Monday, June 13, 2011

Media and Our Boy's Mind


I have been on a blogging break for a few weeks now in order to dedicate time to other areas of my life which demand it.  A large portion of my re-directed time has been geared toward getting through a challenging period with Luke.

Without detailing all that has been happening, let me summarize by saying that the change of seasons seems to have triggered sensory overload in Luke, and his impulsive behaviors have been on the rise.  Whether these two things are connected, I have yet to figure out.  One thing I am aware of, though, is how a seemingly innocuous Magic School Bus video became the impetus for one of my most frightening parenting moments to date.

Thus, when Danette, of S-O-S Research, wrote to say the topic of Best of the Best, Edition 7 would be media as it relates to kids with special needs, I decided to find a few moments to share our story about the power of television – even when limited – and about how a “good” video became the catalyst for a “bad” choice.

Weaning Ourselves from Television
Before Mike and I bought our home, we decided that a common living room fixture would absent in ours – a television.  For, while we both felt that TV has a place as a source of entertainment and information, we also agreed that it can deter things we value more, such as conversation, relaxing with a good book, etc.  So, we parked our TV in a less central location and began life as a family without the constant drone of television emanating from the main room of our home.

That said, having our TV in another room didn’t keep us from watching a few too many daily hours of it.  Indeed, “Law and Order”, HGTV, sports and other programs often became a background for paperwork and folding clothes, as well as a central focus for wind-down time.

It was only when we began having children that Mike and I realized just how much television we were still watching and, of that, how much was inappropriate for young ears and eyes.  Yep, “SVU” and many commercials during sports had to go as far as we were concerned.  And, shortly thereafter, for reasons more financial than anything else, our satellite went as well.  Television access dwindled to whatever came in with our modern day “rabbit ears”.  DVD’s became a more common source of screen time.

Enjoying Videos and Network TV in Small Doses
Since babyhood, then, our children have been exposed to only limited screen time.  Yes, we have a TV.  And, yes, they watch it.  But, only to view parent-approved shows, such as:

-          Daddy’s favorite sporting events
-          an occasional PBS program
-          an even more occasional parent-approved entertainment video (think “Land Before Time” or “The Impossible Elephant”)
-          a ½ hour to an hour’s worth of educational or character-building shows, such as “Signing Times”, “Davey and Goliath”, “Leap Frog”,  and, of late, “Magic School Bus.”

Sounds pretty harmless, right?

Wrong!

Enter our son, with his vivid imagination, determination and one-track mind.

A Junkie Wannabe
Despite having been exposed to limited screen time since birth, Luke loves moving pictures.  Put him in front of a screen and he will demand more, more, more of it.  He balks when we turn a video off after just one showing.  He begs Daddy to watch youtube video after youtube video with him when they are “researching” a topic of interest.  He delights when I “treat” him to Starfall, Funnix and other computer-based learning experiences, begging for another lesson, and another, and another. Yep, our boy could become a real screen junkie if we fail remain vigilant.

So, vigilant we are.  Not only with what Luke watches, but with how much he does.

Why? 

Well, among other reasons, because Luke is impressionable.  He has a vivid imagination and piquant for fixating on things, as well as a habit of acting many things out.  More than once, a video that “any child” could watch without repercussions has caused some with our son—less then peaceful actions, deep and incessant thoughts and questions about something that would fly right by other kids. Also, any video – even a seemingly benign one –seems to cause a backlash in behavior with our boy if watched too long.  Simply put, both quality and quantity of screen time need to be factored in when making media decisions with Luke, and, sometimes, even “educational” videos prompt poor choices.

Catching the Magic School Bus
And, so we come to the frightening moment I faced a few weeks back.

Luke currently has a huge interest in space, which prompted us to take bagfuls of books and videos out of the library.  Among those was a Magic School Bus one about space, which quickly became Luke’s most requested video. 

With some argument, I was able to limit the viewing of the video to a reasonable amount a day.  When Luke was not watching it, though, he could often be found reenacting it. 

Cute?  Sure.  Or, so I thought one morning when I left Luke and his sister in the kitchen packing little back packs to go on an imaginary Magic School Bus ride into the solar system.

But, then, when I was changing Jack, I heard the front door open.  Ugh!  I figured Luke and Nina were headed into the yard to get “Mars” rocks or something.  I yelled out to them to come back inside, or at the very least, to stay in the front yard.

Once I got Jack’s diaper on, I had to go to the bathroom myself.  A quick moment later, I stepped outside.  “Luke?  Nina?” I called as I glanced around our small front yard.  No kids.

“Luke! Nina!” I shouted as I made my way to the back yard, which is filled with gravel, expecting to see them collecting “asteroid” specimens.  Still no kids.

“Stop hiding.”  I demanded as I held Jack a little tighter to me, picked up my pace and did a quick circle around the house, shouting, “Lu-uke! Nin-ahhh!”  I checked among our bushes and the trees in the cul de sac.  “I said, come out right now!”

At that point, as I continued to call the kids’ names, prayer and adrenaline went into hyperspeed.  I tried to breathe and think rationally:  They are not hiding, but they are okay.  They like to pretend to fly by swinging.  I quickly looked towards the swing set in our neighbor’s yard which we have permission to use.

