My 1 year-old toddler is addicted to the Roomba. First thing when I walk in the room, he points to the Roomba and wants me to pull it out. He'll push the button to start it, and will watch it indefinitely. Anything with a button, he'll start and stop, like the air conditioner, and an air filter in the bedroom, and toys with buttons. I let him, so long as it's safe.

It's such an extreme fixation it seems to resemble addiction to me. It seems to displace social connection sometimes. We've all heard about kids getting too much screen time, but is there such a thing as too much machine time? Buttons on machines (without screens) seem to have that same kind of hypnotic draw to this child. He's 19 months and this pattern has been going on for several months. I'm honestly not super concerned, because he doesn't just sit there like a zombie as kids do in front of TVs, but as I witness the disproportional fixation on such a limited, artificial interaction, I really do wonder what the impact on my child's psychological development is, and whether there is a point at which a dad like me should worry.

  • It's probably even more entrancing by the fact that he knows it's not made for him, but made for you. Like playing with car keys, but more animal like than car keys.
    – DKNguyen
    Aug 28, 2020 at 14:35
  • "It's such an extreme fixation it seems to resemble addiction to me." heh, you aint seen nothing yet. My two year old has been through several fixation phases like this: Repeating "baking powder!" 20 times a day (no baking powder in sight!), point out anything that's dangling down ("hanging down!"), obsession with various stuffed toys, now we're on to lightbulbs! (She will literally point to the lightbulb as we enter every room and declare "lightbulb!"). Each phase has been a couple of weeks to a month, and then she moves on to something else. Totally normal :)
    – stan
    Oct 15, 2020 at 18:17
  • 1
    I'll also add, he probably sees you pushing buttons on things all the time. So in his brain buttons must be important, and so pushing them makes him feel like he's participating in this important thing that papa does too! And buttons also make things happen. It's magic. I joked to my husband that life for toddlers is like one of those point and click adventure games where you try every item in your inventory on everything in the world and see what works and what doesn't.
    – stan
    Oct 15, 2020 at 18:22

1 Answer 1


I don't think you'll find studies on this unfortunately, but the concern with screen time is a very different thing than the concern might be with the Roomba or whatnot.

From the American Academy of Pediatrics' statement on Media and Young Minds:

Children younger than 2 years need hands-on exploration and social interaction with trusted caregivers to develop their cognitive, language, motor, and social-emotional skills. Because of their immature symbolic, memory, and attentional skills, infants and toddlers cannot learn from traditional digital media as they do from interactions with caregivers,3 and they have difficulty transferring that knowledge to their 3-dimensional experience.

It sounds to me like your son is doing fine here. He's playing with the Roomba, he's pushing buttons, testing things out. It's in three dimensional space - that's key. And as long as you're there too, and talking to him to help give him context and help with his social development? Sounds like he's having fun and learning. If he's doing this for hours with no involvement from you, that's not as ideal, however.

That's not to say he should be doing this 100% of the time, any more than he should be doing anything 100% of the time. Hopefully this isn't 8 hours of his day or anything like that.

One thing you may want to look into, that's very effective with some kids, is a "Busy Board". This is something I ran into in Montessori originally, but it's not specific to that philosophy. It's basically a plank of wood with a bunch of different things to do on it - slide locks to lock and unlock, laces to lace, buttons to button. It might give him some additional stimulation in the same manner as the button-pushing, while providing a little more physical stimulation and helping with fine motor skills and coordination.

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