I’m going to defend the indefensible: According to modern study after modern study, I am an evil lazy mum for leaving my television on from dusk till dawn. I am ruining my children’s eyes, their imaginations, and making them fat in the process. All day, every day, our television is on TVNZ 6, otherwise known as “Kidzone“. The channel is non-stop kids programs – no advertisements. The programs repeat every four hours, so they potentially see each show three times a day.
My kids are so used to the television being on, that it means little to them. Both get up and do lots of other indoors and outdoors activities; the television being on is nothing special or worthy of attention most of the time. Sometimes a favourite show will come on (The Wiggles or Fireman Sam), and one or the other will pay attention for a while.
When the television does capture my autistic son’s attention I use that opportunity to teach him how to follow story lines and comment and elaborate on what he sees. If it’s something like The Wiggles we do the dances together, because that’s just plain fun, but also because it helps his co-ordination. Because the shows repeat three times a day, he gets the chance to become familiar with a show he may be liking that day – by the third time it comes around he starts to understand and enjoy what most kids would have picked up the first time round.
There are times every day when my son’s autism makes him have to seek refuge from human interaction – the world becomes overwhelming, and if he doesn’t go off and do something passive and non-challenging for a while, he will have a meltdown. When those times come he climbs onto the couch, goes into a self-pressure pose to relax his body and watches the television quietly, until he’s ready to engage with other humans and the world around him again.
The television is also background noise. My son has a wide range of sensory issues due to his autism. One of his issues is needing a steady stream of background noise. This need developed prior to the television being on so much through-out the day – I used to have to satisfy it with computer noise or talking to him non-stop, I’d get a sore throat from trying to meet his needs and still he’d need me to talk through my croaky pain. The television fills this role beautifully. There are days when he won’t want the television on, and those times he will turn it off himself, and that’s fine too. The television is on for him, not us.
Both my children get out of the house a lot too. In particular my five-year old attends about two hours of kindergarten a day, visits his grandma and great-grandma each weekend, and has various other shop visits and outings through-out the week and weekend. But when you add up the time the kids spend at home, with that television going in the background, it’s a lot of hours every single day.
So is my five-year-old autistic son fat due to all this television? No, if anything he’s slightly on the skinny side. Is he physically inactive? Anything but – he’s a non-stop bustle of noise and movement most of any given day. Does he stay inside all day – no. Do his eyes have issues with focus or movement – no (his eyes have been tested). Are there any bad side-effects that I have seen with his television watching? No, in fact I’ve seen a wide variety of very positive effects it has had on him. Every day we do art and games and reading and writing and work on his skills and language, the television has never got in the way of that, only helped it – by leveling out his sensory issues, or giving him down time, or inspiring us both with new activities and interests we can do together.
My eleven month old is largely indifferent to the television unless something particularly engaging is on, he just trots around and laughs and plays. At this very moment he is playing with the patterns the sunlight is casting on the carpet.
I’ve seen how children react when they’re usually deprived of television, and then get the chance to see it at someone else’s house – as will inevitably happen. They act like it’s a big deal, can barely pull their eyes away, and trying to interrupt their laser focus on this wonderful (and it is wonderful) thing, is almost futile. It is that sort of intense television watching that appears potentially damaging to me; not the way in which I use it.
I just see the television as a valuable resource, which I am using to full effect. I still feel guilty when people come around and the television is on, but only because of the modern parenting “wisdom” against showing children television. In case you haven’t noticed in my blog yet, I’m not too enamoured with modern parenting wisdom; I prefer to think for myself, to apply my research and common-sense to the specific situations my children are in. My autistic five-year old has advanced this past year in ways that astound his therapists and my family and friends, and my eleven month old is one amazingly happy and healthy little man, he’s ticking off those developmental milestones at an impressive pace. So clearly, this evil lazy mummy is doing something right.