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Kids & Tech

ADHD And Phone Addiction: Are They Connected?

April 6, 2023
Table of Contents

    Internet addiction is a behavioral addiction that can affect people of all ages. If you notice that your child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) shows signs of problematic mobile phone or internet use, you aren't alone. So, is cell phone addiction more common in people with ADHD, and how do you intervene as a parent?

    In this article, we will discuss how screen time affects ADHD, the relationship between ADHD and phone addiction, and what parents can do for kids and young adults who may be struggling with problematic smartphone use. Then, we’ll talk about how Joon can help. 

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    How Do Screens Impact ADHD?

    Technology gives us many advantages and can support learning, better connect with your kids, and alongside other benefits. However, balance is crucial, as various negative consequences can result from too much screen time. Possible effects from too much screen time include lower physical activity levels, sleep problems, low self-esteem, and other mental health impacts, such as an increased risk of depression and anxiety. Previous research also suggests that high-frequency digital media use is associated with symptoms similar to what we know of as ADHD symptoms. Specifically, inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity. This makes some wonder whether cell phone use could lead to ADHD.

    Does Limiting Screen Time Help ADHD?

    ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It is not caused by screen time or vice versa. In a person with ADHD, symptoms of the condition will have started prior to problematic internet or cell phone use. This doesn't mean that there's no connection between ADHD and cell phone or internet addiction, however. Smartphone addiction may lead to the worsening of ADHD symptoms, and people with ADHD can be prone to internet addiction. Limiting technology doesn’t mean that the disorder will go away if someone has it, but it may lead to better-managed symptoms, sleep, and mental health.

    The Relationship Between ADHD And Phone Addiction

    Internet addiction includes the use of smartphones and other devices. Research shows that children with ADHD are significantly more likely to experience internet addiction. In fact, a study looking at fifty kids with ADHD and fifty kids without ADHD found that children with ADHD were 9.3x more prone to internet addiction. What this suggests is that ADHD may be a risk factor for internet addiction, in which case, an emphasis on balance and healthy screen time habits is particularly vital for those with the disorder.

    What is the possible explanation behind the ADHD-phone addiction correlation? The ADHD brain tends to have difficulty utilizing dopamine and may seek it from different sources . One way to get that dopamine is from the instant gratification that comes from playing online games, using social media, instant messaging, watching youtube videos, and online shopping.

    Does My Child Have A Phone Addiction?

    The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes internet addiction alongside other behavioral addictions, like gambling disorder. Knowing what to look out for can help you identify signs of internet and smartphone addiction in a child.

    Signs of smartphone addiction can include but aren't limited to:

    • Experiencing emotional withdrawal symptoms like anger or irritability when cell phones are taken away
    • Excessive smartphone use that takes away from or leads to a loss of interest in activities one would usually enjoy
    • Excessive smartphone use that impairs interpersonal relationships (such as real-life friendships)
    • Negative physical or mental health effects from excessive screen time (e.g., body aches, depression)

    Parents who notice these signs in a child can help them curb and overcome problematic mobile phone use.

    Tips For Handling A Smartphone Addiction

    Parents can help children experiencing smartphone addiction get to a better place in their relationship with technology. While setting limits can be tough for parents at first, it’s worth it long term. Here are some tips for handling a smartphone addiction in kids and helping children with distress that shows up along the way.

    Do not allow cell phone use before bed

    One of the ways to curb problematic internet use is to decide when it's okay to use devices and when it's not. The AACAP's screen time guidelines recommend that kids and teens stop using electronics 30-60 minutes before bed. Devices should be turned off at that time and kept outside of the bedroom. Blue light can cause trouble sleeping, so powering cell phones off before bed is critical regardless of a child's relationship with technology.

    Use parental controls

    There are parental control apps designed to limit screen time use in kids. Screen time parental control apps typically work by letting parents restrict a child's ability to use their cell phone at specific times. So, if you don't want your child to use their cell phone at night or during dinner, the app will make phone use impossible for that time period.

    Parental control apps may include other features for parents, too, such as the ability to block certain apps or websites on their child's cell phone. This may be beneficial if inappropriate content is a concern for you alongside frequent digital media use.

