The Boy Who Mistook An iPhone For His Mother

from the wouldn't-worry-about-it-too-much dept

As a somewhat recent father, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about babies and technology — and specifically the sorts of gadgets we carry around. Living in the age of smartphones, it’s all too easy to simply reach for the phone while doing something with the baby, and in the back of my head I’ve wondered if that’s such a good thing, and now try to put the phone away when I’m with the baby. It seems that some others are discovering new issues with kids and technology as well, with a short piece at Slate describing a father’s confusion when his one-year old son started referring to any iPhone as “mama.” The author, Eric Pape, says that he worries the kid actually thinks the phone is his mother — nothing that he has regularly held the phone up to his son’s ear when his wife calls, or shown the kid pictures of his mother that were taken on the iPhone. Of course, this seems like a bit of an overreaction. I doubt the kid thinks the phone is his mother, as it seems pretty likely that he just thinks iPhones are called “mama,” due to association with the word and the phone. Kids are pretty resilient and good at figuring this stuff out, and it won’t be long until he does figure out that his mother is called “mama” and a smartphone has an entirely different name. That said, I do still wonder how best to teach kids how to embrace technology without being consumed by technology… or if that’s just something kids figure out on their own…

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Comments on “The Boy Who Mistook An iPhone For His Mother”

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Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Probably not a problem

This is probably just a miss-association with the sound “mama” and the physical object of the iPhone. The father puts the phone up to the kid’s ear and says “listen, it’s mama” or “it’s mama on the phone”. Then he shows a picture and says “look it’s mama”. The kid is too young to disconnect the picture on the phone with the phone itself. So the kid sees the phone and associates the sound “mama”. I’d lay odds that the kid still associates the actual person with the female caregiver.

It’s just like all the miss-translations on those Engrish sites. Right idea, wrong sound.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Probably not a problem

Actually, the chances are that it’s the /association/ with ‘mama’ that the child is referring to.

Ever since my (now 21-month-old) son started saying ‘mama’, he has constantly (and still) refers to anything belonging to his mother as ‘mama’. Doesn’t matter if it’s her laptop, her toothbrush, or her favourite mug. So all he’s doing is basic pattern-matching, recognising stuff associated with her. So it’s highly likely that this kid is just recognising an ‘iPhone’ as being ‘something that Mama uses’ – and can’t tell that another one belongs to someone else.

Steven (profile) says:

Maybe even simpler

It might even be that the child knows just what and who mama is, but also knows that mama’s voice and face sometimes come through that little rectangle thing. Thus wanting mama, and not seeing mama, asks for mama to come through that little rectangle thing.

Small children don’t have the vocab to indicate between naming something and asking for something.

hexjones (profile) says:

“That said, I do still wonder how best to teach kids how to embrace technology without being consumed by technology… or if that’s just something kids figure out on their own…”

I have two young sons (3, 4.5) who are constantly around lots of tech: ps3, wii, iphones, ipods, dSLRs, laptops, amps, etc etc. They don’t see “technology” as anything special. Sure, they want to see “” and play games in the phones, but they don’t differentiate between that stuff and even their most low-tech toys. Nor should they.

Griffon (profile) says:


At that age? Nah. I was cat for 3 weeks, after being dad for a while first. And the cat was apple for about a week. This was at my 1.5 year old daughter was resorting the whole labeling with name concept. My now not quit two year old calls me AAHAHAHHDHDHADHDADADA. Heaven forbid I should read to much into that.
One good point though, when your spending time with your kids, do spend the time with them. Give them that focus and attention and at will help them a ton, and be returned many times down the road.

Patrik (user link) says:

Putting aside for a moment the fact that the baby has mistaken a word that means one thing for a word that means another:

It is important that parents put down the phone. While babies might not understand exactly what’s going on, by age 2 or 3 they are totally aware that Mommy and Daddy have a “toy” that is allowed to interrupt every meal, every conversation, story time, etc. Kids are perceptive enough to notice this.

I can’t imagine how heartbreaking it is to be waiting all day for Daddy to come home from work, only to have him constantly being pulled away by a flashy, tinny little piece of plastic. For me, there wasn’t enough daylight for all the fun things I wanted to do with my parents.

And besides, it *should* be making the parent sad to be constantly pulled away from their children. I coach a little league baseball team and it pisses me off to no end to have one of my players yelling for his parents to watch him go up to bat and see them checking FB or taking work emails or whatever. It *does* register with these kids. And it’s silly, us coaches don’t allow players to use their phones in the dugout, nor do I even take mine out of my bat bag. But Mom and Dad can’t turn off the phone for 6 innings/an hour and a half? And parents: time with children is precious; these kids *want* your attention right now, but in a few years when they’re teens they’re not going to want anything do with you. Cherish it.

Jon Renaut (profile) says:

Broke my heart

My daughter wasn’t even two when she said, “Put phone away, Dada” for the first time. It was a bit of a shock. And there’s a good chance I was reading Techdirt when she said it.

But it has changed my behavior. I make sure I let her know when I’m checking email and will be with her in just a minute. I’m home with her from 3-530 every day (luxury of being a government contractor), and I do like to keep up on the important emails that come in while the rest of the world is working. But I work much harder now on balancing my attention between her and my internet connection.

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Iphone and "mama"

DUH! My kids had limited language skills, and when they did something like that they meant that “whatever” (such as a POTS phone) was used to TALK to mama! They were never confused about which was which.
My great grandson (the cutest kid that ever lived, and I am NOT biased!) can’t talk at one year, but from nine months he has signed things like “more”, “milk” “mama”, and several others. All women, for a while, were “milk”, because his mother breast feeds, but he knew who actually fed him.
Incidentally, you should try learning simple sign language and teach it to your child – it really helps, and you can truthfully say (s)he is multi-lingual!

Griff (profile) says:

Kids don't have the barriers we have

My 4 year old invented a new dog lead last week.
It’s actually a walkie talkie watch with a tiny counterpart on the dog’s collar. You speak commands into it and they come out on the collar in dog language. Thus he understands what you want and happily obeys. No need for the old fashioned “length of rope” technology.

The point I’m making is that he happily assumes that either this is easy or that it soon will be. In fact he wants me to build it some weekend soon. He (and I suspect most kids) have a view of modern tech that is pretty close to magic and are not phased by any of it.

40 years ago before he died my dad told 6 year old me “it’ll be easy for your generation, unlike me you can just watch television without worrying about how on earth it works”.

Cdaragorn (profile) says:

Maybe even simpler

You’re reading too much out of what he said.

The child doesn’t need to understand that ‘mama’ is somewhere else, they just understand that when they can’t see ‘mama’ right now, ‘mama’ could come up on the screen.

I have two small children myself right now, and they both could easily have worked that out by the time they were 6 months.

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