My heart dropped further.  They were not there.  Could they have… Would they have tramped through the woods to the playground because there is a pretend bus there… without me?!  I ran inside to grab the phone to call a friend to ask her to swing by the playground, which was in one direction through the woods, as I walked up my street in the other direction, just in case they had walked up that way, which I could not imagine they ever would.

Immediately after dialing my friend’s number, I did what I should have done to begin with.  I stopped wasting precious time looking for my little ones, thinking they were just around the corner of the house, hiding or… As I dialed the local police, I felt sick.  Numb.   A stranger would not have come by our quiet street without me hearing something?

Before actually speaking with the police, I hung up.  A woman from the end of the road came marching down the street with my two pajama-clad, backpack-toting kids.  I dropped the phone and ran to her.  She’d found Luke and Nina at the end of the road.

In the time it took me to change Jack’s diaper, go potty, get outside and look in one direction in our front yard, the kids had crested the little hill on our street.  Then, as I wasted moments looking for them in the yard, they had gotten to the end of the road… 

Praise and the Power of Media
Praise God for guardian angels and good neighbors. For scares that end with my three babes safely alongside me in the kids’ room having a talk with a local policeman. For a friend’s generous carpenter-husband who has since installed a keyed chain locks on the inside of our front door and keyed window locks in the kids’ bedroom.  For the tears of thanksgiving brimming in my eyes at this very moment as I think about what could have happened, but, luckily, did not.

I never imagined my children would wander so far.  I still cannot believe they did.  But, I don’t have to wonder why.

My own naivet√© in thinking they were just hiding, undoubtedly, and the power of screen time had a lot to do with it.  So, does the way is my boy is wired.

Luke loves the Magic School Bus.  He is imaginative, determined and impulsive.  That morning, after having viewed the Magic School Bus video on several occasions, he engaged his sister in an imaginary journey.  He wanted that journey to be real.  He knows that school busses pick kids up at the end of our road and drive along the main road.  With impulse and determinations, he led his tag-along sister to where he was sure he could catch the Magic School Bus.  He didn’t take me because there are no parents on the Magic School Bus.

Now, Luke knows he is not supposed to go outside without Mommy or Daddy.  He knows he is not to leave the yard without us.  He knows he should stop, look and listen before crossing streets.  We have practiced, drilled and discussed all these things innumerous times.  But all that knowledge meant nothing when his imagination and impulse took over.

The power of media was re-playing too vividly in his mind.  And, as I have since learned in discussion with many other parents of uniquely wired kids – and young kids in general – he is not alone in taking what he sees onscreen quite literally nor in wandering.  It is just one of those things that many folks don’t talk about openly.

So, now, I open the floor:

1.  Have your children taken shows too literally?
2.  Have your children wandered off?
3.  What have you done to curb and redirect these behaviors?

My answers are pretty clear above:

1.  Yes. 
2.  Yes. 
3.  Installed locks for safety, increased discussion and role play of safe choices and the like. 

Also, I am wondering:  How does media affect children with special needs?
In my opinion, it can be of great benefit at some times.  At other times, it is not.  All the time, it is powerful.

Power, in and of itself, is neither “good” nor “bad”.  It depends how it is used. 

What has been your experience with media and your kids in recent weeks?

For me, it has been a humbling one that has me singing praise and knocking at the door with petition:  Thank you, God, for keeping my children safe.  Please give me the power and the grace to become an even more effective, aware and discerning parent.  As a part of that, please continue to give me the courage to be open about our tricky moments, not fearing others' judgment, but recognizing that, through discussion, support and strategies often arise!

3 comments:

Rebecca said...

My heart goes out to you. I know firsthand how frightening and upsetting these kinds of events are. About a week ago, my 5.5 year old wandered outside with 3.5 year old brother alongside him, much like you describe. I was doing dishes and I thought they were playing in their room...I had just heard them in there, then I walked by and saw the front door open and they had walked down the sidewalk almost to the house next door! I was so upset. I marched them right into the house into timeout and explained to them that they could have been hit by a car or that a bad person could take them away. I don't want to scare them, but I guess I have to. Perhaps the most upsetting thing is that not long after that they went into the backyard. This is certainly less scary, but still!

I don't think in our case this behavior was connected to a television show (although I will put some thought into it). I think it was more about feeling adventurous, bold, independent, and looking for loopholes in the rules ("you didn't tell me I couldn't go in the back yard").

As you know, my oldest son has gone through some serious rough patches with his sensory issues, but he's actually doing very well at the moment. I honestly think that this was just something a little boy feels compelled to do....all kids make bad choices sometimes.

I hope that puts your mind at ease a little to know that others have similar experiences. This is why parenting is SO exhausting...you have to be on alert 24/7!!!

This weekend we installed one of those safety latch on the front door, by the way. It makes me feel better to have it. I'm also glad that the boys haven't made another escape attempt, though. Once my son understands that safety is at stake, that usually does help.

Good luck, and feel better soon.

Mom Guide said...

We are trying to plan a sensory fun summer minus a lot of TV and screen related games. Do you have any recommendations for a fun sensory summer?

Martianne said...

I have many, many ides, but not a minute to write them all at the moment due to appts. I will post something within the week. Thanks!

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