    As many smartphone users know, some parental control apps are more difficult to outsmart or mess with than others. Compare your options and pick one that works for your family.

    Build a schedule with other activities

    Routines and schedules are imperative for children and can be particularly valuable with ADHD. Phone addiction is tough to break, but one of the things that can help most is to create a schedule with other activities. Make sure that your child's schedule includes non-tech activities, and require that they do not use screens during those times.

    Examples of activities you might add to a child's schedule include reading time, homework time, sports and other extracurricular activities (like art classes or theater), and family meals or outings.

    Stick to your limits and boundaries

    Once you set limits for your children's screen time, stick to them. The adjustment period is the hardest. Once a child gets used to not having electronics in their bedroom, putting their phone down during family meals, or going to art class after school and only getting phone time later on for a structured amount of time at home, it'll be easier in most households. Consistency is the key to getting there.

    Discuss boundaries compassionately

    People with smartphone addiction face real emotional withdrawal symptoms when they cannot use their mobile phones. This doesn't mean you should cave to problematic mobile phone use; quite the opposite. Instead, continue to stick to your boundaries and explain them to your child or teen with compassion.

    For example, if the rule is "no smartphone usage at dinner," you may let them know that you know this is hard, discuss the importance of family time, and tell them that everyone else has their phone away, too.

    Model the habits you want to see

    Take a moment to look at your own relationship with technology. If you don't store your phone away during family meals or appear to be on your phone during most of your leisure time, it may be harder for your child to understand why they can't use their phone the same way. Set a good example by modeling the habits you want to see, like putting your phone away during family meals.

    Seek help for internet addiction

    While smartphone addiction isn't in the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM) currently, it is recognized by medical and mental health professionals. Looking for a therapist who works with internet addiction in children is an important step for parents of kids who face problems with excessive mobile phone use, are not seeing improvements in their patterns of excessive technology use, or would meet the criteria for internet gaming disorder.

    If you aren't sure where to start, use a therapist directory like Psychology Today to search for a professional who works with internet addiction in your child's age group.

    How Joon Can Help

    Some apps can help kids strike a balance between online and offline activity. Joon is one of them. Joon is a to-do app and game geared toward kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and related conditions ages 6-12+. Here's how it works:

    Parents sign up first with the Joon App and create a task list for their child. You'll install a separate app called Joon Pet Game on your child's device. When kids finish real-life tasks assigned by adults in the Joon Parent App, such as household chores or homework, they get virtual rewards that let them take care of a pet and move forward in Joon Pet Game. This is how Joon aids self-control and motivates children to complete offline activities.

    90% of kids who use Joon complete all their tasks. The app is backed by professionals such as occupational therapists, teachers, and child psychologists.

    Click here to try Joon for free.


    Excessive smartphone use has real-life consequences, from effects on physical health to relationship problems and an uptick in ADHD symptoms. Some people are at a greater risk of internet addiction than others. Research shows that people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be more likely to develop an internet or smartphone addiction. Parents might notice signs of cell phone or internet addictions in kids, such as emotional distress when devices are taken away.

    The good news is that parents can help kids overcome smartphone addiction. Tips such as setting rules at home, involving kids in other activities, and being mindful of your own cell phone use can help. If concerns related to smartphone addiction are severe, cause significant distress, or otherwise affect your child's well-being, or at-home interventions don't work, consult a professional who can help.


    Sarah Schulze MSN, APRN, CPNP

    Sarah is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with a specialty certification in pediatric mental health. She works at a clinic in Champaign Illinois, providing care to children and adolescents with mental health disorders. She obtained her bachelor's in nursing from Indiana State University in 2011 and completed her master's in nursing from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2014. She is passionate about helping children create a solid foundation on which they can grow into healthy adults.


    Sarah Schulze MSN, APRN, CPNP

    Sarah is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with a specialty certification in pediatric mental health. She works at a clinic in Champaign Illinois, providing care to children and adolescents with mental health disorders. She obtained her bachelor's in nursing from Indiana State University in 2011 and completed her master's in nursing from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2014. She is passionate about helping children create a solid foundation on which they can grow into healthy adults.