Gifted Children and Television
Gifted children learn to speak and develop sophisticated language patterns well in advance of their age-mates. Their verbal and reading fluency and comprehension improve rapidly (Cohn, Cohn, & Kanevsky, 1988). Does this mean that they might also be capable of watching television at any earlier age than their peers?
Television viewing does not begin at an earlier age. However, gifted preschool children have been found to watch significantly more hours of television per week than nongifted children (Abelman & Rogers, 1987). Because of their ability to coordinate and comprehend television information, most of their viewing is active--that is, gifted children are less likely to sit in front of the television set mesmerized and confused by programming and are more likely to be involved in program content and story line.
Gifted children exhibit a high level of complexity and abstraction in their questions and responses, which reflects phenomenal perceptiveness and sensitivity to relationships and patterns of knowledge (Barbe & Renzulli, 1981; Roedell, Jackson, & Robinson, 1980).
The research suggests that gifted children of all ages are typically attracted to more complex forms of programming, which offer room for intellectual growth, a challenge in terms of story line and plot development, and more interesting and sophisti-cated characterizations.
Gifted children have been found to be efficient at identifying the selling strategies in child and adult-oriented advertising, which makes these commercials less persuasive (Sprafkin, Gadow, & Abelman, 1992).
Gifted children have a passion for learning and absorbing knowledge (Scruggs & Cohn, 1983; Sternberg & Davidson, 1985, 1986). What role does a readily available, easily accessible, and non-threatening source of social information, such as television, play in their socialization? Does it lead to an attraction to more sophisticated, adult-oriented programming for which they are not emotionally prepared?
Gifted children are bored by similar plots, program reruns, and standardized program formats (Abelman, 1986). Educational programming is typically preferred over pure entertainment fare, but gifted children rapidly outgrow many of the informational programs still being watched by same-age peers. The paucity of available quality children's programs on broadcast television channels typically results in the consumption of adult-oriented programming.
Recent content analyses of commercial television's primetime programming indicate that children in starring or title roles are hightly under represented (Abelman, 1992). Depictions of gifted children in primetrime are even rarer, suggesting that limited role models exist in popular programming. Unfortunately, gifted teens are poorly portrayed on commercial televison.
Research suggest that parents of gifted children are infrequent mediators of television viewing. However, when direct mediation does occur, it tends to be highly focused, purposeful, evaluative, and participatory (Abelman, 1987a, 1991a). Parents generally believe that television can have both a positive and negative cognitive-level effect on their gifted children. Special affective and social needs are also of great concern to parents, and may suggest to them a special vulnerability to attractive televised portrayals.
Television viewing is a learned behavior that extends and reinforces basic comprehension skills (i.e., determining theme, utilizing context cues, forming sequence, and eliciting an awareness of cause and effect), and provides ample avenue for abstract and critical thinking (Bryant & Anderson, 1983). There exists a growing number of "television literacy or critical viewing/thinking skills" curricula available on the market that incorporate television literacy into teaching agendas or interface such programs with more traditional curriculum areas. These have proven to be especially effective in gifted education (Abelman, 1987b, 1991b; Abelman & Courtright, 1983).
--Robert Abelman, Ph.D, Cleveland State University. "Some Children Under Some Conditions: TV and the High Potential Kid," The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, December, 1992.
Reprinted with the permission of the American Association for Gifted Children. © 1999 AAGC
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