Screen time is damaging children's brains....Parents are lazy and just plain bad parents for giving their child screen time...Your child will score lower on aptitude tests....Your child won't learn how to turn pages in books....Children don't know how to make friends because of screen time....and on and on and on are these Click Bait Titles going around social media. Talk about fear propaganda, parent shaming, and causing way more fear and anxiety for parents and children. I used to feel a lot of guilt about the amount of screen time our child had on a daily basis. And two years ago, it was A LOT! Like I am talking, all day every day. It was the only thing that worked for long periods of time so us parents could attempt to accomplish the million tasks in a day. My gosh getting a shower and a sandwich was a task and a half, never mind laundry, cooking, working, grocery shopping, attempting to see family. And sometimes seeing family was an anxiety filled experience because we spent our time juggling our precious child in the opposite rooms because he couldn't handle even being in the same room as other people....BUT you know what did help....was having a show or a movie on. GASP! Yes I left my under 1 year old watch tv....yup the start of destroying his brain....because how dare mommy and daddy dare to enjoy a conversation and time out of the house. How dare my child be happy and lost in his favourite show to feel safe and comfortable. Now I know now that there was so much more going on with our son, BUT in the first few years of having no diagnosis there was many comments about how much screen time he was getting. Of course my husband and I had many talks about how much he was watching, but we were so overwhelmed each and every day that we clinged to what was working.
When I opened the dayhome and had 4 children 10 hours a day to care for and provide enriching educational opportunities, I couldn't. All our son did was cry and scream. So I gave him a screen....more brain damage....he was captivated by the kaleidoscope video I found to attempt to make it somewhat better. He stopped screaming and got lost in the video and I could finally do my job for a little bit before he needed me again. Those children listened to so much screaming it was bad. I couldn't give them the attention they required and the attention I committed to their parents. So I did what worked for us.
About 6 months into the dayhome, I created his own sensory space and it had textured sensory boards, stimulating lights, sensory bottles, AND an iPad! How could I do this in an early learning environment...didn't I know how bad screen time was and he would never learn anything. He did watch lots of alphabet, shapes, and colour videos but also lots of crappy ones that simply entertained him. That space was his safe haven, where he could go when his own home and simply 3 other children being around was way too much for him. For two years he lived in that space, he would interact for short periods of time with the other children, and they commented, "Joshua sure does like his videos!" I responded with "Yes he does, but do you remember when you first started coming here and he had no videos and how much he screamed and I couldn't play with you?" They nodded. "And how once I made him his own space and he could watch videos that I could do more fun activities with you, play with you, and read more stories?" They responded with "Yes!" "Well the videos he watches help him feel safe and comfortable here and he is much happier now."
Now on weekends while he was watching the same Madagascar movie for the 100th time, and yes that started around 6 months of age....incredible brain damage now....I was able to catch my breath and read an article on sensory processing. Now when I write this next part, it was in the past and the opinion has changed completely. My mother was always saying how much screen time he was getting and how its not good. I already felt so much shame and now my mother who I look up to greatly was trying to say with love that I wasn't making a good choice. I reiterated all the things we had tried and we didn't want him to watch that much either (because that is what I was told) but I didn't know what to do...so I melted his brain some more... My mother's opinion has drastically changed on screen time, she sees how it helps him feel safe and relaxes him when he is watching the same train video over and over and over again. Even my late 90 year old Grandmother knew how helpful the iPad was for our son. She heard the heartbreaking stories my mother would tell her after I called sobbing in tears, hiding in the bathroom because I didn't know what to do.
During my "downtime" as a mother I began to read a book called "The Out of Sync Child" and it was a game changer for me with understanding our child. BUT I COULD NOT HAVE HAD THE TIME TO READ THAT BOOK IF HE WSAN'T WATCHING SCREEN TIME. This is a very important statement. If I had listened to all the other comments and articles, our child would have been an even bigger mess. Is it fair that he scream all day and be in that amount of distress? Is it fair that our family was drowning and not in a good place? I DID WHAT WORKED FOR OUR FAMILY. All while feeling shame and guilt for all the screen time, I pushed through and continued my research while my son watched videos now on an iPad! Yes he knew how to work an iPad by the age of 2. In my presentation on Supporting Sensory Needs I talk about how all that screen time allowed me to take care of my child, how I nurtured him by researching how to understand him and what he was communicating. I do not have any guilt or shame over that. I am proud I did what worked for our family and what we needed.
As I began to make accommodations in our home and dayhome for our son, as I have mentioned before, he by his own choice began to play a little more but still had the tv on because it made him feel safe and comfortable. I now understand this so much more from reading Uniquely Human, and the chapter on Fear, Trust, and Control. Children on the spectrum like to engage in the same experience over and over again because they feel in control of the situation, they know what to expect and what is coming next. So by having the same Sesame Street show on, or the same Madagascar movie and he knew what to expect he began to feel safe in his own home, because he surely didn't before, and his world slowed down and was able to engage in play. Screen time helped with this.
We are a year and a half post diagnosis, as I like to say, and he is now 4. He has been watching screens since before 1, so how in the world has he learned anything since I have been destroying his brain. How does he have friends, know how to turn pages in a book, know all of his letters, shapes, count to 20, backwards from 10, point out hexagons, because I for surely didn't teach him that. He learn't it from videos and movies, by seeing the interactions on the screen that was predictable and entertaining to him. Our son loves books, he knows how to turn pages and he also knows how to work an iPad better than we do. Yes of course we read to him, I am not allowed to sing to him often, we talk and play together. We take our son outside, and engage in family events. And guess what we always have his own personal iPad in his backpack! Yes he has his own iPad...gasp..I know how can an Early Childhood Educator in good conscious give her child their own iPad? Because I did what works for our family.
So here is my rant, besides this whole post, we don't know what parents are dealing with in this crazy life we attempt to get through. Even if their child is "typical" you don't know what there mental health issues they are fighting each and every day, family issues, job problems, financial problems. Because what I do know is that every family is far from society's image of perfect because it is impossible, and that putting all of this shame and fear onto parents and the children is not healthy either. So whether you choose to give your child no, some, or lots of screen time that is great. Do what works for your family. And if I see you give your child a screen in a restaurant I will smile in acceptance because I have probably already given our son his.
I am a mom to an amazing young son who was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of 2.5 years old. This blog is about the journey we have travelled as a family to discover how our son communicates and to be a happy child in a world that doesn't quite feel right to him. I am an Early Childhood Educator and I use my passion of play and individual needs to support our son to live a joyous and happy life.