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Screen Time Equals Calm Time for My Son

I have to accept Blaise’s way of dealing with life. I need to support his need to click the remote, to lie on the couch, and to zone out.

It’s clear that there are three ways my six-year-old, Blaise, prefers to calm himself, spend his downtime, and transition between activities. The first is through LEGO. Yes, they the little blocks find their way all over the house and destroy my dining room, but they are fairly healthy and productive. They’re even creative: You can put Chewbacca’s head on Superman! Build a lava field! Make strange underwater scenes with headless sharks! Blaise will build for hours, silently, intensely, calming himself from a long day. I’m forever grateful to the Swedes who invented them.

The other two methods of calming himself, of breaking from one activity to another, are not so healthy, at least to me. First, Blaise is obsessed with TV. He’d watch the paint-drying channel if nothing else were on. He knows how to work the Roku (we’ve long ditched cable), so the wonders of Amazon Prime and Netflix lie waiting for him. Mostly, he sticks to some favorites: Shaun the Sheep, Dinotrux, and Danger Mouse. None of these has any redeeming qualities; they are cheap entertainment. While STS and DM are clever, they’re far from art and far from educational. Sometimes Blaise will watch Nigel Marven specials on prehistoric life, and we encourage that. But other than that, it’s cartoons, cartoons, cartoons.

The third way Blaise calms down is — hey, are you surprised? — video games, video games, video games. He accidentally discovered the games on the Roku, and accidentally bought more (we were oblivious and hadn’t locked it down hard enough). Now he’s always playing some loud Ninja-kicking French game, or trying to play Centipede and getting shouted down because the game’s volume is programmed for the near-deaf community.

[Free Resource: Brain-Building Video and Computer Games]

My husband confiscated the old-school 8-bit Nintendo player because Blaise wouldn’t stop with it. Any pause in life, and he was playing what was oddly his favorite game, Mario 2. Or Mario 3. Or StarTropics, or Kid Icarus, or Castlevania. No games that ended quickly. While I was thrilled to see my son playing the same games, in the same cartridges, as I played when I was his age, it’s not like Nintendo has some redeeming value beyond hand-eye coordination.

I don’t want a screen-time kid. If I could, I’d take the TV out in the backyard and shoot it, because I think that most programming that comes through it is a waste of time (Nigel Marven and David Attenborough excepted). When I became a parent, I swore I’d strictly control my kids’ screen time, that I wouldn’t let them watch junk that wasn’t artistic or educational.

As the American Academy of Pediatricians concluded this month: “Excessive exposure to screens (television, tablets, smartphones, computers, and video game consoles), especially at early ages, has been associated with” a host of problems, ranging from sleep to behavior to mood to physical health. That’s a hell of a lot of good reasons to restrict kids’ screen time. We do restrict what he can watch — I don’t let him play Mortal Kombat or watch Law & Order: SVU. He isn’t seeing more than cartoon violence on screen; he isn’t seeing any sexual situations or, with the Roku, even commercials. These are all pluses.

But I feel uncomfortable about how much TV he watches, about how many video games he plays. However, the screen is attractive to the ADHD brain, and soothing, so it’s hard to argue with plopping him down in front of the TV to avert a tantrum or help him transition. In the end, it’s really me that has the problem with it. I don’t truly believe that, with all the safeguards we have in place, it’s going to overly harm him. But I need to come to grips with having a TV-obsessed child. It helps his ADHD, so who am I to argue?

[The iPad Is Not Your Enemy: Using Technology to Promote Learning ]

I have a screen-obsessed kid, a kid who needs it as a way of calming himself and of transitioning between activities. As I accept his condition, as I hope for acceptance for my own coping mechanisms, I have to accept his way of dealing with life. I need to support his need to click the remote, to lie on the couch, and to zone out. As long as he’s still creating, doing, and learning at other times, it’s OK, with reasonable restrictions — even if I don’t like it.