No Electronics Here: Why we cut Electronics from our Children’s lives

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…

 

It wasn’t what he watched, but that he watched at all. He also doesn’t cope with commercial radio, battery-run toys, or machinery. So to answer all the questions and challenges…

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. :))

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About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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40 Responses to No Electronics Here: Why we cut Electronics from our Children’s lives

  1. hakea says:

    My boys were given some second-hand gameboys a few years ago. They lost touch with reality, they lost their manners, and they lost their ability to engage with each other and with us. They were very addictive. We chucked them out and our children returned to us. It was a good lesson for us, as we might have gone down the electronics track. The don’t have the same difficulties with the computer but their use is time restricted.

    • kloppenmum says:

      I am hoping that we will have fewer problems now his brain has had a chance to mature a little more, he’s just such an ‘open’ kid…even the full-moon gets him! Good for you removing the game-boys – it’s amazing how many parents won’t make the hard-call when it’s needed.

  2. Hi Karyn, My hat goes off to you. I am sure that everything you have just said is a 100% true, obviously difficult for me to experience without actually DOING it. I think that is one of the reasons why i now live in the country.
    MY biggest issue with everything you have said is that I have a mindset- that i need to practice what i preach. (Many people out there think rather Do what i say and not what I do…. whoever thought of that?!)
    The fact is that i could not pack my Blackberry away. I could not turn my laptop off and still run a business, and I am genuinely excited over the thought of having an ipad. Maybe i am begining to ramble- defensively.
    You have however put a thought into my head….. which is a step in your direction.
    xx

    • kloppenmum says:

      I understnd what you mean, and I think it’s OK for somethings to be just ‘adult’ activities. A nice glass of wine, for instance? Or driving?

  3. Loi says:

    Having removed the TV quite early on (G was 18 months) we never really got the withdrawal symptoms you mentioned here. And we’ve only had positive comments about removing the TV…maybe because I state it as a matter of fact and don’t invite thoughts or comments 😉
    Like I mentioned in my http://thegeorgous.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/unplugged-parenting-without-a-tv/ though, we have found it pretty challenging at times, the demand for attention; possibly because she is an only child and relies on us for fun and play.
    Good luck with the reintroduction!

  4. lilzbear says:

    This sounds exactly like something we want to do for our little one. He is just shy of 7 months and yet we get odd looks from others when we tell them we don’t let him watch TV. Would love to hear more about how you make this cutting electronics work.

    • kloppenmum says:

      We have few toys but lots of things which can be used in many ways…a wooden block could be a car, a cellphone, part of a tower, a horse – whereas a toy cellphone tends to be only a toy cellphone; a shell can dig in the sandpit or hold treasures, or be a plate. We’re also big on dolls (yes with boys) and construction toys. Even our dress-ups are mostly pieces of fabric…which could be skirts, capes, blankets etc. It’s what you said on the other post about ‘old-fashioned’ parenting, and being prepared to read more stories!

  5. Mama B says:

    I would love to do that. Honestly… But it’s no feasable as we spend so much time with our extended family that I would have to get them to cut out electronics too. I doubt they would listen. But I had a similar experience as hakea with my son S and a gameboy. He had totalk and utter meltdowns if it was taken away and would be wired all day after. So what we do is no electronics during the week at all. Limited TV during the week and never before bedtime. When they come home I switch off the TV if I am watching it and try as much as I can not to be on my lap top when they are home. It’s difficult though. Especially when they keep getting electronic gifts from people.

  6. My 8 year old son is already addicted to cartoons. He thinks TV is for himself only. We always fight If I have to change the channel to watch news and sports. We made a blunder when he was young. I wish we had build a balance. But his general knowledge is terrific and his vocabulary impressive. I suppose hist only gain.
    We are now trying to limit his TV time and I glad we are making some progress

  7. Sangitha says:

    Could you please elaborate on removing additives? My son’s having some behavioural issues at school and it’s getting into diagnosis and evaluation, et al…

    • kloppenmum says:

      I got a list of additives from the Australian ADHD society – on line I think, and cut out as many as we could from our food. I gave him one or two things at a time which did have additives in them and watched which ones he reacted to. I eventually worked out he reacted to caramel, reds and some yellows. Basically we eat nothing from packets any more, not that we ate heaps in the first place.

      • Sangitha says:

        Thanks. And it’s encouraging to know that it made a difference in his behaviour. Looks like red commonly causes some issues in some kids.

        • kloppenmum says:

          No problem. Yes, red is often an issue, but caramel (in lots of icecreams and sweets) is also an issue. It was like peeling an onion for us – removing the food additives helped a bit, removing screen time helped a lot etc. But if your son has the same Hare temperament – full-on energy, highly intelligent, want to be the boss – he will be harder to manage than most children. They only make up 6% of the population and are meant to be our leaders. All the best.

  8. Interesting post. I don’t disagree exactly, but we’re doing things pretty much opposite of you. We allowed zero exposure until E was 2+. If we went to a friend’s house either the TV was off, or we left. Now at 4 she has a fair amount of TV, but she is able to self regulate – with help from us to point out when she’s tired, hungry etc and suggest that she stops and let her know what she’ll likely feel if she doesn’t stop.
    I don’t discount the addiction aspect, which I believe can be very real, but our viewing typically is not passive. Even if we manage to sit through a show without talking about it, something always develops after.
    I have a new post that gives a brief glimpse into our television relationship.
    http://dandelionroars.com/2011/01/25/here-we-go-go-go-on-an-adventure/

    • kloppenmum says:

      Thanks for commenting, it’s great to hear different points of view – particularly on this topic.
      One of the things I looked into, when we realised it was a problem for our son, is the research that looks at the flattening of brainwaves during times of watching the screen: indicated by a slack jaw and glazed eyes. And we get that from him within 30 seconds. The other aspect, which is of concern for me is that anything watched on the screen then took over all his imaginative play: his real life experiences and ideas became less important than those he had been fed. I will have a look at your post…cheers.

