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Screen Time and the Gifted Student: Balance and Quality Are Key

Posted by Categories: Education, Gifted Education, Gifted Students, Teachers

Screen time and the gifted student: Balance and quality are keyLast November, Dr. Barbara Swicord at NSGT delivered a webinar on Family Relationships and the Gifted Child. If you weren’t able to attend and wish to view it, please go to http://www.giftedstudy.org/webinars/.

One of the parent questions asked during the webinar, which we did not have time to address at the time, was this one: It seems like many schools turn to computer programs to address differentiation in the classroom. We are told as parents to limit screen time, so this practice seems counter-intuitive. What are your thoughts on the use of computers as a learning tool for gifted students?

This question is a good one indeed—much like considering whether the side effects of a drug are worth the benefits at times. Computer programs and courses provide ways for gifted students to work independently and individually, provide quick access to above level content, allow networking with experts and similarly talented peers, and create an alternative to a classroom curriculum that may be lacking in meeting the gifted students’ learning needs. Computers that are used to support educational goals and differentiate for specific needs can help gifted students work “smart.”

However, too much computer screen time is definitely a part of the problem as well as part of the solution. There is growing evidence that too much screen usage is shrinking our brains and creating communication problems, resulting in reduced cognitive performance. In 2012, Lin and Zhou et al found that “Internet addiction is associated with structural and functional changes in brain regions involving emotional processing, executive attention, decision making, and cognitive control.”  

Beyond damage to your brain, too much computer use can cause serious health issues which include sleep deprivation, obesity, vision problems, and physical aches and pains. These unhealthy outcomes are not what we want to see in our children. Therefore, as parents and educators, we have to be very smart and disciplined about how we encourage the use of computers with our students, even when they can be very helpful in providing great alternatives for gifted students, apart from the core curriculum.

In 2013 the US Department of Health recommended that children under two years of age should not be in front of a screen at all, and over that age the maximum leisure screen time should be no more than two hours a day. Children aged 2-5 years should have no more than an hour a day, and children aged 5-18 years should have no more than two hours a day. Teenagers often have homework that requires computer time, but remember that the real danger is non-educational, leisure screen time, so homework screen time may be discounted to a degree.

I believe the solution to too much computer screen time should be all about balance and quality. Here are some ways to approach this two-pronged solution.

  1. To achieve balance between screen time and non-screen time:
    • Take frequent short breaks; get up to walk and stretch at least once an hour.
    • Actively relax.
    • Interact with other people.
    • Exercise!
    • Try to find programs, research, and information that can be listened to, rather than viewed. A student can be physically active while listening and can take a vision break by using audio streaming.
    • No devices in the bedroom! Take a break between screen time and bed time for better sleep.
    • Set limit rules and explain why you have those rules to the children; and, be a good role model in carrying out those rules.
    • Don’t eat meals in front of a screen, television, or other device.
  2. The quality of computer time is also essential. If you are going to limit screen time, you need to be sure what you’re viewing during that reduced time is worthwhile.
    • Don’t use your reduced screen time for mindless activity, such as video games, Internet wandering, and social media. Rather, focus on high quality content and interactions that home in on the students’ needs at the time. Engage students in determining what that content might be, so time is not wasted on what the student is not interested in.
    • Make sure the content and activities that the students are engaged in are presented at a challenging and rigorous level.
    • Engage in courses or programs that are designed for gifted children. For example, in our SIG online learning courses, students engage with other students from around the world in topics that enrich and extend their learning, so the time spent is quality time. Also, as a way to reduce screen time, the students check in once a week and then use the rest of the week to do activities related to their course. These activities might require computer time, but they may also be in engaging in hands-on/minds-on activities, experiments, other types of research, and just think time—something any of us rarely has time for these days.
    • Use your computer for research that you cannot get other places. Remember that there are other ways to get information such as interviews, surveys, news and newspapers, and all the multiple resources found in a library. Primary resources are usually the most accurate resources. Leg work research can be satisfying and fulfilling.

So do continue to find ways to help your gifted students become all that they can be. If part of that plan includes computer screen time, be sure to monitor it with balance and quality for a balanced, quality life.

Screen time and the gifted student: Balance and quality are key

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