I always recommend that parents limit electronic media, especially for children who are struggling with attention issues. By “electronic media,” I mean video games, television, iPad, and movies.
The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement in 2001 recommending that children less than two years of age not use any technology at all. The Academy further recommended that children older than two years of age restrict usage to two hours per day maximum – one hour per day for children with physical, psychological or behavioral problems.
These days, with the omnipresence of electronic media, setting reasonable limits can be a very difficult task. While electronic media offers great opportunities for parents to have down time, it also might limit physical activity, social engagement, and real-world play time, all of which many of our kids struggle with. Electronic media also provides intense visual stimulation, which can be over-stimulating to fragile nervous systems.
Some children may get emotionally involved or hyper-focused on their games and have a difficult time transitioning back to real life. Other children may become overstimulated or “zoned out.” Many children get upset when a game does not go well.
Don’t get me wrong: games can have social benefits for children who struggle with gross motor skills. For example, some children may not be able to go to the park and hit the ball with their friends, but they may be able to help their friends advance to the next level on their favorite video game.
So, what is a parent to do? It might not be realistic to expect that we can eliminate electronic media entirely. So, setting limits and having specific rules for game play are must-haves.
The following recommendations might help to allow some game time but also give parents a firm foundation:
- Be aware of the games your child is playing, as well as the rating of the games.
- Allow your child to play in an open area or family room; do not allow your child to play unsupervised.
- Never allow electronic media in a child’s bedroom. Increasingly, studies suggest that the use of electronic media in the bedroom can disrupt sleep patterns. Worse, use of electronic media in bedrooms and other unsupervised settings presents Internet safety risks, etc.
- Set limits on screen time, and stick to your limits.
- Monitor your child’s emotional intensity throughout their play, and intervene if needed.
- Incorporate games that have a movement component; dance games or Wii sports games are great ways to get kids moving. Such games can also help with motor planning, balance, and overall gross motor skills.
Electronic media can be powerful tools for children with disabilities. They can allow a child with speech difficulties to communicate or encourage a child with gross motor delays to play. They can also enhance fine motor development, especially with the wide variety of fine motor apps currently available.
But moderation is the key.
Incorporating a wide variety of reading, imaginary play, motor play, and constructive play into your child’s daily routine makes for a well-rounded play repertoire.
Keep playing and moving.
From our family to yours,
Melissa Hough, OTR/L, C/NDT
Melissa Hough, OTR/L, C/NDT is an occupational therapist with over 20 years of pediatric experience and certifications in Sensory Integration (SI) and Neuro-Developmental Treatment (NDT). Melissa has a professional and personal perspective when working with children because she is also the adoptive parent of a child with special needs.
Since 2002, Children’s Therapy Center, PSC has served thousands of families in Louisville, Kentucky, by providing high-quality therapy services and parent education.