How do you decide how your child spends their day?
You’re being pulled by ABA saying your child needs 20 hours of therapy a week. You’re being pulled by the school to put your child in an isolated classroom. You want your child to stop toe-walking and walk like the other kids, so you put them in physical therapy. You want them to use their communication device even though they always fight you over it, so you put them in speech therapy. Your pediatrician says your child needs all those therapies anyways. At the end of the day, they come home and play by themselves because there is no after-school activity designed for them. Or, they sit in front of the TV/iPad for hours because you’re too exhausted to fight their screams and tears for it.
I was inspired to write this blog post while listening to a podcast this week. Dr. Stephen Cowan, a pediatric developmental specialist, was discussing how much time kids spend watching screens with Jacob Wachob, the host of the MindBodyGreen Podcast. If you want to listen to the whole episode (it’s a good one!) click here. Here is the excerpt that inspired this post:
Jacob Wachob: So with regards to technology, is it grey? Is there a fine line with what’s too much? … I think a lot of parents, it’s a struggle of like, okay, technology plays a role whether it’s YouTube on the big screen, or the iPhone or iPad when you go to dinner or you’re traveling. How do you manage it?
Dr. Cowan: Well first let me ask you this. It’s a great question and I get asked it every day, but let me ask, at what cost? What is lost?…
Wachob: You’re losing the connection… human connection is lost and that’s a big deal.
Cowan: So you just answered the question. So human connection is not just a big deal, it is the big deal.
That’s the question. At what cost? Not just the cost of screen time, but of all the other things in your child’s day too.
As a parent, all you want is for your kid to grow up and live a happy and meaningful life. So you follow the advice of professionals, you put them in therapies to help them improve their skills, and they’re placed into specialized services.
But will any of these activities actually help them live a happy and meaningful life? They may help them to become more independent and capable human beings. And that can be really valuable. But is it truly necessary to living a happy and meaningful life? No.
There is always going to be someone who is less independent and capable than your child. Does that mean they’re not happy and have no purpose? Not at all! If you’d like a quick example of this, revisit this 6 minute documentary.
So what does make life happy and meaningful? Think about your own life for a minute. What makes you happy and gives you meaning? Your family and friends, having fun, and going for your dreams? Working towards accomplishments can be rewarding, but that isn’t what makes life special.
So what is the cost? The cost is meaningful human connection, joyful play, and experiencing life to the fullest.
What if instead of working on walking, they spent time in after-school sports being active and learning how to interact with their peers? What if instead of being in front of a screen they got to enjoy some fun games with you or a care provider? And what if, instead of 20 hours a week of ABA therapy, they spent that time learning about a subject they really like and creating a project about it?
I don’t want you to stop encouraging your child to be independent, but I do want you to critically evaluate whether your kid’s activities actually help them live a happy and meaningful life.
This week, I want you to think about one activity your child does every week or every day: therapy, watching TV/iPad, sitting at home, going to an isolated classroom, ABA, etc. And I want you to weigh the costs and benefits of this activity.
Is it providing meaningful human connection?
Are they experiencing joyful play?
Do they get to experience life?
After you’ve listed the costs and benefits, bring it up with your kid. What do they think about this activity? Even if they don’t have a way to communicate a response, ask them the question anyways. It gives them the opportunity to think about their own life and realize they do have power to decide how they spend their days.
After talking with them, do you think this activity is truly benefitting your child? Or is the cost too high? And if it is, what is one small step you can take TODAY to remedy that?
I’d love to hear your experience and thoughts in the comment section! Need help brainstorming ways to change activities? Write it in the comments section and I’ll help you out!