To Media or Not to Media – This is the Question

Parents often ask me whether they should let their children play video games, watch TV, be on their iPods, iPads, etc. Particularly kids with attention difficulties or on the autistic spectrum can bury themselves for hours in media. It is a tricky question – I can lose a child in a nanosecond with the “wrong” answer so I tread lightly, choosing my words carefully! Media is often an escape. It is an escape for us all at times.

When we feel overwhelmed, facing a problem we’d rather not face or we are feeling “brain dead” – too tired to think or focus – and we just want to numb ourselves and be taken into another reality – we turn to Media of one kind or another. Some of us will turn on the TV, others YouTube and watch anything from Super Bowl commercials to TED talks. Some of us will go see a movie or play video games or get lost on Facebook. Regardless of our avenue, media serves a purpose in these moments – not as an educator, but as a distractor.

And it is a good one! It is so easy to get lost and in some ways it can calm us in that very distraction.There is a fine line between occasional distraction and escape.

Which purpose is media serving in your child’s life?

Media also has a profound effect on brain development, especially at an early age. Since neuroplasticity is lifelong (that is, the brain continues to change throughout life), the amount, content and situational use of media can effect development at any age. According to pediatrician Dimitri Christakis, MD in his TED talk there is a clear differentiation between the brains of those with high and low media exposure.

It can be difficult to say no to all the latest gadgets and we want our kids to be “part” of society. And it is up to us as parents to determine the timing and amount of media vs interpersonal interactions. I do believe that the ability to be with people and interact in a caring way is a skill that must be learned by engaging with other people. For children with attention and social difficulties particularly, it is important to provide safe environments in which they can learn these skills. This may mean turning off the TV, putting down the iPad and creating interactive opportunities with nature and with others so their brains develop the capacity to communicate with, engage in and appreciate real people.



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