For this ‘digital native’ generation that’s never experienced life without a smart device, some caregivers wonder if this only exacerbates their kids’ ADHD.

kid with adhd using a tech screen in the darkShare on Pinterest
Thanasis Zovoilis/Getty Images

Screens have become another limb in our existence. Our phone alarms wake us up in the morning, and we scroll video clips over breakfast.

At the height of the pandemic, many attended school through a screen. Much of our leisure time involves screens, such as TV, movies, and video games.

If your child has ADHD, you might worry about how much time your kids spend on screens.

Research has shown that excessive screen time is linked with increased:

That doesn’t mean parents should feel guilty about screen time — just that screen time should be discussed. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends developing a Family Media Use Plan, recognizing the all-presence of screens in our lives.

You might bookmark

Psych Central’s article on technology boundaries for children and teens can help you create your custom family media use plan.

Was this helpful?

Some researchers suggest using screen time to promote exercise, made easier by the many video games involving physical activity. Creative approaches to screen time, rather than simple time limits, may be more effective for children — especially those with ADHD.

The short answer is no, says Drew Lightfoot, the clinical director at Thriveworks in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and professor of healthcare research at La Salle University.

“There is a correlational relationship,” Lightfoot says, “ADHD is a neurological condition,” and is a result of a person’s genetics, though the exact cause is unknown.

While some research has found connections between screen time and ADHD, the relationship is not causal. Rather, the researchers suggest parents of children with ADHD may allow for more screen time.

The researchers point out that children with ADHD may find it difficult to concentrate for long periods and are challenged by impulsivity and excess energy. Screens may be better able to capture and keep their attention, and screens may help calm and occupy children.

Additionally, many forms of screen time (e.g., video games, movies) can be enjoyed by multiple people, allowing for additional bonding and quality time. If you’re new to gaming or just looking for some suggestions, you can start here.

Though screen time doesn’t cause ADHD, some studies have suggested that children with ADHD may be at increased risk of developing a screen addiction. While parents of children with ADHD can try to be aware of their kid’s screen time, most children’s screen time falls short of addiction, according to Lightfoot.

The World Health Organization describes addictive gaming as “of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other important areas of functioning” and as typically “evident for at least 12 months.”

If you think your child’s gaming habits — or your own — might constitute addictive gaming, you can contact a healthcare professional. If you want to learn more about internet addiction, you can start here.

There’s some relationship between screen time and ADHD. ADHD specialists confirm that children with ADHD spend more time on screens.

In his review of research on screens and ADHD, appropriately titled, The Screens Culture: Impact on ADHD,” Blake Allan says, “the evidence presented in this review makes a strong case for a connection between ADHD and [screen] use.”

One older 2009 study in Allen’s review found that traits associated with ADHD, such as impulsivity and extroversion, correlated with disordered patterns of internet use.

Another study found that kids with ADHD played video games equally often and no longer than neurotypical children.

There are hundreds of studies on the interplay between ADHD and screen time. A common conclusion is that screen time doesn’t cause ADHD, and ADHD isn’t the only reason children are spending more time on screens. But some relationship between the two seems to be clear.

Common symptoms of ADHD include:

Meanwhile, modern social media, phone apps, games, and high-speed internet provide:

Children with ADHD seem to spend more time on screens, but it’s unclear exactly why.

Their parents may allow them more screen time. The bright colors, quick pace, and endless novelty of screens may capture their attention and satisfy an urge to frequently task-switch. Kids may experience time blindness and be unaware of their aggregate screen use.

Setting strict limits on screen time can cause friction and stress for children and parents alike. A busy parent may not have time to entertain a distractible child, and a bored and impulsive child could be challenging to discipline.

Tips for managing screen time

You might try:

  • breaking screen time into increments using a timer, mixing in other activities
  • trying to be consistent to avoid confusion and frustration if you set a schedule
  • pausing screen time during meals or, if this is difficult, enjoying one screen together
  • making a house rule to ask permission to use screens
  • helping children participate in other activities
  • give a 5-, 10-, or 15-minute warning before it’s time to get off screens
  • trying to minimize the total length of screen time when possible
  • using parental tools, apps, and controls to manage screen time
  • encouraging screen time with physical components (Oculus, Nintendo Switch)
  • keeping electronic devices out of sight during no-screen times
Was this helpful?

Screens are an inescapable part of our society and culture. Many features of modern electronic devices offer particular appeal to people with ADHD. Social media feeds provide endless distractions. Video games offer infinite tasks to complete, jumping from one quest to the next.

With screens an increasingly pervasive part of our lives, it’s difficult to say precisely how any one factor affects screen time. Our world is filled with screens, with more people owning smartphones than ever.

There’s been much research on ADHD and screen use. Many studies found links between the two. What remains unclear is the exact nature of the relationship.

In the meantime you might want to check out our resources for helping to motivate and model the behavior your looking for in your child who has ADHD: