The association between ADHD and screen time and how you can help your child build healthy screen time habits
Parents of children with ADHD know that there’s no such thing as a fail-proof hack to get their children to concentrate. Put them in front of a screen or game, and suddenly there’s hyper focus and concentration! Research confirms what parents may instinctively know: that there is an association between ADHD and screen time.
What the research shows:
• Kids with ADHD find games more compelling than the average person. The continuous activity (in gaming and social media) doesn’t require sustained attention, and constant shifts in focus provide instant gratification and reward2.
• Frequent use of digital media by adolescents might increase their odds of developing ADHD symptoms3.
• ADHD-diagnosed children with problematic digital media use (PDMU), suffered from more severe core symptoms, negative emotions, executive function deficits, damage on family environment, pressure from life events, and a lower motivation to learn. Problematic use included extended use time, after-dark use, and inappropriate viewing.
What you can do about it
Screen time has its positives when it comes to learning and socialising, and has its place in your child’s life. Though, as a parent, the last thing that you want to do is to put your child at risk of exacerbating symptoms. Understandably, screen time is hard to control especially when parents are working full-time, when the weather keeps children indoors for long periods or during school holidays. Though ultimately, establishing and enforcing boundaries, and finding a healthy balance can increase cooperation and reduce conflict when your child has to put their device down. Even a small change to encourage healthy levels of screen time is a step in the right direction for the health of your children.
Here are some tips to develop healthy screen time habits:
1. Set limits
• Establish media-free zones in the home.
• Designate media-free times when at home e.g. no screens during meals; no screens one hour before bedtime.
• Flag websites or apps that are out of bounds.
• Set weekly screen-time amounts – one hour a day or less for children from two to five years, and less than two hours (of sedentary, recreational screen time) for children over five5. For kids with ADHD, shorter periods of screen-based activities more frequently work better, e.g. 40 minutes per day, five days a week, instead of two hours per day, twice a week.
• Balance it with activities throughout the week – reading, exercising, playing, and so on.
2. Be the media role model.
Once the limits have been set, lead by example and put your phone away during designated media-free times and zones.
3. Choose high-quality media.
Help your kids find age-appropriate games, websites, or apps that are beneficial and encourage creativity. Websites such as Common Sense Media is a great resource for this.
4. Co-view and co-play, where possible.
Make an effort to understand what your kids are doing and who they are following. Whether it’s playing Minecraft or following an Instagram or TikTok influencer, ask questions, encourage them to explain what they’re doing, and listen with an open mind.
5. Develop their media literacy skills.
Common Sense Media, a leading source of entertainment and technology recommendations for families, encourages parents to develop their children’s media literacy skills by thinking critically about what they watch, play, and interact with. So, ask questions such as “Who made this?”, “Who is it for?”, and “What is it telling you?”.
6. Warn them when screen time comes to an end.
The non-profit, Understood, dedicated to helping those who learn and think differently, advises parents to avoid saying things like “five more minutes”. Instead, they suggest parents learn how long it takes their child to complete specific aspects of games and social media. “Talk about what your child wants to accomplish, and set the stopping point based on those goals,” they advise.
7. Use parental tools and apps.
If your child has problems switching off or you want to keep tabs on what your kids are watching, use blocking apps and tools (free and subscription-based) that allow you to turn off the internet connection to designated devices or block apps.
8. Create alternatives.
If you’re moving to less screen time, create fun options and activities, especially for those days when your child seems more dependent on their phone, like on weekends. What activities does your child enjoy? And fill in their time with that for a few screen-free hours.