Is it okay for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to watch TV? If so, how much time should they spend doing it? What are the benefits and drawbacks of screen time for kids with an ADHD diagnosis?
These are all common questions parents ask. Striking a balance is the goal for screen time for kids. However, with ADHD and related disorders, establishing that balance can be more challenging at times. Kids with ADHD may be more prone to screen addiction, and many parents worry about the effects of screens on their kids.
This article will discuss whether watching TV is okay for kids with ADHD, the benefits and drawbacks of screen time in ADHD kids, how to manage your child's screen time effectively, and strategies parents can use to support a child beyond screen time.
Can Children With ADHD Watch TV?
Children with ADHD can watch TV. In fact, while it may depend on the type of program or activity, some screen time can have benefits for kids. This does not mean that more screen time is better. Sticking to guidelines and avoiding excess screen time is critical, which can come with serious negative effects.
Although it was once suggested that TV is associated with attention problems, research conducted in recent years suggests that this may not be the case after all. Some studies have found correlations between ADHD symptoms and excessive screen use, but we do know that screens don't cause ADHD. What may be going on instead is that the correlation between kids with ADHD symptoms and screen usage is a sign of the higher prevalence of screen addiction in those with ADHD.
One study found that limiting screens to one hour per day for preschoolers was correlated with better working memory. Another found that, for some, there's a positive relationship between working memory and the use of video games, TV, and other forms of screen time. Overall, it would appear that a well-managed use of screens is ideal for children to strike a balance.
How, then, do you navigate TV time for children with ADHD? Let's review the benefits and drawbacks of screens for kids with ADHD. After that, we'll discuss how to find the sweet spot and help children stick to healthy limits.
The benefits of screen time for children with ADHD
Parents are right to exercise caution when it comes to the amount of screen time kids get. However, a well-balanced amount of screen time - and the right kinds - can be highly advantageous. Potential benefits of screen time for kids with ADHD include but aren't limited to the following:
- Educational screen time can teach kids important skills. Many children's programs teach social and friendship skills, school subjects like math or spelling, and other areas of knowledge.
- Parent-child bonding. Parents can watch TV shows or movies with kids and ask their children questions or talk about the topics that come up on-screen. Using screen time as a bonding opportunity can help you build a positive connection and use TV time for good.
- An opportunity to focus. Kids who are typically easily distracted may show more patience or be more prone to concentrate on some screen-based activities.
- Cognitive performance. Whether playing in front of the TV or another device, research on video games specifically shows that they may support improvements in cognitive performance, as well as motor and other skills.
The potential drawbacks of excessive screen time
While some screen time can be valuable, too much screen time is associated with a number of negative consequences. Research shows that excessive screen time can be linked to the following repercussions:
- Trouble getting enough sleep (one may struggle to stay or fall asleep).
- An increased risk of some mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression.
- Worsened ADHD symptoms.
- Back, shoulder, neck, or hand pain.
- Eye strain or blurry vision.
- Lower levels of physical activity.
If a child does experience screen addiction, they may have emotional withdrawal symptoms, such as increased irritability, when their ability to use screens is restricted. Help from a mental health professional can be required in some cases, especially if symptoms of screen addiction are severe.
How to strike a balance between screen time and other activities
Creating a schedule is ideal for balancing screen time and other activities. The schedule you create for a child should include when screen time is allowed and when it is not. That way, there will be clear boundaries, and you'll know exactly how much time your child spends using screens.
Ensuring that alternative activities are part of a child's day is essential. Not only does boredom tend to draw people toward screens more, but adding non-tech activities to a child's schedule helps create a natural balance in their day.
What many parents of kids with ADHD will find is that implementing the schedule is what's difficult, especially if kids tend toward emotional outbursts when screens are taken away. However, there are strategies and tips you can use to help.
Strategies For Managing Screen Time For Children with ADHD
Now that you know the importance of striking a balance between screen usage and other activities, you might wonder how to execute it for a child with ADHD. The most significant thing you can do is stick to the boundaries you set and, again, ensure that kids have non-screen-based activities as a part of their day. Use these tips to help yourself stick to your plan and help your child.
