It is estimated that as many as 25% of people with ADHD have Internet Addiction. This can cause many problems including sleep issues, which many of our children already have. Watching screens can cut into exercise and play times, again vital for all children but especially for ours with ADHD. So, what is it about ADHD and screen time?
Children with ADHD don’t necessarily have difficulty focusing. They have difficulty staying focussed if what they are doing is boring. That is why classrooms are so dull for them. They don’t want to pay attention because it’s not gripping them. However, hand them a phone and some social media and boom they are focused to the point you can’t prise the electronic device off them!
TikTok and Instagram stories are like all their dreams rolled into a handheld device! Heaven. They can watch ‘interesting’ things that change every few seconds. They don’t have time to get bored, a new thing appears on their screen and wow look at that, would you! The dopamine that their brains crave is ‘fixed’. Even if it is just momentarily. Then they keep watching to get their next ‘hit’. Unfortunately, ADHD will just keep on wanting more and more and their screen is a quick fix for them.
I’m not going to lie. I’ve loved the peace screen time gives to me when I need it. I mean, apart from them trying to show me a TikTok video, which I have no interest in, I don’t hear a peep out of them. I can get addicted to that, to be honest!
However, like most parents, I do worry about the amount of screen time they have. I also hate the battle we have when I try to get them off it. Especially if I have allowed it to go on too long…
What can we do?
So, what can we do? Well, I think we need to be realistic. I love being on my phone these days. I’ve got one game on my phone which I don’t play very long on because I run out of the five lives and must wait about 3 hours before I get five more. But if I was better at playing, I probably would get into a time warp where I played and played and played. I do have a certain level of willpower and enough mum guilt to get me off my phone so I can do something constructive.
However, as a child, I wouldn’t have that willpower or need to stop. It would be like giving me a bag of Cadburys chocolate buttons and telling me to stop eating when I wanted. I wouldn’t. We must remember that nearly all children do not have willpower when it comes to pleasure. We must put the boundaries in. Now remember though, we are dealing with children with ADHD and screen time.
Lockdown didn’t help with everyone using their phones to connect to their friends and family in the outside world. I think from there it just continued. It also didn’t help that we had to encourage screen time during lockdown with home learning online. And encouraged it to keep them quiet whilst we had to work. Now we are trying to get them off it again, they don’t get it!
Let’s be clear though. Screen time does NOT cause ADHD. Love when I hear this from parents and others who don’t know and just like to throw their two-pence worth in. However, whilst it doesn’t cause ADHD, it really doesn’t help it. Prolonged screen time does have a negative effect on our children which includes greater emotional dysregulation and, as I found in my household, difficulty getting them to school and lack of motivation.
When is it too much screen time?
Well, I just read that kids between 2-5 years old should have no screen time and children between 5-17 no more than two hours a day, excluding homework. This includes TV. Now I think this is unrealistic. As a child, I wasn’t glued to my tv, but I probably watched an hour or so of tv a night. As an older child, I would have watched a bit more as I’d watch series etc. Think how many shows the kids have to pick from now! They really are like kids in a candy shop. There is never nothing to watch!
As an adult now, I am guilty of binge-watching Netflix series! It’s how I unwind after a day. I’m not into the gym, and especially during winter months (I’m sitting here now with snow outside) I am not venturing out as much as I should, so TV plays a bigger role.
What I’m trying to say is that screen time is dependent on the child, why they are watching their screen and what they are watching, I think? On holiday I don’t let my kids have their phones when they should be in the pools and on the water slides, but if they are having a quiet time in the shade out of the sun, then yes, they can. I don’t let my kids have them when there are amazing fun things to do but, if they are home and chilling after homework, before dinner then yes, they can. And no, I don’t put a time limit on it. I do put a time limit after dinner because I know they need to come off it so they can disengage fully before sleep. And yes, this is a battle. Still.
So, here is my plan.
- Family Meeting – I think one of the best things you can do is actually sit down with your children, age-dependent of course. Chat about what you think is the right amount of time and suggest other things you can do
- No Electronic Days – I did use to have a no electronic Monday which was great, but gradually that slipped. I’m going to reintroduce that. If kids know it’s not allowed at all on that day, they generally don’t go near them. I actually find a total electronic-free evening easier than trying to prise the phones off them after an hour! I discovered my eldest son loves playing cards. It’s just easier for him to go on his games. For both of us! But actually, it’s so nice to play cards with him. When you have ‘rituals’ it can make life easier. Monday night, games night (non-electronic).
- Sports and Clubs – Try to get them into a club or sport they enjoy, whatever it may be. My boys are not into football at all but love tennis. Making sure they do something like this, at least once a week will help them (and our parent guilt).
- Bedtime Routine – By this, I mean letting them know what time their bedtime is and warning them, gently, before this time every 10 mins or so. My son is always ‘in the middle of a game’! I tell him that if his game finishes before such and such time he can’t start another one.
- No Phones at Mealtimes – All phones are put in another room to avoid distraction and beeps. It becomes a habit.
Believe me, I know this is hard. One of my kid’s biggest grievances is that their friends are still on and playing and that I’m mean. I can only tell them that I’m not their friend’s parents. It probably would be great to chat with the other parents and suggest that all the kids come off at the same time. But who am I to dictate what can go on in someone else’s house? I have days where I’m so utterly exhausted, I don’t have the energy to battle the screentime battle or maybe I have fallen asleep before my kid’s bedtime, who knows! I don’t judge, I know how nasty that can be.
The thing is, I am guilty of going on my phone too so it’s really going to have to start with me changing too. I did use to read more in bed, but now I watch my phone or my tv. I really can’t expect my kids to change if I don’t. I’m the adult here so it really needs to come from me. I haven’t blogged in a while. I keep starting a new Netflix series and then the next thing I know, it’s 11! If I find it hard to change and come off a screen, I know all my kid’s will, especially those with ADHD.
I think the key messages here are moderation, change for all, yes you and I too, and not to beat yourself up too much as a parent if they go on more than experts advise (bet not all those experts have multiple children with ADHD to contend with!). Sometimes we must do what is right for us. I’m not saying let them sit on their phones for 6 hours a day. But if your mental health is struggling and you need some time out then so be it. I’m sure our parents would have done the same had they had these portable screen babysitters to hand! I’ll keep you posted on how my plan goes, and please do let me know if you have found other things to work well for our children with ADHD and screen time limits.
I have started a private support group on Facebook for parents and carers who need support with their child with ADHD. It’s a friendly place to chat with others. Please do click this link ADHDinchildren to join. And for anyone on Instagram, I’m there too ADHD Mum.