Media Addiction in children
As with most of the subjects I write about, this directly relates to my life experiences.
For the purpose of explaining how I have learnt what I know, I want to share our story with you here.
My daughter has a condition called Rett Syndrome. It is a complex condition causing many health implications. Olive is sadly locked in a body that doesn’t work for her. It prevents her from being able to walk independently or use her hands. Most painful of all, it prevents her from being able to talk.
When she was around 18 months old, due to the nature of the condition, Olive started to lose the skills she had learnt and became increasingly withdrawn. It was very difficult to get the information we needed to know then, information that might have saved her from years of being trapped in a world of isolation.
We worked tirelessly at learning how to ‘give therapy’ to her, how to try to help her to communicate and how to balance all of this with life in general. It was a very overwhelming and stressful time of our lives.
Amongst all of that therapy and confusion, somehow, we couldn’t find enough energy and manpower to keep her happy and stimulated. I don’t believe we knew how to truly help her, and as a result, she was given programs to watch on various devices from phones to, iPads, to televisions. This very soon became a way she could cope with her frustrations, and we could try to function as normally as possible.
However, this really got out of hand in our family.
Olive would wake crying and she would get her programs. It was so bad, that I would say she was watching something nearly all the time at home. If she cried, she was given the iPad, or iPhone. We were restricted by having to have a device of some sort with us all the time, just so we could all cope.
Having enough chargers with us, or a way to charge a device, became such a big deal when we were going out. As I type this, it actually brings back the awful feelings that used to consume me, I feel it was such a harder way for us to live.
I became aware of a course that Rett University was running: ‘Combat Media Addiction in Rett Syndrome.’ I knew we needed to watch it, so I scheduled some time and we watched in hope.
It was a teacher and another parent of a child with Rett Syndrome talking about strategies to combat this addiction. I think what was a relief for me was, someone else truly recognised that this was such a problem.
The main conclusion after watching the program was that we needed to write a plan that included all the strategies – what to do if she cried and how to schedule Olive’s day.
I worked on this straight away. I immediately felt so empowered that we could actually do something about this addiction that was ruling the way we lived and affecting Olive so much.
The following week, the summer school holidays were about to start. I thought there was not a better time than to do this when Olive was at home all the time. So, we shared the plan with those that would be helping, discussed how we were going to explain it to Olive and how we were going to help her when she was melting down.
The rest is history. Within a week Olive was a totally different child.
It was nothing short of a miracle.
Today this is what has changed:
- Olive now usually wakes up smiling… YEH!
- Olive is totally engaged – no more lost in her own little world. Her eye contact is incredible.
- Her body is no longer ravaged by anxiety.
- Her breathing is better.
- Olive will watch anything now. We are no longer limited to her five favourite programs.
- It was like a mask. It is now much easier to work out what is wrong. If she is genuinely upset, physical symptoms are easier to try to understand and diagnose.
- Olive’s mobility has improved immensely, and she has started to walk independently when the conditions are right for her.
- Olive’s relationship with her sister has improved hugely. Tilda has her twin sister back!
- Olive will happily and actively engage with other activities now.
- Olive is much more focused at school and making great progress.
- We have Olive back… YEH!
- Olive now goes to sleep smiling – such a blessing.
The difference it has made to her quality of life has been huge. Overall, life has just changed overnight for us.
It is pretty scary that our daughter was on an anti-anxiety medication and was about to be prescribed beta blockers, yet the treatment we used to help alleviate her anxiety and improve some of her physical symptoms, was actually so simple and natural.
I believe Olive learnt early on in her childhood that if she cried, she was rewarded with programs to watch. Then this soon turned to a way she could cope with life. When she was being excluded, feeling lonely, dealing with physical and emotional pain, she had created a neural pathway in her brain that told her all she needed to do was to watch her programs and she could shut out all the pain. She didn’t know or understand that this was totally closing her world and limiting her experiences. Olive needed me to help her understand what she could do to help herself when she finds herself in these situations. I needed to know how to help her to be surrounded by people that would take the time to be with her, include her and try to understand her intentions to communicate.
It is incredible how quickly we can change behaviors if we are surrounded by unconditional love and support.
Voile! Once we knew what all the ingredients were, it all came together beautifully, and life blossomed for her and for us.
I urge anyone who finds their children are becoming dependent on devices, to stop and take a look at what the impact is to the child and the family.
I would love to know what your experiences are with media addiction.