About five years ago, we removed all electronic entertainment, for children, from our house. It took us about a year to get really firm about it, but since it’s been gone we’ve never looked back. Our children are so much more pleasant without it: it’s unbelievable.
Recently, the Hare has turned nine. Some time soon he will want to seriously bond with his peer group. So we gave him the DVDs of the television series ‘James May’s Toy Stories’ for his birthday. We’re going to start bringing some electronics into his life again and I’m going to track progress through this blog. To begin, here’s why got rid of it in the first place…
I would say we had a fairly average approach to tv etc when he was a toddler and pre-schooler. He was our eldest and we just hadn’t taken the time to think about electronics. They were there, part of our life, part of the modern world and therefore OK. We assumed.
He started off with about half an hour a day – always educational or benign. By the time we cut it out, he probably had maybe two or three hours of ‘good quality’ tv, cds (yes I include electronic music in the tally too) etc a day, often less. Dora; The Wiggles; Stanley. Nothing extraordinary. What you might call moderation even.
But we had some behaviour problems. Again, nothing out of the ordinary. Many people told us we were over-reacting, because what he was doing was normal. What they really meant was that it was normal as in common. But his behaviour wasn’t normal as in healthy. We got rid of the few additives in his diet. It helped, but not completely. A good friend had just removed tv from her children’s lives and lent me a copy of ‘The Plug in Drug’ by Marie Winn. I read it and then… Oh, I thought. Oh.
Marie is probably one of the first people to actually write about electronics being addictive…not in a ha, ha, aren’t we all silly sort of way, but as a serious concern. I started researching further, and may write about my findings later. But fundamentally I was more interested in our darling Hare than all the research in the world. So, I figured, if it really is addictive: he’ll go through withdrawal. The process is: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.
I thought we were in for a rough couple of weeks at least. I wasn’t wrong. And he followed the withdrawal process to a T. He spent the first hour in shock, and hung around my legs continuously. Then he got angry. Serious Power Tantrum angry. For about 5 days. Continuously. Goodness knows what the neighbours thought was going on. Then the bargaining began. Every moment he could he badgered me to turn it on…just for a minute…just for one show…it wasn’t fair…on and on and on. Then he’d have another Power Tantrum. Finally he got a little sad, needed cuddles and resigned himself to the new status quo. For the time being. To this day he tries most days to negotiate or sneak some kind of electronic entertainment. After the initial two weeks, we did give in from time to time – but the changes in his behaviour were so great that we finally realised it simply wasn’t worth the effort. And we cut it out completely. You don’t give an alcoholic one drink, do you…
What did we gain? A child who can and does communicate more readily with better eye-contact. A child who is 1000 times calmer and less likely to scrap with us or his brother (the other brother is still too young to scrap with). A child who is more obedient. After three nights, no night-terrors. No nightmares after about a month. A child who moves purposefully rather than manic-ly. A child who speaks at a regular rate rather than like a tommy-gun. A child who doesn’t cry over little things. A child who can and does entertain himself, no problem at all…all day, every day. A child who hasn’t said he is bored for years. A child who doesn’t bug us to buy every little thing advertised…
1. You are mean. We think it’s cruel to put a child in a situation which is going to cause him stress. It would have been meaner to let him use electronics than it was to stop him.
2. He’s missing out on things his peers are doing. We love merchandising. If we feel we have to, we buy the book. He has developed far greater communication, negotiation, persistence and all those other lovely emotional intelligence qualities since we removed it. He gets on better with his peers, because he understands people. He also gets on great with people in other generations.
3. He’ll be behind everyone else. Really? Do you really think the electronics our children are using now will have any resemblance to the electronics we will have in five years or 10 years time when he finishes school? Besides, I think if he started using a computer (for example) at 15, he’d be caught up by the time he was 16. At the latest.
4. That’s him. That’s not true for my children. Anyone who has had anything to do with any sort of science knows, you need a control. Unless parents are prepared to have a month without electronics how do they know it’s not affecting their children? As we found, you need a decent amount time with and without in order to make that judgement. At age four, our Hare looked the same as most of his peers. Other people said the same about him. The Owl (who has, for obvious reasons, had far less electronic time) has nightmares and can’t get to sleep when he’s had a good dose. Perhaps the stress will manifest differently…
5. But I’m a solo Mum or a Mum with a new baby and it’s my only time to have a shower, cook dinner etc. So don’t cut it out for now. But plan to, and eventually follow through.
6. But they love it. Yep. They do. Excitement works on the same emotional structures in the brain as fear. The same chemicals are released. Our bodies react the same. It takes time for all the adrenalin etc to dissipate. Every time they have an electronic experience, they get another dose. We don’t want our children in a continuous state of high-alert. Exciting events are truly exciting when they are rare.
7. But what about other people and school. Luckily the grandparents have had a before and after electronic experience with him. We have asked people not to use electronics, but until people experience the difference for themselves, it’s kind of impossible. We are just careful where our children go to play. Schools can be a problem: but teachers listen, and the state system is not the only option.
8. It’s too hard. It is hard. His temperament means he is naturally drawn to electronics, which makes it even harder. But it’s hard for parents who have children allergic to peanuts too, and I’m serious in saying his reaction is like an allergy – except this trigger is everywhere and now he needs to bond with his peers…
So that’s the short version of the why. How it goes reintroducing electronics…watch this space. and my blood pressure!
Part Two is here: Manic Behaviour: Our Boy with Electronics.
(Should you find this article useful, Koha is accepted, $1 is fine. The button is under my blog-roll. :))