5 Steps to Managing Video Gaming in Kids with ADHD

Last week’s post was dedicated to new research about ADHD and risk for video game addiction. While research in this area is still emerging, the finding that we have already are enough to cause parents, teachers, and therapists to be concerned. Up to 90% of kids and teens spend time playing video games,1 making it very difficult for parents to eliminate video games from their children’s lives altogether. This is especially true for kids and teens who have been playing video games for years with very few limitations. That said, even without eliminating video games, there are many things parents can do to help their kids develop healthy gaming habits.

  1. Recognize that kids and teens with ADHD may need more video game limits than kids without ADHD. When parents try to set limits on anything fun (including video games), kids and teens will inevitably point out that all of their friends get to do it, so they should be allowed to as well. It’s important to realize that kids with ADHD need firmer limits and structure around certain activities than kids without ADHD – and video games fall into this category. Just as children who are at high risk for developing Type 2 diabetes need more structure and support around healthy eating, kids with ADHD who may be at high risk for developing problematic video game use need more structure and support around their gaming time. So, don’t give in to the “everyone else is doing it” argument when it comes to video games.
  2. Keep screens out of the bedrooms. Perhaps the number one most effective strategy for preventing excessive video game use is to keep all screens (tablets, phones, televisions, and computers) out of a child or teen’s bedroom. When screens are in kids’ bedrooms their screen time is much less likely to be monitored, and they are much more likely to be playing video games when they should be sleeping instead. If you have a teenager who is used to having phones and tablets in their room, have them put their devices on a charging station that is in the kitchen, the parents’ bedroom, or even in a cabinet that is locked by their parents before bed. The change will be hard for them at first but will get easier over time.
  3. Fill their time with other activities. If your child or teen is busy with activities that are not screen-related, they will simply have less time to play video games. If you have a child who loves playing video games more than they enjoy doing anything else, then that is a sign that they need your help (or the help of a therapist or school counselor) to find other activities that they find rewarding. Some kids with ADHD don’t enjoy group activities like sports or drama club, and that’s okay. There are other activities out there! Try individual sports (swimming, gymnastics, karate, etc.), art or craftsman classes, or clubs where kids can share in their love of robots, rockets or even frogs! Not all of the activities in a child or teen’s day need to be extracurricular. Teens can work at a part-time job (paid or volunteer), and homework and academic support need to be part of the mix. The main thing is to limit the amount of time that they can spend sitting in front of a screen, while also making sure that they have at least some fun and social activities in their day.
  4. Set limits and be consistent. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that elementary school children have no more than one hour of screen time each day, and that middle and high school kids have no more than two hours of screen time daily. This includes time spent in front of screens doing research for academic projects or playing educational games. Make a plan with your child or teen for the amount of video game time that will be allowed each day during the week and on weekends. Remind them of these limits and have them set a timer whenever they start gaming.
  5. Reward your child or teen for sticking to the limits. Changing behavior is hard and it helps to have some extra incentives when we’re working on establishing new habits. Talk with your child or teen about rewards they can earn for sticking to the new video game plan. Make sure the rewards are something they will be motivated to earn and are things they can earn quickly (on a weekly basis at the very least). Kids with ADHD struggle with delayed rewards, and even if they think they will be able to work toward earning something over the course of a month or longer, they will quickly lose motivation when they feel like the reward is too far out of reach.

Helping kids and teens develop healthy video game habits isn’t easy. Sometimes, it’s harder on parents than it is on the kids! However, for kids with ADHD, limits around video gaming are important and worth the effort. If you are struggling to set limits with your child or teen, seek out help from a therapist who specializes in problematic videogaming or behavioral interventions for kids and teens with ADHD.


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