Video Games and ADHD – Entertaining Distraction or Potential Addiction?

For many years, there has been an ongoing debate about linkages between video game play and ADHD. While there is no evidence to support the idea that video games cause ADHD, there are concerns that extensive video game can exacerbate the symptoms of ADHD.

Why do video games seem to have a special attractions for children with ADHD? Larry Silver, M.D., writing in ADDitude magazine, offers several potential reasons, including:

  • The ability to hyperfocus – A child who has problems with distractibility in the real world may be capable of intense focus while playing a video game.
  • Hyperactivity diminishes – A child can hold the video game controller and stand or pace back and forth in front of the TV as he plays.
  • Compensate for poor social skills – For children who struggle with social skills, or lack the skills to play team sports, video games both entertain and level the playing field. These games are emotionally safe – no one else knows when he makes a mistake.
  • Satisfaction in improving – As a child plays a video game, and makes mistakes, he can improve and learn from the errors without shaming or teasing. This steady improvement and the ability to ultimately win the game can be very satisfying and stimulate a further desire to keep playing..

Video games, in and of themselves, are not necessarily bad. They can improve hand-eye coordination and offer a way for kids with ADHD to form positive social relationships with other gamers. Some video games also have an an educational component.

But all too often, they can become a substitute for other peer activities and go from being an entertaining distraction to being an addiction. Parents can aggravate the situation if they rely on video games to keep their children quiet during the unstructured days of summer.

So how can you find a balance, so that your ADHD child can enjoy some of the benefits of video games without becoming addicted to them?  Here are some suggestions:

Set some rules around video game play – This includes determining how much video game play the child has, when that takes place, and how it fits with other things like homework and chores.

Enforce the rules – Use a timer to limit play. If your child continues to play well beyond the limit, you might consider reducing the amount of time he can play over the next few days. If the problem persists, lock up the game controller for a while and resume when he is ready to follow the rules.

Find alternatives to video game play – Find an activity he can feel successful at, one that taps into his strengths and talents. If team sports are difficult, look into a sport that emphasizes individual performance, such as swimming, martial arts, golf or gymnastics.Or investigate non-competitive group activities offered in your area, such as an arts-and-crafts class, a summer theater group, or a nature club.

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