  9. It was reading those studies that made me very strict with limiting TV in the beginning. I personally don’t see any benefit to allowing a baby/toddler to watch, only potential concerns. So we limited. But neither of our girls stares at the screen glass eyed and slack jawed – though we know many who do. Also we have zero issue with imagination. Though we do see themes from TV incorporated into their play a lot, we encourage it. We also see the girls pull themes from books into their play, we also encourage that. But if something happens in real life that has an impact in someway – for instance mommy about to have a baby – that is typically the forerunner for all play, everything else flows around it.

    Thanks for reading my post too.

  10. I always find it fascinating when two people can read basically the same information and come to two different conclusions. I’ve come across that a lot in my parenting journey.

    • kloppenmum says:

      Yes, thank-goodness we are all different people, really. Imagine how boring life would be if we always agreed.
      …Assuming we were reading similar articles, of course!

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  14. bhavnha says:

    i have been trying to do this for months, i get it started, but my other-half cant seem to resisit the pull of his wrestling and his hockey and his csi, and etc.
    i read books preferably over watching tv, but sometimes i too am sucked in and i realize it is not a good thing.
    if you could give me more insights on this topic i would be mighty grateful.
    thank you
    and be well!

    • Hi there,
      Yes, it easy to get continually sucked in to electroncs – and that goes for me too. What I did to convince my husband was to show him the difference in our boys’ behaviour. I asked him to trial no electronics (when the kids were around) for a week and then to watch the kids for the 24 hours or so after tele etc went back on again. When he saw the difference in their behaviours he understood what I was saying. Could this approach work for you?

  15. Sue says:

    When I take away my kids electronics they steal them back or find another way to do things. Any suggestions?

    • Without knowing you properly, it’s hard to say really. How are they with other boundaries is my first thought. Our eldest son definitely will sneak stuff and get to electronics any way he can – when I am tired or not on my game for what ever reason he takes full advantage of that, not because he’s bad kid necessarily but because he can. I would suggest you work out what you feel is the best decision and just stick to your guns, find different hiding places if that’s what it takes – a locked filing cabinet?

  16. I have been doing this since the birth of my eldest son, 9 years ago. Zero exposure to him and the parents too. However, after the arrival of my 3rd, my mother-in-law who is the care giver for my kids, allowed them to watch. We restrict them to watch only cartoon on DVD, no tv programme that we can’t control the content and the advertisement until today. Now, I am staying at home, and it’s nearly impossible for me to stop them from watching totally. The only thing that I am doing now is to limit the time…

    • Sometimes we have to do, what we have to do! Good on you for being aware of the impact the screen has on kids, anyway. And thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Asmeeta says:

        Karyn, have you ever thought of how the kids feel about all of this? I let me 3 kids get iPhone 5 and all the other amazing things (they save up for them) and I have had no problems. All I ask is that they put their electronics in my room before they go to bed. So, have you ever thought of how your kids feel about being so left out? I mean, it’s the 21st century for crying out loud! When books came out did parents take them away because they were apparently “addicted”? Of course not! So I would love to hear your comments on this situation.

        • Our boys have plenty of other things to occupy them, and are most often surrounded by other children who have limited or nonexistent electronic time – they are aware of electronics and enjoy their opportunities on them – when away from home, but they are able to entertain themselves without electronics – for hours and hours. They have friends who can also manage to live without electronics and they only feel ‘left out’ when other people say something: to them, having no electronics is normal.In our house, they get to have more access to electronics as they get older and their brains are more able to cope with the flickering of pixelation and sudden noises, and flashing colours.

          The effect of electronics on our brains is such an unknown and I believe that it one cause of many things like ADD/ADHD that we simply didn’t see years ago, because kids were playing and using their brains as they were biologically built to be used. I think, over the next 100 years, we will have many more parenting experts realising that the effects of electronics on developing brains are far more negative than the positive outcomes supposedly associated with using them before the age of 9 or 10.

          • Asmeeta says:

            I think you are making too much of a big deal with this. Every human being wants things (Even I, who just recieved my iPhone 5C yesterday) and I feel that it’s fine to have those things. Are you critisizing (or however you spell it) my household?

            • It seems to me she’s doing what works best for her family and not telling another soul what to do with theirs. Perhaps others read these and feel a sense of guilt because they’re not as aware as the OP or because they’re not doing something similar, worrying about whether they should or not? You have to do what works the best for your family, whether that means you’d prefer your kids stare at a screen all day, not at all, or somewhere in-between. Mine are not electronic free 7 days a week, but they get 4 hours or less in a seven day period. We read a lot, we play outside a lot, there’s legos, dolls, drawing, painting, cooking, chores, visiting family and friends, etc. In our house we believe electronics aren’t something you need to be tied to 24/7, but I understand what works for us will not work for everyone. We also didn’t have the behavioral issues she discusses here, ever, we just simply don’t do a lot of electronics period. All in all I think it goes back to manners though with the comments on this post, ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’.

  17. JDolphins says:

    I myself am 30 years old. When I was younger I served a 2 year service mission in Japan and had no electronics except a clock. No TV, no radio, no ipad, no nothing. Best two years of my life. I’m now a business owner and use electronics constantly for work and even though I’m older and should be able to handle it, I cannot. Starting today I am only going to use electronics at work and places outside my home. I think it will add to my happiness.

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