I hear a lot of parents of gifted children (and non-gifted children) talk about how much their kids love (and are “obsessed” with) technology. And it’s true that a gifted child is often very engaged by the intricacies of gadgets and gizmos as well as the full spectrum of engaging, intense and complicated computer games. But how does a parent know what kinds of technology are useful and brain boosting or what kinds are mindless, time zaps? And how does a parent who grew up when computers were barely just introduced into the mainstream society navigate between all of the technologies their children are using to determine which kinds, and amount of time, are appropriate?
These are tough questions that show the need and importance of opening up a dialogue with your child, rather than making possibly false assumptions, about technology.
This issue recently came up in my own home when my son started showing a remarkable interest, persistence, and “obsession” in the game Minecraft. Many parents are nodding their heads with the mention of this game and I have even heard some say, “It’s part of their lives” when referring to this game and their kids. The game basically allows the player to build their own world and many gifted children, especially boys in my experience, are prone to falling for this game because it challenges the areas of their minds that are craving exercise and challenge.
What I realized when I actually showed my son that I had an interest in finding out why he loved this game, was that the game actually calls upon the player to exercise a myriad of crucial skills like strategy, foresight and planning. It also involves engineering, computer programming and architecture. Further, it involves social networking, communication, and leadership. And for a lot of gifted children who are more quiet and reserved, or having trouble connecting with peers at school, it gives them a world where they find their own kind – creating a social structure online where they feel part of the same “club.”
I also realized that as an adult who is part of that generation who was introduced to technology at a later age, rather than becoming intimately familiar with it from birth like today’s kids, I could choose to learn about these things by merely asking my son to explain why he so loved them in the first place. He was more than eager to share with me and seemed happy that I even wanted to be involved in that way. To my surprise, he sought me out to tell me, and show me, his latest construction project and plan. What’s more, he started to talk to me more about other things in his life outside of Minecraft – all because, I think, I showed an interest in a passion of his.
Of course, this does not answer the question, “How much time should I allow my child to spend on the computer?” I just don’t think the answer is that simple. The next, and persistent, challenge is getting them to “get off the computer.” This can cause daily stress and conflict. This is definitely something that needs to be negotiated. However, this might be similar to telling a gifted child to “stop reading.”
While there are no “right answers,” try to be open to the new frontiers your kids are playing within and ask them to explain the allure. Then you can make wise decisions and create boundaries with these things just like you do with toys, playtime, nightly television and other hobbies and activities your children enjoy. As long as these activities are balanced (or somewhat balanced) in your child’s overall roster of activities, and you are discussing this with them, you have an opportunity to navigate this new frontier in a way that can reduce conflict and improve your relationship. You never know – you may learn something too.
Dr. Dan Peters, Ph.D., is co-founder of the Summit Center which provides psychological and educational assessments and counseling for children and adolescents, specializing in the gifted, creative, and twice-exceptional.