Ask BBB

Q: My toddler came back from her grandparents’ house yesterday with my iPad. She knows to stay on her Netflix account and she’s usually very trustworthy. I look through my viewing history and she has watched the ENTIRE first season of “BIG MOUTH.” I’m honestly feeling like the worst parent in the world and I have no idea how to talk to her about what she watched. What do I do? Is this going to damage her? How do I talk to her about this? I feel like I need to do damage control.

There is not much that feels as bad as when you know you have blown it as a parent. We’ve all had a few of these times. And clearly, you are in that place right now. I feel your pain.

Now I am going to add to it! Get ready for a blast from BBB: What on earth is your toddler doing with an iPad??? Okay. There. I’m done with that spanking! Let’s move on.

Toddlerhood is from 15 months to 3.5 years. So, I imagine your daughter is quite young.

In my 48 years in the field, I can honestly say that I have never known a toddler who has enough maturity—impulse control, rule following, ability to know right from wrong—to be free-range with an iPad (or any kind of screen). Let’s start there.

To expect her to “stay on her Netflix account” is just not reasonable. And certainly, the older she gets, the more apt she will be to go off reservation and explore. It’s simply part of what kids do in the process of growing up.

That said, the train already left the station. So, now what do you do? Can you do “damage control” with regard to the program she watched?

Assuming that your daughter is a toddler (3.5 years and under), there is not much to be done about the content to dilute what she has seen. She is not developed enough to process the ideas you want to express and why the program is not okay for her to watch.

If you want to dig a bit, you can ask her, “What did you see on ‘Big Mouth’?” with no judgment in your tone.

You can ask, “Did you like what you saw? Do you wonder about it? Did anything worry you about it?” You may be able to uncover any effects the viewing may have had.

In addition, if she has wakeful nights, starts asking a lot of unusual questions, seems preoccupied or too quiet or too out of control … these all may be signs that in fact, the viewing did affect her.

The most that a toddler can comprehend is that there are some programs that are not for young children to watch. Mommy knows which are the ones she should watch, and that is why you wanted her to stay on Netflix.

Those images are there now, in her head. A child cannot unsee what she has seen. But she is too young to understand why you don’t want her to see what she stumbled upon.

This is not about your daughter being untrustworthy. She was doing what kids sometimes do—break the rules.

In fact, children learn TO do the right things by NOT doing what they should. In other words, children need to make mistakes, take missteps, do the wrong things so they will learn to do the right things.

Your “damage control” should focus on the importance of following your rules. You can certainly go over with her what your rules were and how she did not follow them.

You can explain that, “Mommy said you could watch your Netflix choices only. And you didn’t do that, did you?”

You need to give her options for what to do if she wants to see something else. “If you want to watch something else, you always need to ask the grown up in charge. Only grown ups change the shows on the iPad.”

I am sorry, Mom, but this is on you. It is always a good idea to put children in a position to be successful. We want to set them up to do the right thing. Sending her off to Grandma’s with an iPad was an open door to trouble.

I could go on and on, sharing my professional opinion about children and their screen viewing. More, I could share with you the inherent dangers, what watching does to a child’s development and all that.

But you can easily find countless articles that support this reality: If a toddler is permitted to watch a screen (and I have a strong opinion about that), it should never be without direct supervision, and it should be very limited in time and content. I am sure you learned your lesson!

So, it’s time to be done with it. Stop punishing yourself and move forward. You certainly don’t want to make a bigger problem than you might have by harping on it.

BBB is a child development and behavior specialist in Pacific Palisades. She can be reached through her website, betsybrownbraun.com.