my little man, or reward him, while he gets dressed and ready for the day.

More than anything though, I can control the TV and what he sees (for now). I can also hide the remote.

Most blogs around parenting have strategies around how best to manage screen time with kids.

I’m afraid this is not one of those articles.

I’m just as guilty of allowing too much screen time as anyone else, and I will never judge someone for how they get through each day, especially if you have a child with 'extra': extra energy, extra demands, and extra emotions.

After a few weeks, he stopped asking about the iPad, even though we still have it out on display in our laundry room, so we can refer to the 'iPad' incident whenever he asks us to buy him something.

I have to admit; it was a very expensive $700 lesson in parenting, but I’m grateful our little man showed us what he is and isn’t capable of handling at this age. Or maybe I'm not ready to handle it yet as his parent. 

Will he be getting one in the future? Not this year.

Instead, Santa opted for a trampoline for Christmas.

Rachel Reva is a toddler mama, writer, publicity strategist and founder of Life On Her Terms Media. You can find her ramblings on Instagram.

Feature Image: Supplied. 

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