Screen time: How much is too much? How can we unplug more? How can we stop fighting about it? Our children’s days are full of screen interactions from sunup till sundown: their phone alarm wakes your child up in the morning, they scroll through social media at breakfast, they have Zoom class sessions and online research through their midday, and then their evening is spent video gaming and texting friends. It is hard to know where to draw the time on screen time. While screen time may be a common topic of debate in most households, there are several reasons screens can be particularly irresistible to your gifted or twice-exception child.
- Information on their level. Gifted students often feel held back by the pace of typical school curriculum or want to explore topics in greater depth. The internet provides a chance for these students to absorb information and explore interests in ways that most classrooms cannot offer.
- Building worlds their way. Characteristics of gifted students often include a rich imagination, a strong sense of how things “ought to be,” and a fondness for problem-solving. Online and video game worlds, like Minecraft, give them a chance to escape from the humdrum and engage their brain.
- Access to like-minded peers. Gifted students may not always be able to find their tribe at their local school. Social media, chat forums, and online games provide these students access to others who share their quirky interests or intense passions.
- Positive reinforcement in a world of no. Gifted students are often misunderstood and hear messages like “stop asking so many questions” or “you’re too young for that” daily. Screen-based entertainment offers an array of positive reinforcement, such as praises, trophies, and rewards, with minimal effort required.
- More things happen online. School assignments, research, and even class instruction are happening online more. It is hard to tell any student to spend less time on their screen when so much of the world demands the use of computers for daily tasks.
Some in the gifted community say that not all screen time is equivalently spent. One way you might find an organic balance is to think about time spent producing versus consuming content online. For example, researching information on an advanced science topic, playing a world-building game like Minecraft, or writing a screenplay may take place on a computer but these activities engage a student’s critical thinking or other problem-solving skills. However, scrolling through social media, watching television, or playing Candy Crush are passive activities on which you might want to place more mindful limits.
Depending on why your student is engaging in long screen sessions may require different strategies to help them unplug more often. We have provided a few ideas below that we hope may help your family.
For off-task computer behavior, try browser organization. Set up two browsers on the computer, one just for school, like Chrome, and one for non-school activities, like Firefox. Preload the school browser with helpful website bookmarks and tabs like the school portal, a digital calendar, and educational resources. That way, students can open the browser and are where they need to be. Set a timer for a 25-minute focus period and then offer a 5-minute movement or snack break. In addition, set up blockers on tabs, so that they can’t access social media from 6 PM-11 PM. Two examples of blocker apps are StayFocusd and Circle with Disney.
For the whole family that needs to unplug a little more, try media agreements.Many families are discussing technology issues together and working to come up with solutions as a whole family. If you find there is more screen time at dinner than face time, perhaps it is something best tackled as a family. It is important that parents model the behavior that they would like to see in their children, such as limiting screen time. You might sit down together to create a media use agreement, such as the one from Common Sense Media or Healthy Children.
For the student looking for like-minded folks, find “IRL” options. Playing video games or watching movies can help us escape or connect with other like-minded people, so one way to replace these habits is by finding local options that provide the same kind of environment or activity. For example, if your student likes playing fantasy video games, they might want to volunteer for a Renaissance Faire or make an adventure of Geocaching. For fighting or action games, joining a student archery group might be a fun alternative.
Understanding the role screen time plays in your student’s life can help your family make decisions around what a reasonable limit might look like for them. While your student’s screen usage may look different than your own, it is helpful to set up collective goals like screen-free days for the whole household. If you find your family has created a great set of healthy limits but is having difficulty abiding to them, remember that working to find what is suitable for your family can take time.
We hope this article and the additional resources below help your student build their own set of strategies for healthy computer use!
- Managing Screen Time in Families: Part 1 by Lisa Van Gemert
- Screen Time = Screen Time by Julie Skolnick
- Media and Young Minds from the Council on Communications and Media
- Promote Social Skills: Step Away from the Screenby Dave Sylvestro, with Eve Kessler, Esq.
- The Art of Screen Time by Anya Kamenetz
- Screenagers Movie by Delaney Ruston
- 10 Strategies to Limit Your Teen’s Screen Time by Amy Morin, LCSW