And that’s just from you, as you endure your child’s misery.
Most of today’s youth have been connected to the World Wide Web like another umbilical cord since birth — a cord that not only remains but seems to get thicker and stronger.
We are guilty of fostering that connection for our own son. Now, at 13 years of age, he cannot imagine a world without electricity, gadgets, and connectivity.
Sure, We Tried
When he was a tot, we tried engaging him in all manner of activities, clubs and sports. If he showed any interest, we jumped in to encourage him. He tried Cub Scouts, baseball, soccer, swim lessons, etc., but nothing seemed to fit for him. Having autism also separated him from the way of the ‘group’ as he tended to lag a little behind and not be easily understood.
Where he excelled was video games, memorizing movies and acting out scenes with his toys, creating animated Power Point shows about Pokemon. When surrounded by electronics — from the Baby Einstein videos that calmed him as an infant, to the latest X-Box strategy game today, he is in his element. He is in control, confident, capable.
We Need to Try Harder
While I love seeing him happy and confident, I know we are shortchanging him by allowing him to stay constantly immersed in the world of electronics. He needs a break. We all do. We need to learn to be with ourselves, our thoughts, in a quiet room. We need to be able to sleep without the television on, and to not need to be constantly entertained.
In school, my son finds it hard to focus. It is boring to sit and listen to one person talking, to not see the rapid movement and digital impulses that his mind now craves. We have to reprogram him to be in these low-stimuli environments.
First, we tried having him use the electronics less. We asked that he spend a certain amount of time each day doing something else. Without a history or interest in doing other things, he would just sit there sadly until the time was up. Or he would transfer his focus to me, following me around and telling me all about the game he was playing.
We came up with lists together of activities he could do by himself, and ones with a friend or family member. We asked that he spend some time doing each every day. But he still seemed to be unhappy, going through the motions until he could get back to his game.
Recently, we flipped things around on him after a particularly bad week at school resulted in having all electronics removed for a week. It was a very long week for everyone as he truly struggled with what to do with all the time he now had open.
When he regained his privileges, we took the opportunity to change the rules. We finally set a firm limit to how much time he could be plugged in each day. There are options to earn some more time online, but it is greatly reduced for the first time in his life.
I wish we’d done this a lot sooner. It is much harder to come up with ‘play’ ideas for a teen than for a child. But we are trying, and he is being very compliant and not complaining (or he’s scared to lose what time he still has). At first he would just sit there sadly, or chatter to me, but I am seeing progress into trying new things. His demeanor unplugged has become less agitated as he learns to relax without constant sound.
Another important element to this is role modeling the behavior we want to see in him by being unplugged for periods of time ourselves. Here’s what he is working on, with our encouragement and company:
• Finding ways to complete a task without using electronics.
• Spending time outdoors.
• Having undistracted conversations.
• Doing things for others.
• Writing down ideas.
• Quietly observing the world around us.
• Engaging in movement or physical activity.
• Using materials in creative ways.
• Working on puzzles, and playing board or card games.
He’s coming around. Each time I see him doing new things I feel like the proud mama of a toddler learning a new word. He will probably always feel happiest in his world of Mario and Zelda, but I hope to have him sharing his time in our world more too.
Is it time to unplug your kid?