Should SEN Parents Be Worried About How Much Screen Time Their Children Have?

Sarah Brisdion by Sarah Brisdion Additional Needs

Sarah Brisdion

Sarah Brisdion

I am Sarah. Mum to nine-year-old twins, Erica and Hadley. They were born at 27 weeks gestation and as a result, Hadley has Cerebral Palsy - Spastic...

Should I be worried about them using this ‘tech’ too much?

I admit it, I’m quite grateful for them to be occupied and relatively quiet right now. They sometimes play educational games, but today they are not and I’m not challenging that, they are happy.

Last night I listened to a debate about how much technology and screen time we are exposed to, both as adults and children. And I wasn’t shocked to hear that many of us spend more hours a day looking at screens than we do asleep.

I have no doubt that we are as guilty as anyone of adding to that average. Did I feel bad? I did a little. Especially when the presenters were talking about children feeling neglected by their parents because they spend too much time on their phones.

That is sure to touch a nerve with many parents.

They also discussed the number of graduates who found presenting and talking to people in person a real challenge and those who wrote on their CVs in text speak! (Imagine!).

That was rather more shocking to me. 

So what should we be limiting our time using technology to? Just educational stuff?

Are we essentially ruining our kids’ chances of employment if we don’t lay down the ground rules now for using language correctly and speaking to people in person rather than text and email? 

How do we really know if this is a bad thing or not?

The world is so different for our kids. We didn’t have this technology when we were their age and we don’t really understand exactly what the world will be like when our kids are adults. 

And is it harder for SEN parents? 

For example, my daughter who has no additional needs, will sit for hours writing and drawing, cutting and sticking, she is so artistic. I join her, we colour and we create.

It’s great and I simply love that she is following my passion for art. 

But for my son, after a few minutes of using his hands to do these things he is pretty tired.

And frustrated (he has Cerebral Palsy, Spastic Quadriplegia and is a wheelchair user).

Whilst we do often practice them as he needs to develop his fine motor skills and that is all part of his therapy, we certainly don’t sit and write and draw for hours.

A couple of words written or a picture attempted and that is enough for him. So then he wants to do something less demanding, like watching videos on YouTube.

Who can blame him? Because he can do that independently. 

He generally watches sport (any kind of sport). He loves football and racing from horses through to Formula One, just like his father!

He will no doubt watch Sky Sports News on a continual loop one day very soon, like his father too!

But is it wrong to let him watch too much of this, when it is something that he really enjoys and it relaxes him?

It works for us at the moment and really helps our lives function. And sometimes, as many of you will appreciate, having a child with additional needs means that function is the best you can achieve.

In fact that’s a great day!

We did do our research when buying the children a tablet and we were advised by Hadley’s sleep clinic that a Kindle is the best because it omits light differently to all the other tablets and does not interfere with your sleep (as much).

But does that make it any better than putting him in front of the TV?

And because holding a pen and recording is a huge challenge for Hadley, he has just been provided with a laptop for school and all of his home learning.

So if we were to limit the screen time he has, we would not have much choice but to reduce the time that he really enjoys playing games and videos, because we obviously cannot recommend that he spends less time learning at school than he needs to. 

I don’t honestly have all the answers to my questions. Whilst I appreciate that we probably do use our screens slightly more than the average family, we do tend to have a (I believe) fair reason for this, most of the time.

Sometimes we just need a break from all the transferring from equipment and physical strain.

Sometimes we just want to escape by ourselves.

I guess in the days before smart phones and laptops people escaped with alcohol and/or a book (I still do that too!). 

But also because other tasks are harder for us to complete as a SEN family at times and so we use technology to help.

I wish I could say that I adhere to a ‘no tech’ at dinner time rule, but sadly I don’t manage that either, not all the time. Because there are many times that the only way I can get nutritional food into my son is when he is completely distracted by something on TV or tablet.

Then he has been known to consume entire bowls of mashed veg, when without distraction it is nothing short of a war! 

I am not proud of it, but I weigh it up against the fact that his body so desperately needs the vitamins, fibre and fat. 

I challenge any parent not to do the same when they are worried about their child losing weight and becoming malnourished. That’s very real for so many of us.

Maybe I’m a terrible parent. Or maybe we all just do what we have to do. There are no real rules to this SEN parenting lark and I do think that the graduates who could not present well or write a CV were affected by other things, not just their love for their phones! 

I believe it is our job as parents to encourage our children to be the best they can be in all aspects of life despite how much screen time they have.

I don’t think we should beat ourselves up about it or feel like a lousy parent if sometimes it just doesn’t work like that.

If they are happy, loved, doing well at school and healthy, that is way more important to me. I’m very lucky that both my children are.

So I don’t think I will be adjusting the time that we spend using tech all that much. But I will be mindful and try to reduce it where I can.

I am aware that our time together is precious and that I will be very sad the day they choose to spend their entire lives in their bedrooms talking to their friends on snapchat rather than me. (I’ll be devastated).

But that is a battle for another day. 


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