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Kids & Tech

Does ADHD Cause Screen Addiction: What You Need To Know

February 23, 2023
Table of Contents

    Screen time use by children has been a hot topic for the past few decades. Many parents worry that their child spends too much time in front of a screen and not enough time engaged in offline activities.

    Kids with ADHD, more so than their peers, struggle to self-regulate, stay focused, and often engage in impulsive behavior. These ADHD symptoms put them at risk of developing screen or other addictions, which have real-life consequences. However, a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is not a guarantee of addiction.

    If you are worried your child is spending too much time in front of a screen, this article outlines the causes and risks of screen and internet addiction, addresses how to set limits for screen and internet usage, and gives tips to help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder struggling to kick the screen time habit.

    Can ADHD Cause Screen Addiction?

    Individuals with ADHD are more prone to addiction of all types, including screen and video game addiction, but ADHD is not the cause.

    Children with ADHD are growing up in an era of watching youtube videos, online gaming, and instant gratification. Adults with ADHD also face the challenge of addiction but typically have better self-control and understand the negative consequences of too much screen time.

    Because electronic devices surround children with ADHD, parents need to monitor their children, especially those with an increased risk of developing an addiction.

    However, just because a child has ADHD symptoms does not mean they will become addicted to screen time. When parents enact limits to screen time, help children master impulse control, and ensure their child is engaged in other activities, the risk of addiction decreases.

    Video game addiction and internet addiction

    Screens surround us, and it is nearly impossible to avoid screen time exposure in our modern world. Today’s children and young adults have had access to screens since childhood; spending time in front of a screen is considered commonplace. So much so, it can be challenging to recognize addiction because screens are part of our everyday life.

    Children and teens are most susceptible to video game addiction and internet use addiction. Screen and internet addiction are caused when the brain is pushed into a constant state of hyperarousal , stimulating dopamine receptors (the feel good hormone). When the screens (or other addictive stimuli) go away, the brain craves its return to fill those receptors. Over time this can lead to symptoms of addiction such as irritability or anxiety when screens are not being used or easily within reach. .

    Other forms of internet addiction include online gambling, social media (especially Facebook) addiction, mobile phone dependency, problematic internet use, and pornography addiction.

    Symptoms of Screen or Game Addiction include:

    • Intense urge for screen time or to play video games
    • Displaying signs of irritability, anxiety, and even anger when forced to stop playing
    • Spending money on video games or screens, even though you can't afford it
    • Cutting back on social or recreational activities in preference for screen time or video games
    • Continuing to play online games or participate in screen time, even when it's causing problems in your life, such as poor performance at school or work or ignoring other responsibilities
    • Lying to others about the extent of your use
    • Needing more screen time over time to get the same level of enjoyment
    • Neglecting your appearance, including grooming and bathing
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    Risks of Screen Overuse

    The risks of too much screen use can be emotional, social, and physical.

    Too much screen time, especially playing video games, can push the brain into a constant state of hyperarousal. Hyperarousal can affect a person's ability to pay attention, cause trouble sleeping, decrease empathy, and affect a person's ability to handle anger and frustration.

    Kids and teens who spend too much time on mobile devices and gaming apps spend less time in face-to-face engagement with other children, which can lead to loneliness and feelings of depression.

    Too much screen time can have a negative impact on a person's physical health, including sleep problems, decreased hygiene and immune function, and unstable blood sugar levels.

    In severe cases of abusive internet use, addicts may skip eating, avoid getting up to use the bathroom, experience weight gain or weight loss, develop blurred vision and other eye problems, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

    What to Do if Your Child is Overusing Screens

    The World Health Organization (WHO) released new screen time recommendations in 2019. Additionally, WHO states that the COVID pandemic forced adults and children to use mobile devices and screens more and has contributed to the childhood obesity pandemic.

    Additionally, many children and teens use the internet, such as Google Classroom, to complete assignments and conduct research making their connection to screens a complicated relationship.

    Screen time amounts for young children and older children and teens will vary. However, it is critical to be aware of the risks and signs of internet addiction and remember that ADHD brains work differently than the typically developed brain.

    However, some generalized guidelines are put forth for kids and teens.

    World Health Organization Screen Use Recommendations:

    • Less than 1 year - screen time is not recommended
    • 1-2 years - under 2 not preferred, overs 2 no more than 1 hour daily
    • Preschool children ages 3-4 no more than 1 hour daily

    Harvard Medical School recommends:

    • Having designated "no screen" areas and times such as the bedroom, mealtime, and homework time
    • Parents should put their electronics down and engage with their children
    • Limiting the use of blue-light emitting devices at least 1 hour before bedtime
    • Limiting the use of media and other electronic devices to a few hours per day
    • Parents should be cognizant of their children and teen's online activities and social media accounts
    • Avoid boredom use. Using screen time to complete tasks like homework is different from mindless gaming for hours on an Xbox or Nintendo Switch.
    • Engage in offline activities with your child.

    Only you and your child's pediatrician can determine the appropriate amount of screen use for your child. Still, no matter your child's situation, it is wise to implement screen time limits, encourage alternate activities during their free time, and engage in quality time without scenes.

    Limit unsupervised screen time

    One of the best things parents can do for children with ADHD is to limit their unsupervised screen time. Parents engaging in screen time activities with their children limits excessive screen time and becomes an educational bonding experience.

    Children with ADHD struggle with impulse control; however, when you sit next to them, ask questions about what they're watching or playing, or engage in the game together, it becomes an active activity more than a passive one. This is particularly true with preschool children and younger school-aged children.

    Reduce your child’s access to screens

    A simple yet effective way for parents to combat screen time is to limit their child's access to screens in their homes or outings. Unfortunately, it has become second nature for many adults to hand their child a phone or tablet while waiting in line, at the airport, or a restaurant. This access to instant gratification makes children less patient, leads to attention problems and reduces problem-solving and creativity.

    Take screens out of the bedroom. Set the example by not using your phone or tablet in front of them unless necessary. Avoid screen use on short car trips or waiting in line. Reducing access to screens will reduce their screen time.

    Find alternatives

    Once you limit the amount of screen time your child has, you need to offer alternatives. For example, there are many apps available to control screen time. Also, kids with ADHD may enjoy fidgets, active games, hands-on projects like art or STEM, or brain teasers. Play to your child's interests and have things on hand to engage them.

    Encourage your child to play outside; people with ADHD benefit greatly from physical activity. Physical exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which boosts memory, positive emotions, and critical thinking skills.

    Talk to your child about their screen use

    Talking to your children about their screen time, especially older children and teens, helps them understand the risk of too much time playing games or on the internet and how it can make their ADHD symptoms worse.

    Discuss the good and the bad of the internet, how to use it safely, especially social media, and the dangers associated with internet addiction.


    Excessive screen time isn't good for anyone, child or adult. Whether it's time spent on social media, video games, or just surfing the internet, excessive screen time poses risks, especially to people with ADHD.

    It can cause attention problems, and health and emotional issues, and cause symptoms of people with ADHD to worsen. The online world is inviting, and fun to children, and the ADHD brain can quickly become addicted to the dopamine reinforcement internet use creates.

    If your child recently received an ADHD diagnosis or you are looking for ways to limit their internet time, look for alternative ways for them to spend their free time. For example, interact with them, engage them in physical activity or a hobby, play offline games, and spend time talking.

    Internet addiction is a risk for people with ADHD. But, with usage limits, awareness of the common symptoms, and a positive but frank dialogue about screen time, you set your child up for a lifetime of healthy internet habits.


    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.