The endless battle of screen time

I have started trying to write this post on many occasions, and I keep getting stuck and it never gets finished, but today I am going to try again as its something that I have really been battling with over the last year, but I finally feel like the tide is turning.

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I do feel like I am making some progress,  like I am beginning to win the never ending screen time war, and have finally managed to get to a point where the kids know I’m not joking when I tell them they have reached their limit and they have to turn it off.

Over the last few weeks we have finally established some very clear limits, and although the kids think I am being mean I know it will be well worth it in the end.

For a while they fought against it and complained that they were bored, my reply was “Great that’s exactly what I wanted, now go and play with your toys, or read your books, or use your imaginations, or draw or paint or make something.”

There is just so much more to do with your life and so much more to experience.

When I was a kid there was lots of time to be bored, which meant that there was also lots of time to be creative and generally get into trouble. If we were lucky there was about 1.5 hours a day of kids TV programming and Saturday morning TV was a major treat. But if you missed it you missed it and for most of the rest of the time there wasn’t really anything on TV to entertain kids. Although I do remember watching lots of documentaries and quiz shows with my dad. I loved QED and blue planet, and I think some of my love for science was born at that time.

There were also no other electronic screens to move onto when the TV was off. No computer, no phone, no ipad and very few trips to the cinema.

I can’t even imagine what it must be like to be a child with a brain that is developing now here in the 21st century when there is never ever the need to be bored. Our kids can literally be entertained 24 hours a day by a wide variety of electronic games, gadgets and screens, there is endless variety, and they are portable, in the car, in the church, in the shops there is literally nowhere where a child cannot sit and play with an electronic device.

For as long as I can remember I have been working deliberately to reduce (or more accurately to stem  the increase in) the hours that our kids spend using screens. It is super hard, I mean its like a never ending battle like shovelling snow in a blizzard and its one war that I never though I would be fighting. Over the last year since I have been reading more about sensory integration, and neuro-development it has become clear to me that no matter how hard this battle is it is one which I must keep on fighting.

Recently I met a mother who said that she had been told that because her son had autism that she should allow him to use the ipad whenever he wanted for as long as he wanted, because it was calming and a good way for him to zone out when the world became too stressful. Whilst I whole heartedly agree that this is a great reason to use an ipad, and it can be very helpful for when our kids need a distraction when things are stressful, I really couldn’t think of anything worse than completely unlimited use.

If I let my kids do this then they would literally spend all day every day attached to the device. They dont even have to come off it to eat or use the bathroom, I have even had requests from the to be able to watch films on it while they have a bath….Errm NO!

I have to say that the ipad has been a God send for us when Charlie cant cope with so much sensory input, a long noisy church service or a family meal in a restaurant, but to allow him to have unlimited use of it just seems like madness.

Often Charlie wakes up and literally the first words out of his mouth are “I haven’t had any screen time yet, can I have the ipad now?” I have heard lots of “it’s not fair” and “we are the only kids who cant have…” But they are slowly accepting the rules and things are changing some mornings now Charlie even wakes up and asks for toys.

When they get home from school they know that they can have only one hour on their choice of screen, and there are rules about having homework done first and no screens during meal times.

I was taking a call from my manager when they arrived home tonight and I was so proud of them when no one asked for a screen and this is how I found them when I finished the call. Their cousin was visiting and Lillie had even managed to offer to help her with her reading homework.

Honestly my heart nearly burst…

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Master yoda has ear defenders too!

Driving along the road today Charlie noticed this poster and got really excited, he still hasn’t quite got the hang of pointing things out with your finger as most typical kids do so it took me a while to see what it was he was so excited to show me.

Look mummy “Master yoda has ear defenders too!”

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Before we got married, and right up until the kids came along there were two places that the hubby and I loved to spend most of our time the church and the cinema. Yeah I know, not exactly the wildest places to go, but we were happy.

When Lillie was born we pretty much carried on as we had before with church, and as she was old enough we would introduce her to the cinema. We had no plans to change the way we lived but once charlie came along things changed dramatically.

Every cinema trip was a disaster, Lillie would watch the film Charlie would do his best to escape, we had no idea why, We couldn’t leave because Lillie would cry, we couldn’t stay because Charlie would cry, or run or want to disappear up inside my top. There was no way on this earth that one adult could take the two children alone, it just wasn’t safe enough with them both going in opposite directions.

It wasn’t long before we found that every sunday morning was beginning to follow the same pattern as the cinema. Not being able to manage in church was a far worse problem for us than the cinema thing because thats where most of our friends were. Having a child who couldn’t manage to get through a sunday morning meant some serious social isolation was headed our way.

This time last year, after we had walked out of yet another church service in tears. We were lost and confused and praying that God would give us some insight as to what the hell was going on and how we could make things easier.

Then one day the answer came, I came across a book which changed my life, It was old and tatty and kind of out of date, there are now newer versions with more up to date information,  but this is the book that I will remember forever, this is the book that finally held the answers we had spent four years looking for.

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The book explained how the problems that we were seeing with the eating were related to all of the other things that we didn’t understand.  It explained how not wanting to have his head touched was related to not wanting to wear socks in the car, which was related to not being able to cope with loud noises and on and on and on…

Suddenly it all started to come into focus.

Suddenly we had a way forward,

Suddenly there was hope.

Lots of you will have seen my kids sporting their ear defenders. This was one of the first and simplest changes we made, and one that has had the biggest impact on our ability to go out and have fun as a family.

Today is the first day of half term, this morning we went to the cinema and bowling alley, neither of these activities would have been imaginable without the ear defenders. Lillie doesn’t need hers as much as Charlie, but to keep things even we carry 2 pairs, they both wore them, the whole time, they were happy and comfortable and the whole trip was so easy.

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Later in the afternoon we popped out to the shops, we were only going for milk so we didn’t take the ear defenders with us, when an ambulance came past both kids stopped and covered their ears, they waited for the ambulance to pass, I waited for them to be ready and then we all carried on as if nothing had happened, no fussing, no crying, no meltdowns.

They are learning how to self-regulate, this is progress.

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Most cinemas now do autism friendly screenings, which is wonderful and so important, but we love to have the flexibility to be able to go where we want to when we want to, with only a few small adaptations so that our kids can be part of the fun too.