Benefits of Screen Time for Gifted/2e Kids
Screen time can be regulating for intense gifted/2e kids
Before becoming a parent, I was sure I would strictly limit my children’s screen time.
Now that I am a parent with an intense gifted/2e preschooler, I’m grateful for screen time.
The parents I work with often worry about, express guilt about, and apologize for their child’s screen time.
Instead of feeling reflexively guilty about screen time, I encourage parents to take a more balanced view.
Screen time is a tool, and - with many intense gifted/2e kids - a very useful one!
Screen time makes miserable tasks tolerable
We first showed my kid YouTube videos when he was 1. He refused - refused! - to lie on his back for diaper changes, and we were out of ideas, beyond physically restraining him while he wailed. Being physically restrained is dysregulating for him, so we were not keen to use that option. We let him stand for wet diapers, but didn’t think we could pull off a standing poopy diaper change. He was no longer entertained by toys, singing, conversation, cooing, fidgets, etc, and he hated the feeling of being put on his back.
But, we learned, he would happily lie and let us change his diaper if we held a video of Blippi, Bounce Patrol, or similar above him during the change. Voila!
Have you used screen time to make miserable tasks more tolerable, or would you consider it?
What are some tasks that you know distress your child but that feel important or necessary? Would screen time help?
Perhaps you let your child watch a video while you brush their teeth or braid their hair?
Perhaps they play an electronic game while they’re at the dentist, or taking medicine?
Maybe they watch their favorite media while they eat, if eating is hard?
Screen time is educational
Some concerns about screen time are based on research that found young children don't learn well from screens (you can read about some studies here if you're interested).
I’m not sure those research results would be the same if researchers focused on highly intelligent kids, though.
I have heard from many parents that their young gifted and 2e kids absorb huge amounts of information and ideas from videos, shows, games, and apps. Thanks to my kid’s early introduction to YouTube, for example, he learned all his letters and letter sounds when he was 18 months by memorizing alphabet songs from Bounce Patrol. Other parents have told me that their young children have memorized times tables, geography information, or Titanic facts from screen time.
For older kids, the possibilities only expand. I’ve known gifted kids who taught themselves music theory using YouTube videos, learned several languages with Duolingo, or amassed a vast knowledge of history from Googling topics that interest them. My brother attributes his encyclopedic knowledge to The Simpsons. Many queer, progressive, autistic or ADHDer teens appreciate connecting with like-minded peers on Discord and learning about activism and social issues on social media.
Screen time gives kids autonomy and control
Early on, I noticed that my kid liked selecting and switching videos as much as he liked watching them. He quickly learned to navigate YouTube and he likes to control the TV remote.
Many gifted and 2e kids crave feelings of autonomy and control. These kids are bright and creative, and they like to do things on their own. Control can also offer a feeling of security in an unpredictable or overstimulating world.
Screen time can be soothing and empowering for intense gifted/2e kids because it gives them a sense of control and autonomy.
On their devices, they select what to watch and do. They select their volume and brightness. They stop and switch when they want. They control their character in games. They search for what interests them.
In this way, a child's time using a screen can balance out their overall feeling of autonomy and control for the day. Kids are often controlled and told what to do during the day, and many intense gifted/2e kids find this experience stressful and dysregulating. After a long day of following directions, a dose of screen-fueled autonomy can help them recover from the cumulative stress of a day without much control.
Screen time inspires play
In my experience, gifted/2e kids don’t just passively consume media and forget about it. They often mull over what they’ve seen, apply it to new situations, or use it creatively in some way.
My kid’s play has often been inspired by his screen time interests. He currently likes trick shot videos - which led him to practice his own water bottle flips and basketball shots for hours on end. (If you’re looking for a fun activity to increase your kid’s tolerance for frustration or mistakes, you could see if they have any interest in trick shot videos and trick shots - everyone misses thousands more than they land!)
Other kids use concepts, words, and ideas from media in their own art, humor, creative work, and self-expression - all forms of play. Maybe your kid has been inspired to try different fashions and makeup for different moods, to write their own D&D adventure after watching one online, or to crack jokes using humor structures they’ve gleaned from The Office.
Screen time helps parents stay regulated
Finally, strategic use of screens helps us stay regulated as parents - and that's good for our kids.
Many intense gifted/2e kids crave their parents' full attention and engagement. My kid would like me to play with him in a highly involved, creative, and active manner from waking until bedtime. I simply don't have that capacity - and I'm guessing neither do you!
Many intense gifted/2e kids also rely on a parent for emotional regulation throughout the day. That means that you may be working extremely hard to regulate your intense, sensitive child while also keeping your own emotions regulated throughout the day's ups and downs.
Screen time can give us a break as parents.
Many kids who struggle to play independently can watch screens independently (or sit near a parent while watching, but not need responses from the parent).
Parents of intense gifted/2e kids often use screen time to give themselves a break - to do some chores, stretch, attend to themselves, focus on work, or relax.
I’m sure many of you have offered screen time to your kid when you need to work, attend a virtual meeting, or cook dinner and your child is home or won't play independently - it helps them pass the time and makes your life less stressful and taxing. I also offer more screen time to my kid when I’m sick or extra tired and I need help getting through the day. This strategic use of screen time helps me get a break before I get overwhelmed and snap at my child or start a power struggle.
I hope this article helps you feel more at ease with whatever screen time looks like in your house 🤓. If you found it helpful, please consider sharing it with a friend who might appreciate it!
If you want more ideas like this directly to your inbox, sign up for Gifted Lab Notes, my weekly email with tips and information for supporting your intense or sensitive gifted or twice-exceptional kid.
If you found this article validating or relieving, you might enjoy the camaraderie and strategies in my small-group coaching program - Support Your Intense Gifted/2e Kid.
The program is designed to help you feel more confident parenting your kid. Many parents I work with have found something that works for them and their kid (like strategic use of screen time) but worry they’re doing something wrong. If you’re curious to learn more about how screen time and other non-traditional parenting techniques can be neurodiversity-affirming, I’d love to have you join us! Learn more or register here.