In the 90s me and my sister watched a lot of telly. To the point my father rummaged in his toolbox and with a pair of electrical cutters, cut off the plug.
It definitely stopped our television obsession, for a couple of days at least. But all children learn from their parents actions, and we did the same as my father, by rummaging in the same tool box, and became self-educated in the area of electronics.
The telly was back once again, the cable however did get shorter and shorter over the years!
In the work-home schooling double act, over the past year of complexity, we have resorted to the television as a form of entertainment. But when our autistic son became engossed in a world of electronics and over-stimulation we knew it had to stop.
Nine months ago we banned the used of iPads in our house, after my son would wake us at 3am with a scream of “IPAD!!!!” We had lost him in a world of continuous two second movie clips that he would cycle through over and over again.
The iPad ban was hard. But it was only hard for three days. We then saw amazing things start to happen. He started to engage with us more and the meltdowns were virtually non-exsistent.
We then got into a bad cycle of him watching television episodes of The Gruffalo or Peppa Pig on repeat. Something we pushed to the bottom of the prioritisation pile. The need to survive during a pandemic meant that something needed to give, and telly became the babysitter of choice.
Mornings would start at 03:30am with us sending him downstairs to watch telly. It gave us grace to sleep a few extra hours untill the rest of the world woke up. Children’s telly only starts at 6am, so he would have a good two and a half hours of Netflix to enjoy, often the same show repeated over and over again.
When you start a day in this way it tends to continue. Also we would sub consciously forget that he already had two and a half hours of the bright screen before we had emerged, only to keep it going. When we started to take a step back, we realised he was getting five hours of telly before he had even had breakfast!
Is the recommendation an hour a day?
The turning point was last Monday. A meltdown of epic proportions after a twelve hour television stint. At the time, I felt that I had no option. We both had to work and had been thrown into immediate isolation situation due to a positive contact with the virus. Our fall-back plan had been the telly.
On Tuesday me and my husband woke up and decided on a period of Cold Turkey. No telly! We didn’t get into specifics. There was no end date to the ban. There were no rules. We had both just had enough. We felt it was consuming our lives, and pulling our son into it, disconnecting him from the world.
A connection we had worked so hard to achieve.
Day one meant every toy and puzzle being spread across the floor. A catalogue of entertainment for my son to interact with.
And he did.
He played with toys he hadn’t touched in months. He grabbed his number cards and jumped around the room counting.
He did puzzles and read books. And while I chatted on a conference call we made chocolate cake.
He was loud, but he was learning through play.
He asked for “Televsion” and “Gruffalo” numerous times throughout the day, and searched constantly for the remote. But I held my ground.
On day 2 he brought his cup to me and said “Rhys thirsty” a phrase he has never used. A word of emotion stating his need to drink.
When his sister came home they ran around the foot stool together and he shouted “follow me”, helping her up when she fell, and then starting the run once again.
He held my hands up to my eyes and said “Hide and seek, Mummy’s turn” and then crawled under the table awaiting my hunt.
By day 3 he was downstairs in the early hour happily playing. The word “television” not uttered.
He jumped on the trampoline in the rain, then rain inside and said “It’s raining” while covering his head with his hands. He has never said this before!
At lunch time, the cat tried to steal his ham sandwich, and he said “Shoo, shoo cat” pushing it away. Engaging with an animal he had no interest in the past.
In the evening I video called my parents to wish my mum a happy birthday. Rhys came to the screen and sang the first line of Happy Birthday. He has never spoken to them via video before. He has never sung happy birthday!
We are now on day 4, and we will continue from here.
I don’t believe we won’t turn the telly back on. I believe there is a place for it. There is a place for all technology in our lives.
There is however a need for balance. We didn’t have that balance a week ago.
I remember the feeling all those years ago when my father cut telly plug off. I remember the feeling of not knowing what to do. Not knowing how to entertain myself without the flashing box.
I know now why it was done. At least these days to implement the same change is not so dramatic, and I can just hide the remote.
Our house is a different place now. Our son is doing so many new things in the space of a few days, engaging with us and saying new words. Maybe it was all there below the surface all along, and the opportunity has allowed him now to share.
I encourage everyone to have a telly-free hour a day. None of our engagement was planned. You don’t need to create activities to replace the telly, just let it evolve itself.
If it is anything like we have experienced, you will agree that it is worth it!
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