Susan Humphries

Son-Rise Program® Teacher, 

Autism Treatment Center of America®
Relationships With People
Versus Relationships With Screens
Have you noticed that screened media is everywhere you look these days?  There are TV’s in our living rooms, cars, and grocery stores too.  Televisions, computers, smart phones, video game devices all fall under the pervasive screen team. We know that you want to support your children in the development of having joy filled relationships versus spending thousands of hours isolating themselves behind those captivating screens.   One significant way to do this is to remove all electronic devices or screen media.  The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that children under the age of six spend an average of 32 hours a week watching screened media. This number increases as our children get older, with an average of 49 hours a week for our 8 to 18 year olds.
  
Here are some common reasons we hear from parents as to why they let their children spend so much time with devices:
·         “It is a babysitter.”- Probably one of the most common reasons I hear from parents why they use devices is to babysit their children when they need to tend to their busy lives.   When the device is removed your child will find other interests to gravitate towards.   Create an area that you can easily see and hear your child and  that is safe for your child to be in.  Bring into this safe place fun toys that your child may be interested in, such as their favorite items to ism with and other objects of interest. Many of our children who are high functioning tend to spend their screen time with video games or their favorite shows or movies. Consider gathering books, board games, coloring books, figurines and other items that are connected to their media interest.   Solo play actually helps our children with developing creativity, problem solving, and motor planning.
·         “We use it as a reward to good behavior.”-Children on the spectrum already have a phenomenal tendency to become fixated in a repetitious way on things that are compelling. Often times this leads to screen time being one of their biggest motivations. It is not uncommon for people to use screen media as a reward when teaching; such as sitting through meal time, potty training, learning a new skill, etc.  In The Son–Rise Program® we use motivations that we, ourselves, deliver and celebrations as a reward.  This way we are encouraging relationships and understanding vs. prompt-reward dependency.
·          “My apps have taught my children the ABC’s and 1, 2, 3’s.”– Screen devices go against the very skills that we teach in The Son-Rise Program … SOCIALIZATION.

·         Language development: Do not be deceived that the lines your child says over and over again from their favorite show is a form of language.  We want to encourage communicative language.  There have been many studies revealing that the less screen time a child has and the more time they have with people the better their understanding and use of language.  Also, there is a direct link between the more children watch screened devices and the greater chance for them to have language delays. TV, the computer, smart phones, video games will never respond to your child. It is one sided. The more responding we do to our children’s sounds, words, gestures the more it reinforces for them to use it.
·         Attention Span: Many of you have noticed that your child can attend to watching TV or playing on a screen for a long period of time but their attention is fleeting when being with or playing with people. Screen media is actually hypnotic- habit forming and addictive. The audio and visual stimulation is EXTREME. Research suggests that the intense sensory stimulation from video causes our brains to release dopamine.   When dopamine is produced it switches on the pleasure and reward center in our brains.  To put it into perspective, the same places are switched on with alcohol and cocaine use.   There is no way that you can be as compelling as Pokémon, Sponge Bob, Zelda Universe, etc.  This is one reason it is challenging for us to compete with screens when trying to create interaction.  Also, because it is hypnotic in nature it will feed your child’s exclusivity.

·         “It is what we do as a family” :  Families with special children find that watching TV is the only thing their family does together. Sitting on the couch with the family can seem like a typical family interaction.  The reality is there is no interaction and it is just a group of people being exclusive, together.
Useful tips when removing the devices:
·         Lock up your devices when you are not using them. We see many of our children become highly exclusive and controlling around screen watching.   I have seen children climb to the tops of a fridge to get to their parents’ smart phone.  Our children are so clever and often figure out your pass code. “Out of site out of mind,” is the most helpful.  
·         If you are not ready to recycle your Plasma screen TV, many families simply unplug their them or move their mini theaters into another room that can be locked.
·         If your child asks for it: No matter what your child’s level of language ability is explain to them why it is not around.  For example, “We are so excited that we get to spend more quality time together! We are not going to watch T.V (play on the computer, etc.)because it is so distracting and takes away our SPECIAL time  together.”
·         As mentioned above, create a safe place your child can occupy themselves when you are tending to other things.

Most importantly run your Son–Rise Program.  Those captivating screens will never help your child grow as much as quality time with a loving, joyful and enthusiastic person in a non-distracting environment.