Shut up about screen time

27 June 2018

Dear Friend,

Is it a current trend that parents feel the need to justify their choices to others? I am sure that in my parents' day nobody told them how to bring us up. So why do we accept it now?

I have lost count of the conversations I have had with friends and colleagues where we have mentioned children watching TV or using iPads or games consoles and they have felt the need to qualify it with a ...but we monitor/limit how much they can play. But really, honestly, I don't care! 

Just shut up about screen time!

Big lad's play has never been typical it mostly involved lining things up and ordering things (early indications of his ASD) he liked puzzles and memory games and from a very young age he loved TV. When friends came for coffee the TV went out. I hid my sons TV habit like an addiction. Next came the game consoles. First the small handheld things and later attached to the TV. Big lad was hooked. Our world became filled with Mario and Skylanders.

I built screen time into our Big lad's schedule (visual timetable) but he raced through some tasks to get to the computer. I built in timescales e.g. half an hour at least doing puzzles/drawing etc then computer.  I limited the computer time 2 x 30 minutes per day. He just laid on the sofa doing nothing until it was computer time.

I tied myself in knots one holiday organising fun activities for us to do; going out for bike rides, picnics, walking the dog, visits to the park. I bought toys, building materials, made play dough, got cook books, set up train tracks etc Very often he would ask; Can I play on my Computer now? Or can we go home, I want to play with my computer? The obsession with monitoring his screen time ruined my holiday and his, we both returned to school totally stressed out!

I am well aware of the recommendations from Nice that screen time is limited to 1-2 hours per day. I've read the expert advice and there are some 'experts' that tell parents parents, step up to the plate, make the difficult decisions and others who err on the side of common sense.

I do not agree with blanket rules being applied to people regardless of their circumstances. Children have different needs and different interests. Some obsess with Lego, Star Wars or comic books.

What is a realistic amount of screen time in today's modern technological world or for a child with autism?

Being "good at" computer games has actually benefited the big lad socially as it has given him greater confidence and provided a common interest to share with friends. I think we sometimes overlook the positive aspects of gaming.

Big lad took part in a Mario Kart tournament last night. ⠀ *⠀ He came home buzzing & with a small gift for 3rd place. ⠀ *⠀ I’m so proud and happy for him. ⠀ *⠀ It isn’t the placing that makes me proud. It is the fact that he is doing something where he is accepted, feels successful and happy. ⠀ *⠀ We hear a lot about the negative side of gaming but this is the positive. ⠀ *⠀ The other players may not have even realised that he has #autism It didn’t matter he was accepted 100% for being Himself⠀ #Autismacceptance⠀ *⠀ The people there called him the legend! ⠀ *⠀ It is amazing what this has done for his self confidence. ⠀ *⠀ It is time that we recognised the social benefits of gaming too. ⠀ 💙 ⠀ #gaming #gamerboy #MarioKart #autism #autismawareness #autismacceptance #autistic
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According to Isabela Granic and her fellow researchers at Radboud University in the Netherlands, media stories largely ignore how video games have changed in recent years to become more complex, realistic, and social in nature and  not only do the newer video games provide young people with compelling social, cognitive, and emotional experiences, they also can potentially boost mental health and well-being.

Positive benefits of gaming:

  • Cognitive development: improved problem solving skills, pattern recognition, improved spacial attention, working memory and quick decision making.
  • Motivation: being successful at computer games can be a huge motivator to try other things. 
  • Emotion: most gamers play for enjoyment and to help improve their mood. In our sons words, 'I just feel really good when I play computer games and nothing else feels like that.' 
  • Social: over 70 percent of gamers play with friends, whether as part of a team or in direct competition. Gaming leads to playdates, groups and spontaneous conversations, it has lead to friendships, our big lad has made several friends through playing Pokemon go. Video games can teach social skills. 
  • Improvements in executive functioning: Executive functions let people plan, organize and complete tasks (often a problem for autistic people.) 
  • Improvement of motor skills:  Many children with autism experience difficulties with handwriting and other fine motor skills. Touchscreen-based games often require refining these fine motor skills and developing good hand to eye coordination. 
  • Learning to lose: Being able to lose in a safe environment is so important. As is learning to try again and not to give up!

Children and young adults with ASD have unique opportunities to capitalize on their interest and aptitude in video games as a resource to develop desired social behaviors and life skills and to increase their physical activity... -  Games for Health Journal Editor-in-Chief Bill Ferguson, PhD.

I am not going to give my son free reign as research also warns me that autistic children have a tendency to become addicted to gaming. We do have one hard rule, no gaming after dinner and I also have an app to control their device usage (and truth be told mine). All devices are switched off between 8p.m and 7a.m.

Do we stick to the guidelines? No! But we have found something that works for us. So please don't lecture me about screen time. You don't need to prove your parenting prowess to me. I am the last person to judge!


This is a revised post.

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