parenting · special needs parenting

Screens, Summer and Sanity

Screens are the bane of my existence, yet a necessary evil.  I see people giving their kids “80’s summer’s” and turn every shade of green with envy.  It’s not going to happen here.  We do screens here.  I get grief for it.  I feel guilty about it, but we do them.  More than we should.

The iPads started as learning tools.  What a great resource with apps we could use to facilitate skills for our kids.  Yes we do use them that way, but for the most part, they’re the only way I can get anything done, and actually get a few minutes here and there to check out of parenting.

If you’re rolling your eyes at me, please listen.

My boys need constant supervision.  Alex has mild to moderate cognitive impairment, which means he can read, do math, etc., but it doesn’t tell the whole story.  Today he walked out of the house.  I heard the door shut and followed him.  He was leaving for Disney World.  He loves all things Disney, and wanted to go to work at the park as a cast member in one of the parades.  Had I not been on my toes, I’m not sure how far he would have gone.  Less than a month ago he snuck out to walk to school while I was sleeping.  He made it almost a mile down a road with a  55 mph speed limit.  Thankfully I found him in one piece, but let me be clear, I need to watch him like I would a preschooler.  It’s not hard to parent just Alex without the screens.  In fact, when he’s home and Ben is in school we stay pretty busy together.  He loves to do chores and help out in every possible way, as well as going and doing things.

Then there’s Ben.  In a self-contained special education classroom with 4 staff members per 10-12 kids, Ben has to have a staff member within arms reach at all times in order not to get hurt or hurt someone else.  It’s hard to explain to people who don’t know, but he has multiple mental health diagnoses, and has explosive behavior, frequent meltdowns, and needs constant, undivided attention.  Except when he has his iPad.  During those times I can let my guard down ever so slightly.  When he does play with toys, it’s pretty rare for him to play by himself.  Even in school his teacher reported that one of the things she intentionally worked on was to get him to tolerate doing anything without adult interaction.  We frequently comment to each other that the intensity of parenting Ben is like that of a colicky infant who doesn’t nap.  We’re eleven years into this, and have a lifetime stretching ahead of us.

In my defense, every single day I take both boys out and play with them for as long as they will tolerate in the weather.  We play games, go for walks, play in the water, go to parks, whatever we can to get fresh air and free time. Mike does likewise. But in case it isn’t obvious, I can’t send my kids out to play without parental supervision.  Ever.  At all.  We also play with them in the house, legos, cars, games, you name it, we spend a couple of hours every day playing with our children.

So, what do we do?  We let them use screens when we need a break.  It’s a complicated, love/hate relationship, and honestly, I don’t know what else to do.  What would I have done before iPads?  Good question.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that the ability to sit down and write this is 100% dependent on Ben’s iPad.  And to be realistic, Ben’s survival is a modern marvel.  That 80’s summer?  Ben probably wouldn’t have survived leukemia treatment if he had lived in the 80’s, the statistics for survival even 30 years ago are dire.  So we’ll take our summers, screens, living child and all.

We are aware of the pitfalls of screen use, and we do our best to balance.  And honestly, if you take issue with it, I would love to offer you the opportunity to do better!


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