The Day the Tablets and Televisions "Broke"
After five long months of waiting (which is short when we compare the 12-18 months that we waited for our daughter), we finally completed the developmental evaluation for our son. One of the recommendations given by the developmental neuropsychological pediatric specialist was to remove exposure to television and tablets. We were brutally honest with her and ourselves. During the pandemic, we instituted our own "stay-at-home" orders before our region did. Taking care of our children and working full-time was pure torture for several reasons (we do recognize how blessed we were to maintain our employment, but it did not mean that everything was easy for us). Our children often experienced their most energetic moments while we were in the midst of business meetings or conference calls. We had two children under the age of five, and three adults seemed to be easily worn out by them individually and collectively.
I take many things into account when I look back on our situation at that time. We did not have sufficient outdoor activities during the day to allow them to exert their energy. We could not take them to public parks, playgrounds, and their recreational activities were immediately paused for an unknown time (visiting the library, museums, etc.). We were now indoors at home without the ability to visit family for a prolonged time. The unofficial entertainment became their tablets and televisions. I feel no shame, as a pediatric nurse practitioner, that I fell victim to this dynamic. The temporary silence provided by the children focusing on a device gave me the necessary reprieve I needed to get my work done. I did not realize the compounding impact this would have on my son's undiagnosed speech delay. As we set in on our exit conference with Kennedy Krieger, we asked so many questions. The doctor probably felt like she was in a question and answer session after closing out a lecture. She was compassionate and provided reassurance to us in areas we lacked confidence in (i.e. handling our son's tantrums). She informed us that when children engage with their devices, they have no requirement to engage with their environment, the people in that environment, or to use/acquire vocabulary. We asked more questions, "What about when in the car? What about when we fly? What about television at night time?" She patiently and gracefully replied "He does not need the devices at all, offer him alternatives and have a variety of options ready. Families operated for centuries without devices and issues. When he is bored, we should have several options ready: coloring, stickers, books, etc. he will eventually get used to it." We listened. We unplugged our televisions and hid their tablets. We explained to our older child that she would not be able to use the devices while in her brother's presence and that this was not a punishment. Our first 24 hours began, he approached each of the adults on different occasions to request his tablet or watch television, which we informed him were "broken". By day 2, he stopped asking. He was making more efforts to talk, and when he used sign language to communicate a need, we mandated that he attempt to say what he wanted before giving it to him.
Our minds had painted a much more frightening experience of what would happen when we removed the electronic devices. What happened was on day 1, both children went to sleep without needing a sleep supplement at 8 pm. On day 2, both children went to sleep by 8:30 pm without needing a sleep supplement. Both children slept more peacefully and woke up better rested. I would highly recommend that other families discuss this with their health care providers. Our lives has changed.
Author: Alita-Geri Carter, MSN, RN, CPNP-PC