Controlling Screen Time for Children with ADHD
Parents are often concerned about their child’s screen time and report difficulty enforcing limits. Screen time includes time with all screens including social media, online gaming, and watching videos. Enforcing limits on screen time can be particularly challenging for children who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) due to difficulties with self-monitoring and inattention. As a child therapist, parents often tell me that their child grabs their phone out of their purse, asks to use their tablet constantly, and cries when denied. This leads to parents often giving in to such requests, which only encourages this behavior in the future. Screen time is a frequent topic of discussion in child therapy and many parents can benefit from learning skills to manage their child’s screen time.
Screen Time Today
Screen time is nearly impossible to avoid. The majority of children between of 5-16 years old play video-games regularly (at least 1 hour per day) and a recent Norwegian study found that over 75% of children play for over 2 hours per day. The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends 1 hour per day of screen time.
Screen time in moderation is a part of everyday life and it is important for children to learn skills related to electronic devices in order to function in the modern world. Your child’s friends at school are using devices regularly and if your child doesn’t play similar games, it can be difficult for them to participate in related conversations. However, too much screen time can deprive children of face to face social interactions, exploring other interests, working on homework and reading. Regulating your child’s screen time can help them to regulate their own use in the future and develop other skills and interests.
ADHD and Screen Time
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common psychological disorders in children. Children with ADHD are particularly vulnerable to the exciting colors, sounds, and images appearing in quick succession on the screen. Video games, internet videos, and social networking sites provide immediate rewards that strongly encourage continued use.
Children with ADHD also have difficulty with self-monitoring. This means that children with ADHD, and children in general, have a hard time recognizing when they have spent too much time on a game and when it is in their best interest to put the game down or go to sleep. Children with ADHD have difficulty with impulse control and may be more likely to view inappropriate videos, sext, or make poor decisions regarding internet use.
Sleep and Media Use
Individuals with ADHD are also known to have sleep difficulties including not sleeping for enough hours, frequently waking, and a great amount of movement during sleep. Children may turn to a tablet or cell phone to “help” them go to sleep, which results in the opposite effect. A recent study published by the Journal of Physical Activity and Health concluded that children with ADHD compared to children without ADHD obtained less than optimal hours of sleep and exceeded recommendations for screen time. Parents reported that they set limits for their children’s screen time, but many children had TVs in their bedrooms and were not complying with their parent’s request.
The following are 8 strategies you can try at home to help control your child’s screen time:
- Set a time limit for screen time and consistently enforce limits.
- Choose a time of day that is consistent. This helps your child predict when they will be able to use electronics and not beg for the device 24/7. You may want to choose 30 minutes or 1 hour after your child has completed their homework. Choosing a time in the morning may distract your child from getting ready for school.
- Help your child tell time and encourage them to monitor when the time to use the device is up. You can provide your child with a digital clock and/or a timer that makes a sound when it is time to put the device away. Avoid having to be personally responsible for keeping track of their screen time and instead help your child develop the skill of monitoring their time.
- Have your child use electronic devices in the common living area so they can be monitored for safe and appropriate use.
- Do not allow your child to use devices during meal times or in situations where they can be conversing with friends, such as at a party.
- Do not allow your child to reach into your purse, backpack, or other personal space in order to retrieve a device. This encourages inappropriate boundary crossing that can cause your child issues with friends or others. Instead, hand your child the device when it is time to play. If possible, provide your child with their own tablet or device to play games instead of using your cell phone that may have texts, emails, and other information you do not want your child viewing.
- Have your child store electronics in your bedroom overnight so that they are not temped to use games when they should be sleeping. Additionally, remove TVs from your child’s bedroom.
- Praise your child when they respect limits for device use and provide appropriate and reasonable consequences if they purposefully disobey limits. This may include losing device time the following day.
When you enforce new rules in the home, your child may become upset and defiant at first until they learn the new routine. Be prepared for this and don’t let it discourage you. If you have ongoing difficulties with this topic and/or notice a decrease in your child’s sleep, grades, or that your child is choosing screen time over spending time with other children face to face- it may be time to seek out therapy to address individual concerns.
Cortese, S., Konofal, E., Yateman, N., Mouren, M.-C., & Lecendreux, M. (2006). Sleep and Alertness in Children With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Sleep: Journal of Sleep and Sleep Disorders Research, 29(4), 504–511.
Hygen, B. W., Belsky, J., Stenseng, F., Skalicka, V., Kvande, M. N., Zahl‐Thanem, T., & Wichstrøm, L. (2019). Time Spent Gaming and Social Competence in Children: Reciprocal Effects Across Childhood. Child development.
Tandon, P. S., Sasser, T., Gonzalez, E. S., Whitlock, K. B., Christakis, D. A., & Stein, M. A. (2019). Physical Activity, Screen Time, and Sleep in Children With ADHD. Journal of Physical Activity & Health, 16(6), 416–422.
Pratt, M. (2019). Controlling Screen Time for Children with ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 5, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/controlling-screen-time-for-children-with-adhd/