Day 12: Electronic Media

Electronic Media

This is Day 12 in the series: 31 days on Living with ADHD, Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder: What We Have Tried, What Has Worked, What Hasn’t Worked, and Never Giving Up.

I think like most parents I have a love hate relationship with electronic media.  There are some days I just don’t know if I would make it (especially when I am sick and home alone with the kids!) without electronic babysitters but it is SO tempting to use is as a first response when the kids are driving it crazy.

So why does it seem so much worse now than when we were kids?

Besides the content getting worse (faster paced and more violent) the biggest difference between my childhood and my childrens’ is there are new cartoons available 24/7.  When I was little there were only a few windows of time in the morning and afternoon that there were cartoons available.  Even when the cartoons finally came on many times they were re-runs and some some of the cartoons weren’t our favorites anyway.  We did have a VHS player but we didn’t have a ton of movies.  Eventually you would get tired of watching the same thing and playing outside would seem more fun.  Or we might start playing outside after school while we waited for are cartoons and next thing we knew we had missed the cartoons because we were so engrossed in fort building.  Today though there is a limitless supply of new cartoons at my kids fingertips if I will just unlock the iPad for them.

But is too much media really a problem?

According to Mayo Clinic too much electronic media has been linked to:

  • Obesity
  • Irregular Sleep
  • Behavioral Problems
  • Impaired Academic Performance
  • Violence
  • Less Play Time

When I first started seeing these articles linking tv time to ADHD the engineer in me thought “but how do they know it isn’t just correlated?  Why do they think too much tv CAUSES ADHD? Maybe parents with ADHD kids (like me) are just losing their minds and tend to rely on electronic media more than other parents.”  But then I watched this Ted Talk by Dimitri Christakis on Media and Children:

According to Dimitri Christakis’ research, Mr Rogers or Sesame Street probably aren’t damaging to your child except that they are stealing away time from creative independent play.  But Power Puff Girls, Baby Einstein, Pokemon, etc that are much faster paced, quickly shifting from scene to scene, do appear to have a negative effect on children’s development.  While most people wouldn’t go so far to say these types of programs cause ADHD they certainly exacerbate it.  ADHD children need to learn to concentrate and finish tasks (see what I wrote about Montessori Method of Education)

Besides hindering a child’s ability to concentrate, giving them an iPhone or iPad whenever they are distressed steals from them the opportunity to learn to self-soothe through distress.  I often wonder if Mr Rockstar would be better at handling his everyday melt-downs over little things if I hadn’t been so quick to give him my iPhone.  Live and Learn.  Lets just say the twins get my iphone as a distraction when we are grocery shopping or eating in a restaurant….maybe twice a year whereas Mr Rockstar got it twice a day it seemed like.

Dr. Daniel Amen, in Healing ADD: The Breakthrough Program That Allows You to See and Heal the 6 Types of ADD, says:

As far as excess television is concerned, the research is very clear: Kids who watch the most TV do the worst in school. TV is a— no brain— activity.  Everything is provided for it (sounds, sights, plots, outcome, entertainment), and the brain doesn’ t have to learn or make new connections. Like a muscle, the more you use your brain, the stronger it becomes and the more it can do. The opposite is also true: The less you work it, the weaker it becomes. Repeatedly engaging in —no brain— activities, such as TV, decreases a person— s ability to focus.

Dr. Amen also talks about another way that ADHD children are effected “Video games and television have lead to another major contributor in the rise of ADD in our society: the lack of exercise. Exercise increases blood flow to all parts of the body, including the brain— Through the years I have seen a direct relationship between the level of exercise a person gets and the severity of their symptoms. I have seen a number of ADD professionals (such as physicians and attorneys) get through school by exercising two to four hours a day. I have also noted that when my ADD patients are playing sports, such as basketball, where there is intense aerobic exercise, they do better in school, without any change in medication.”

As I have discussed earlier, exercise is one of the best “medicines” for ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism.  Our brains need exercise for proper development, regulation and organization and electronic media steals from exercise time for kids.  The first thing I do when the kids are going crazy and I don’t wan to resort to turning on the tv is take them outside no matter what the weather.

So what is too much?

A 1999 study found that the average child in the US spends 6 hrs and 32 minutes watching tv and playing video games a day.  I hear these numbers and I feel pretty good about myself as a parent.  We are no where near 6 hrs a day!  But then I read the American Pediatrics Association suggests no screen time for kids under age 2 (thankfully the twins are 3 now so at least I can stop feeling guilty about that one) and limiting screen time to 1-2 hrs a day for older children.  This would be total electronic media – tv + video games.  I don’t know about you but we are over 1-2 hrs a day average 🙁  Mommy fail. 

The hard thing is as Dr. Diller so nicely statesTV and video games constitute a strange sort of good-fit situation for distractible children. These activities are among the few things they can concentrate on well. Because this is the case, they do watch or play such games a lot.”  TV and video games are the only sure way to get a break from the drama of having a special needs kid like Mr Rockstar.  If I just need an hour or two with no melt-downs I know 90% of the time if I give him the iPad I will get the break I need.

So the dilemma is should I eliminate the electronic media completely? should I limit it more than I do?  In my experience this statement (from an article reviewing research on media and ADHD at is true:

Because television and video games are attractive to ADHD children to the extent that overexposure may lead to addiction-limiting the amount of time that an ADHD child has access to these devices allows parents to utilize TV and video games as compelling rewards for reinforcing positive behaviors. While an outline of the various behavior modification programs suggested by Diller, Amen, and Armstrong is outside the scope of this report, all three recommend an increase or decrease in the amount of viewing time given to an ADHD child as one of several appropriate rewards and punishments.

Because electronic media is so enticing to Mr Rockstar it makes a great reward.  The downside to this is on his bad days I can’t use it for a break but given what a great incentive it is to get him to do a good job at therapy and school I will take the bad days.


So what can you do to limit screen time?  Here are a few idea?

  • DESIGNATED TIMES: Have specific times when tv is allowed.  This is as much for you as the kids.  It won’t let you default to turning on the tv when what the kids really need is some exercise
  • OUTSIDE: Get outside no matter what the weather
  • DANCE PARTY: If outside time is limited due to weather my next plan of action is a dance party.  Ok so maybe this is against the whole “no electronic media” concept but we have a free “disco ball” app on the iPad we light up and then have a grand ol’e dance party.
  • COOK and CLEAN: Have the kids help clean or cook
  • PLAY: Play with your kids.  Usually I find if I play 10 minutes with them then they can play for another 20 by themselves.  They just need a little help getting started sometimes.  Also, playing with them can be a great way to teach lessons on manners, etc.  When my girls get too whiny we play with their dollhouse and I get to be the baby and they are the mommy.  It really works lol.

What is your go to activity when your first impulse is to put Frozen on again?  LOL

Limits and Accountability:

Suggested limits in the research I read:

  • 1 hr during week nights
  • 2 hrs on weekends
  • 30-45 min of video games per day max

We do limit content (virtually no violence) but as far as time ….I wish we were at these limits each day!  We are more at the 2-3 hrs a day for the kids.  There electronic media exposure is almost entirely cartoons so we are significantly under the daily video game allotment.  Mr Rockstar has a few educational games on his iPad which I think are really helpful.  When he was struggling to get his colors, playing the color game for a week or two, 10 min a day, and he finally got his colors.  Likewise he has a couple phonics games that have helped him with his letter sounds.

Weekly Accountability Group

Electronic Media

Anyone interested in a weekly electronic media accountability group?  I am going to start tracking Mr Rockstar’s media usage and posting it once a week.  Please join me!

My Goals:

  1. Mr Rockstar can earn up to 1 hr of iPad use on week days.  No weekday video games except educational with me.
  2. Mr Rockstar can have 2-3 hrs of iPad and video games on the weekends.
  3. TV in the car is limited to before and after therapy, church and hard doctors appointments (approx 3 times a week) and long road trips
  4. If anyone is sick all limits are temporarily lifted
  5. When I work (two afternoons a week) or we have a date night, the babysitter can have unlimited use of the iPad (we have a poor history with babysitters and Mr Rockstar).  Usually this will only be a little over his daily allotment of 1 hr.

What do you think?  Am I missing anything?  Who wants to join me?!?

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