by guest blogger Renee James, essayist and blogger
Let’s make a few things clear. One, it’s been about 19 years since I spent any time trying to potty train a child. Two, at that time, the best we could do was stay vigilant and be relentless about checking in with our child and his need to “go,” then try to memorize the location of every bathroom in the Western Hemisphere and calculate exactly how long it would take us to get there if we had to make a run for it. Three, we usually miscalculated every bit of it.
At the time, everyone whose children were diaper free kept telling me to relax. My sons would eventually figure it out and train themselves in about a day or two. I can’t say I relaxed entirely, but everyone was right: They did, and they did.
Which brings me to the strange piece of technology I learned about the other day: the potty training app. We didn’t use technology when I had kids and no one can convince me we need it now. You may be asking, as I would be, how in the world technology can convince a child to give up their pull-up. (Yes, we’re at least two generations removed from toddlers who went directly from diapers to Strawberry Shortcake panties or Underoos. Now there are stages of diapers before kids graduate to underwear.)
Maybe you’re not surprised there’s an app for potty training. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. The new millennium is well under way. How does anyone, including a toddler, do anything without visiting the app store these days?
But, apps aren’t the end of it. The hardware has kept up with the software. Exhibit A: the iPotty. The iPotty is a potty chair with a built-in iPad stand. Sure, go ahead and reread that if you want. I’ll wait.
According to Gizmag, which covers technology, “The iPotty has been designed to help children learn to use the potty by keeping them entertained when nature calls. The idea is that they won’t mind sitting there for longer if they’re watching a favorite cartoon or playing Angry Birds.”
Is that the goal? To entertain our children while they sit on the potty and watch an entire episode of Doc McStuffins? I’m very confused by this whole idea.
Let’s leave entertainment choices aside for now and focus, kids! Focus! There are plenty of potty training apps to choose from to make that iPotty screen time as, err, productive as possible. Far from exhaustive, but illustrative of the category, parents can deliver exactly the right message to their little boy or girl. They can buy Potty Time. Or the very positive, you-can-do-it-sounding I Love Potty Training. Or The New Potty featuring Little Critter. They can download the practical-sounding Try Potty Chart. Or something more lyrical: Once Upon a Potty. Maybe just keep it simple: I Go Potty.
I go crazy.
Thankfully, the ever-present societal pendulum still sways. Potty training apps may or may not be creating an entire generation of men and women who will invariably clench for the rest of their lives whenever they pass a screen reminiscent of their time spent on the iPotty. But we’re also hearing more about the philosophy called “elimination communication,” in which parents read and recognize the signs their children send that indicate it’s time to “eliminate.” Starting with their newborns—newborns!—parents become expert at the grunts, facial expressions, and assorted signals their child exhibits when he or she is ready to pee or poop, so they never, ever have to diaper him or her.
It’s fair to say we have both ends of the “parenting” spectrum right here, covering all kinds of parents and the fascinating, gifted, extraordinary children they obsess about daily on Facebook. With the apps, we have a product that all but takes the place of the parent, and with “E.C.,” we have a parent who basically takes the place of a product by being hyperaware of their soon-to-be eliminating child and managing that output.
Fine. Lovely. I hope it all works out for them and for their children. But I can’t wait to read the studies about these kids and their unresolved issues in about 20 years.
Renee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and also wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, PA newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations’: A Humorists’ Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. Her blog, It’s Not Me, It’s You, addresses topics that mystify her on a regular basis.