Establish rules and boundaries
Once you build a schedule for your child, set clear rules around when screen time is okay. If you want them to have an hour of screen time only on school days, when will that hour take place? What will you do if kids don't listen? For example, will you use parental controls to turn it off?
Ask yourself these questions and communicate the boundaries to your child directly and in a way that is easy to understand. For example, if watching TV is only okay from 6-7 PM if their homework is done, they need to know that.
Making a visual chart or schedule can be very helpful for younger kids with ADHD especially. Often, this will help kids remember and understand their routines. It'll also show them what they need to do when screen time is not permitted (e.g., eating dinner, playing, doing homework, doing chores, etc).
Track and manage screen time
There are many apps out there nowadays that can be useful for parents who need to manage their child's screen time. Typically, these apps allow you to set a window of time where screen time is okay and track how much screen time a child gets.
When it comes to TV, service providers (such as Xfinity) often have options for parental controls. Use these to ensure that the TV becomes unusable outside of certain hours so that kids can't turn it on anyway.
Read our article on the 9 best apps to control screen time to learn more about parental control apps and how they work.
Joon is a to-do app for kids with ADHD and related disorders that doubles as a game. Using Joon is an excellent way to help kids incorporate more offline activities into their day and strike a healthy balance with screens. Here's how it works:
Adults install Joon Parent App first and make a customized to-do list for their children. Your child's to-do list is fully customizable and can include anything you want. For example, homework, brushing their teeth, chores, or going to after-school clubs. Kids connect with a separate app called Joon Pet Game. Upon completing tasks, children get coins and experience points that enable them to progress in the game and take care of a cute virtual pet called a Doter.
90% of kids who use Joon finish every item on their to-do list. Joon is rated an average of 4.7 stars in the app store, with more than 4.5k ratings in total. Even better, it's backed by child psychologists, teachers, and other providers.
Get help from friends and family
Building a support network can be key for managing a child's screen time for many reasons. First, when friends and family are present, they can help involve kids in other activities. To support the child, they may play board games, take kids outside, help children with homework during the school year, or do something else. Second, friends and family will be able to instill rules or watch children when needed. For kids who experience screen addiction especially, sticking to rules regarding technology limits can require extra effort, so the help matters.
How To Support Children With ADHD Beyond Screen Time
Supporting your child's well-being requires a combination of different factors. Making a plan to care for your child's overall well-being is necessary for managing ADHD symptoms and helping them avoid trouble caused by too much screen time. Here are some key factors to check on for children with ADHD.
Managing medication and therapy
The standard treatment for kids with ADHD is a combination of medication and therapy. Stimulant medications are the most common type of medications used for ADHD, but there are other options, too. Kids may need adjustments as they age, so this is something to consider.
Physical activity is incredibly important for children with ADHD and can help limit the amount of time spent sitting in front of screens. It can also aid focus, working memory, mood, and behavior. Activities that involve the whole family can be ideal, such as outdoor activities, to increase your time together and promote a child's involvement. Kids can also be encouraged to play outside or get involved in active hobbies, like sports or dance.
Other methods of support
In addition to managing medications and therapy, ensuring kids get enough active time, and other practices, children may benefit from the following:
- Adequate nutrition. Depending on age and needs, kids should eat every 2-3 or 3-4 hours.
- School accommodations. Kids with ADHD often benefit from school accommodations and other forms of educational support.
- Sleep. Kids must get enough sleep for their age group. Getting enough sleep is correlated with improvements in ADHD symptoms and other benefits.
Children with ADHD can watch TV, and the appropriate amount of screen time for a child's age group is unlikely to cause negative effects. Instead, problems tend to show up when kids use screens all the time. Parents should set and stick to boundaries, involve children in non-screen activities, use parental controls and apps like Joon, and enlist family members and friends to help their child balance screen time. Kids with screen addiction may need extra help from a mental health provider in some instances.