Toddler Talk: Telephones and Timbuktu

On toddlers and their enduring love affair with phones of all kinds

There’s something about cellphones. No, scratch that. There’s something about all phones. Toddlers simply love them. You might even say that they’re fixated on them.

It doesn’t matter whether they’re new-age smartphones or old-fashioned landlines, toy phones or cordless phones. If there’s a phone in sight, your toddler is going to want to fiddle with it, poke at it, talk on it, and of course, at the end, drop it with a resounding crash.

I used to think it was just cellphones, especially the smartphone variety. After all, they are exceedingly attractive. They look glossy, they take photos (ooh selfies!), they play videos and games, and they do fun things when you swipe their big screens. Most adults can barely put theirs down for a second, so how can you blame a two-year-old?

But then I realised that your average toddler simply doesn’t care about all these high-end features. My maid’s basic, phone-calls-only cell is of as much interest to my daughter as my swanky (well, it used to be, before it was scribbled on and dropped some 50 times) Samsung S4. In fact, the kid’s something of an authority on all the cellphones that enter our household. Put any five cells before her, and she can identify which belongs to whom effortlessly (she could probably do it blindfolded, by ringtone alone). All visitors have their phones duly inspected, and if your cell is missing, you can be sure she’ll find it and bring it to you with a triumphant, “Here it is!” (following full inspection, of course).

With landlines, the attraction is obviously that stretchy, spiral cord— getting hopelessly tangled in it, and staggering around like a tech-age mummy, or using it to drag the phone around like some sort of electronic puppy. Cordless phones, on the other hand, are perfect for tucking into the shoulder, just like mommy does while working, and striding about holding serious imaginary conversations. Both, of course, are perfect for putting through calls to Timbuktu by sheer trial and error.

But whatever the type of phone, the prerequisite is that it must work. Old, unused or disconnected phones will be ruthlessly rejected with a “No! It’s not working!” It must go beep-beep-boop when jabbed. It must have a dial-tone. That, really, is the only distinction a toddler demands of a phone.

Inexperienced, first-time mom that I was, I thought the solution was to buy her a toy phone. They’re colourful, make chirpy sounds – so she can’t deny that they work – and there’s no fear of radiation, or of calls being put through accidentally to the other end of the planet. She could even learn from them! Pleased with myself, I bought her a (ridiculously expensive) toy phone which taught numbers and counting. She ignored it magnificently. But she did love the red Spiderman phone that loudly sang “Appadi Podu, Podu, Podu” (a fusion phone!) that someone gifted her. And, of course, my cellphone, daddy’s cellphone, both sets of grandparents’ phones, the home phone, my friends’ phones…

The number of toy phones she owns has now gone up to three (including a sparkly pink one to go with her pink handbag). They mainly come in useful during play-dates, because even the most even-tempered toddler goes a little berserk when he sees a phone, and brawls inevitably break out. This way, each kid gets a phone to play with. One pretends to be her mom, and sighs over how busy she is. One calls Dora for help, because her car is stuck in the mud. And the last one … well, I can’t quite tell what her conversation’s about since it appears to be in an alien language, but clearly it’s of great significance.

Then they abandon their phones and aim for the home phone/my cellphone. Because when it comes to telephones and toddlers, there is only one truth– there can never be enough beeping-booping fun.

Anyone called Timbuktu today?

Tips:

  1. Try to restrict play time with cellphones to avoid too much exposure to radiation.
  2. All phones are hot-beds of germs, so try not to let the child handle them too much…
  3. Oh, who I am kidding? Just give the kid the phone already.

‘Toddler Talk’ is a weekly column published in The Hindu MetroPlus. An edited version of this article can be found here.

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Filed under Family, Humour, Motherhood, Toddler Talk column

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