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Monday, September 01, 2008

Should screen time be limited?

Many of our children with AD/HD and autism are visually stimulated. They love video games, computer games, and movies. These things hold their attention often longer than anything else. So should we limit the time we allow our children to engage in "screen" activities including t.v., video games, and computer games?

I don't think there's any hard and fast rule about how much time to let our children play video games, watch t.v., etc. but there are some things to keep in mind as you think about your specific child. When my son Josh was young, I limited his t.v. viewing to one hour per day. He was always able to attend to movies and video games, so it was tempting to let him do more because he actually stayed in one place with sustained attention for awhile. But I wanted him to learn from reality, and much of the "screen" world is fantasy based. I also wanted him to interact with others, and "screen" activities can be done as solitary activities. Even when there are games for more than one person to play at a time, the topics of conversation are severely restricted. I also noticed with Josh that when he was engaged in a video game or movie he would lose track of time and if allowed to he would spend hours playing screen games with really nothing gained from that time other than making it to the next level of the game. The skills learned in video games aren't really transferable to life skills, and often the content is not something we'd want our kids to imitate. For some people, screen activities can be like an addiction and can decrease both the desire and opportunity for social interaction.
On the other hand, when Josh was about 6 years old I realized that he was a strong visual learner and that he could remember what he'd seen in a movie 6 months ago but not what I'd said to him a minute earlier. So I realized that by restricting Josh's screen time I was limiting one of his best ways to learn, and started supplementing our school work with educational shows and library DVDs on topics of interest. You will need to monitor the content of any movies, but they can be a great teaching tool for history, science, and more. We also did some virtual field trips on the computer. Since Josh struggled socially, having knowledge of some video games and movies gave him the opportunity to join in conversations with others. Having a video game available made waiting rooms and long car trips more tolerable for him.
My suggestion is to consider what all the screen time might be replacing for your child, and what kind of things she is taking in while engaging in those activities. Then put some limits in place. You can be strategic and use some of the screen time to make it educational, and once your limits are in place you can offer an incentive of additional screen time to be earned by an activity of your choosing. The bottom line is that screen activity need not be entirely eliminated, but it should not take the place of real life, socially engaging activities.

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