A couple of weeks ago, in the middle of the night, disturbed by a noise I got up and walked to my son’s room to check on him. There he was , safe in bed, huddled under the covers. As I peered closer I noticed the unmistakable glow of an electronic screen lighting up his face. It was two o’clock in the morning and my 6 year old son was playing Minecraft on his PS Vita (a handheld gaming device). I was horrified. Surely this was the behaviour of an addict?? And surely this was 100% our fault as parents. I snatched it off him and told him to go back to sleep.
For me , monitoring and controlling screen time is one of my greatest challenges as a parent. Or rather the feelings and reactions it provokes in me, are one of my greatest challenges as a parent. My son was au fait with the workings of an iPhone when he was two. Left to his own devices he would alternate between watching YouTube and playing games on his PS all day. Of course, he isn’t left to his own devices and we ensure he gets plenty of fresh air and physical exercise at weekends. During the week he is at school and also partakes in after-school activities such as Art and Football.
The message is constantly pushed that screentime is bad, bad, bad. The fallback of the lazy parent who uses the TV as a babysitter, the evil agent responsible for the rise in childhood obesity. What is very infrequently discussed though are the benefits of screentime, especially with regards to non-neurotypical children.
My son has ADHD and ASD and as a younger child didn’t really get involved or initiate any imaginative play. I marvel now at his three year old sister enacting out little role plays as this was not behaviour we had seen before in him. Toys for him were things to be collected: mini aeroplanes, Hot Wheel cars, but he didn’t really engage in any games with them. It’s something I didn’t pay too much attention to at the time, he was my first child and I knew no different, but looking back it makes sense.
Do you know who this guy is?
Dan TDM , or Dan Middleton, to give him his real name is a twenty odd year old man who makes a living, a living of millions, by playing Minecraft, narrating his actions, and uploading it on to YouTube for kids to watch in their millions (8 million subscribers when I checked). Here’s a link to a video. It’s weird, to the uninitiated, but I’ve grown quite attached to young Dan. And compared to some of the others doing the same thing (for there are many more of them) he’s almost charming.
Now when my son plays his computer games, he imitates Dan TDM, and provides a running commentary of what he’s doing. Super irritating if you’re sitting next to him, but it’s actually a form of imaginative play for him, a kind of role play. Google tells me there are many more kids out there like my son, and that Minecraft in particular is excellent for kids with ADHD and ASD. It’s creativity, just not as we know it.
I think their is a tendency to see all ‘screentime’ as damaging, without acknowledging there are many different ways to use screens, and many different kinds of children. In viewing screentime as only a negative force we are shutting out many opportunities for our children, and also attempting to turn back time. This technology is here now and its not going anywhere.
Divisive and scaremongering rhetoric that takes a casual approach to evidence is unhelpful at best and, in our opinion, damaging. Digital technologies are part of our children’s lives, necessarily so in the 21st century. We agree that further research is necessary, and urge the government and research funding bodies to invest in this, so that clear policy and better guidelines for parents can be built on evidence, not hyperbole and opinion. – Extract from a piece in The Guardian newspaper on 6th January co-signed by scientists and academics with experience and research in the field.
As part of his IEP my son gets some one to one time at school. His resource teacher is taking his love of technology and recognised it as a skill which can be developed to help him educationally. He’s using Photoshop and Powerpoint, and recently created a powerpoint on birds (he is interested in wildlife too) which he then presented to his class, which I think is a remarkable achievement for a six year old. (Maybe I’m biased, who can say?)
I’ve learned to stop beating myself up about my son’s screen-time use. Of course we will always encourage sport and art and reading, a variety of hobbies but if screens are his preferred switch-off activity, so be it. A lot of the guilt and angst I was feeling was based on the perceived judgement from others , and since in 2016 I learned not to care about what other people think, I can let go of that guilt. I know my son has a wide variety of interests, I know he is physically healthy. I also know that some of the expected forms of play and interaction do not come naturally to him.
Dan TDM is kind of his safe space where he can express himself, rather than conform to the expected behaviour created in a world gone by where technology did not exist.