Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Elimination Diet No One is Talking About

I like my screen technology. I enjoy watching TV. The clever games on my iPad are wildly entertaining. I have vivid memories of Disney movies from my childhood. So, in the name of introducing my children to all the fun things in the world, I didn't hesitate to show them TV shows, iPad games, YouTube videos, etc. We have learned the names and jobs of more working trucks than I new existed (thank you and Mighty Machines), we have watched Curious George's and Tinkerbell's engineering process, and we have played Toca Boca and Duck Duck Moose games until we were blue in the face. Needless to say, we have had our fair share of screen time. It came to a crashing halt about two weeks ago and I cannot believe the results.

Over the course of three years I have been weaning my son from more than two hours of screen time per day (that was when he was only ~3 years old) to about 30 minutes per day. We have changed house rules from watching/playing only after dinner to never watching after dinner. Each child would get one pick - either one short episode (Curious George, Octonauts) or 15 minutes of a movie or longer program. Sometimes my son would get the first pick and sometimes my daughter. There was always some level of negotiating with them about when they could watch, what they could watch, and who got the first pick. But I hit my limit a few weeks ago.

I don't know if it was just the bickering that comes with a five year old and a three year old. Or the fact that my three year old is exploring her identity in that threenager sort of way. Those things combined with the persistence of a child with Aspergers pushed me right past my limit. It was the weekend, a time when I usually relax my rules a little. I had agreed to TV right after breakfast and we had sailed right past the 30 minute mark, which, I thought, would have been well-received. But it wasn't. More was requested. When I said, "no" my kids turned the TV back on. They both came at me complaining, calling me names, and generally being rude.

Complaining was becoming normal. Name-calling was being brought home from preschool. I had warned them over the course of the week that I was not going to let them be rude. If we were going to argue daily about when they got to watch TV and how much they got to watch then I would just get rid of the TV. They knew that I liked watching TV with them. So I think they thought I was bluffing. Until I wasn't.

I unplugged the TV and carried it out of the house.

I had to watch the new season of House of Cards on my computer screen. That was a little disappointing. But it was a small price to pay for the amazing things that have happened in our home. My son, who had NEVER slept the recommended number of hours (he typically slept 9-10 per night and acted like it) suddenly started sleeping more than 11 hours per night. My daughter who slept 11 hours per night started sleeping deeper and longer. When she used to collapse once or twice a week in a nap, she is a delightful three year old all day every day...with, perhaps, a little more spunk.

Since my son is sleeping more every night (though still waking us a couple times for some mid-night comfort), we are having beautiful days. When he used to lose his temper on a dime and lash out a physical attack, he let's things roll off his back. When he used to almost fall asleep on his dinner plate, he is now gobbling up dinner and running back outside for some almost-springtime after dinner play. As a result, I am running out of patience less. And, the most important thing to me, he is reconnecting with friends.

Mikey has been going through the growing pains of having moved to a new state in September. He oozes charisma and children tend to like him off the bat. But his bossy, impulsive and aggressive behavior would then scare them off. Ten days after taking the TV away (the iPad was already shelved), his first friend in Colorado re-approached him. The boy had been Mikey's first friend, had come to our house to play after school, and met us at the park. But he stopped asking to play outside of school and his mother had told me a few months ago that he was afraid of Mikey. So, sadly, I let it go and hoped they would reconnect some day or that Mikey would find a new friend. No longer! Mikey's first Colorado friend cannot get enough play dates outside of their preschool. He, too, must have recognized the change.

We have had HUGE successes around here and it begs the question: why didn't it happen sooner? We were told to eliminate gluten and casein and possibly eggs and peanuts from his diet. We were warned to control screen time and keep it to less than two hours per day (so I thought I was good). But no one ever suggested doing an elimination diet of screens.

Both of my children, one special needs and one neurotypical, have reaped rewards from eliminating screens. We read more books; we build more contraptions; and, we spin more original stories than I ever thought imaginable. We are all more happy more of the time. I like it this way.


  1. Hooray! This needs to go viral. (Although I think that word is over used with all the darn screen time!)

  2. Congratulations on getting your children over to the other side and seeing them reemerge. It's very troubling that kids' functioning is so affected by screen exposure and that virtually nobody is talking about it. I've seen the kind of change you're describing; my daughter reemerged 8 years ago after giving up (with great difficulty) video games. It's a public health disaster. There's a new book about the neurological and behavioral effects of electronic screens and about reversing them by putting kids on an electronic fast. It's Reset Your Child's Brain by Victoria Dunckley, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who sees great results in her patients when they do the fast.
    I write about the (sometimes hidden) seizures caused by the flashing images on electronic screens, at