Is Too Much Screen Time Dangerous?

Children love computer games, and that’s not always a bad thing. Whether played on a handheld device, a computer, or a television set, the games can provide hours of quiet fun. That’s one reason parents often rely on them to keep the peace on family vacations. The games can boost computer skills and improve eye-hand coordination.  

🕹️ Big Downsides 

Besides being very expensive, many popular games involve graphic sex and violence. Perhaps most worrisome, they can be extremely habit-forming. Any child can become “addicted” to computer games, but kids with ADHD seem to be at a particular risk. Many of them have poor social or athletic skills, and this doesn’t matter in the world of computer games. Such games level the playing field for children with ADHD. And kids bothered by distractibility in the real world are capable of intense focus (hyper focus) while playing. The computer game “trance” is often so deep that the only way to get the player’s attention is to shake her or “get in her face.” 

🔢 Finding Alternatives 

To make the games less seductive, find ways to minimize your child’s downtime at home, especially those times when he is alone. Maybe your child would be interested in arts and crafts, theater, or movie-making. Maybe a social-skills group would be a good idea. 

📵 Setting Limits 

Children with ADHD often lack the “internal controls” needed to regulate how much time they spend playing computer games. It’s up to parents to rein in the use of the games. 

The first step is often the hardest: Both parents must agree on a set of rules. How much time may be spent playing the games on school nights? Must homework be done first? Chores? How much time may be spent on a weekend day? Which games are taboo, and which are OK? If the child plays Internet-based games, which sites are acceptable? Once parents agree, sit down with your child and discuss the rules. Make it clear which rules are negotiable and which are not. Then announce that the rules start right now. Be sure you can enforce the rules.  

🗣️ Avoiding Confrontations 

Give warning times. A timer that is visible to the child can be helpful. If he continues to play despite your step-by-step warnings, do not shout or grab the game or disconnect the power. Calmly remind him of the rules, then announce that for each minute he continues to play, one minute will be subtracted from the time allowed the next day (or days). Once you get the game back, lock it up.  

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