This started as a post about what happens when a mother gets ill, but still has a young family to care for. While we were busy doing research with a very nasty tummy-bug, Veronica published her post on taking her daughter to watch a game of college basketball, (NEW JERSEY, USA: Ladies of the Court).

It’s a lovely post about parents sharing their common passion with their child. The comments were great and they got me thinking – are our children genetically different to others?  You see, during those few days when various ones of us were ill, the boys got to watch tv. This doesn’t happen in our house. Our kids aren’t allowed any electronic entertainment.

Before you jump to the conclusion that we are controlling hippy-freaks, let me reassure you that we have no electronic entertainment (for children) in our house for very good reasons. In fact, many years ago our eldest son was pretty much on a par with most other children of educated middle-class families. He watched educational tv and dvds every day, and he listened to loads of cds. He’d been to see The Wiggles on stage and a couple of other shows.

Then, a teacher suggested that a few of the behaviour problems we were having at the time might be due to over-stimulation.

It took us a year to turn everything off. (We couldn’t believe our own eyes: 10 minutes of watching salmon farming impacted on his behaviour for the next three days.) And once we made the stand on all electronics he was like an addict trying desperately to get us to change our minds.  He truly went through the whole sequence of – denial, anger, bargaining, sorrow and acceptance.

Once the two-week withdrawal phase was over, we never looked back. He has become calmer, more articulate, more co-operative and more imaginative. (Not that he was lacking in oral language skills or imagination previously). He stopped having night-terrors. He hasn’t said he was bored for five years.

He’s now nine and we are reintroducing electronics into his life, only because adolescence is looming and we don’t want him to feel unnecessarily different from his peer group. We have no desire to prevent him from using technology in the long-term, and certainly appreciate its uses.  We would just like his brain to have a chance to mature a little before it has to cope with something which obviously causes him great stress.

Our youngest (21 months) watches tv when he visits one of his grandmothers, and sometimes at night when he’s up late. The middle son (age six) shows his reactions differently: he becomes weepy and super-sensitive, with a little bit of aggression and a few Power Tantrums thrown in for good measure. He often has nightmares afterwards. After many slip-ups and attempts to reintroduce electronics earlier, we decided as a rule it just wasn’t worth the effort.

Naturally we are on the receiving end of some interesting comments. Many people tell us their kids don’t react to electronics the same way. Others think we’re just plain mean or out of date and some think we’re holding our kids back academically. Others applaud us and say they’re doing the same. I really became curious when an older woman in our school community said to me, “Of course they show their reactions, your children are Open Children.”

When I asked her to explain she put it like this, “Open Children show they are over-stimulated. Many modern kids have been so constantly bombarded with electronic noise and bright flashing lights that they have had to shut their senses off to a certain extent. They’re Closed Children. They have to be to manage the overload of information they receive every day. They just don’t see or hear what Open Children see and hear.”

This is not me casting aspersions on other people’s choices or trying to second-guess how other people’s children behave. It’s a genuinely curious set of questions to which I will be very interested to hear your answers. Do you think she’s right? Are some kids more Open or Closed? Is it genetic? Is it a bad thing to be a bit Closed when the world is so fast, loud and bright?

Electricity is still a relatively new thing for our brains to manage. Human brains process excitement and fear much the same way. If technology is, as a rule, overstimulating and changing children’s brains for the worse – that has absolutely massive implications for the future. It has massive implications for our parenting, for education and for the huge economy built around children’s electronic entertainment. Or is it just our boys?

While I love the idea of family activities, for us there is no way we could have taken either of our older sons, at the age of two to a public sports game with bright lights, crowd noise, and loads of electronic sirens, music and commentary. One would have been up the walls and round all the corners the other would have been crying and screaming to be taken home.

Their behaviour after watching a few hours of tele for a couple of days in a row has been intense, angry and exhausting.

So, what do you think? And if you thought it was affecting your children’s behaviour, could you give up ALL electronics (toys, radio, computer, games, tv, dvds, cds, etc) when they were around?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Karyn Van Der Zwet of New Zealand.  Karyn can also be found on her blog, kloppenmum.

Photo credit to the author.

Karyn Wills

Karyn is a teacher, writer and solo mother to three sons. She lives in the sunny wine region of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand in the city of Napier.

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