ADHD and Technology: Sensible Solutions to Screen (In)Sanity

Do you feel like your son or daughter with ADHD has turned into a tech-obsessed stranger? If so, you are not alone. Many parents and caregivers are distraught and overwhelmed by the role that technology now plays in the lives of their children and teens. While you may sometimes want to throw the iPad, Chromebook, smartphone, etc. out of the window, I recommend that you take a deep breath and create a plan for a balanced media diet instead. 

The acronym SCREENS can assist you in this process: 

Start with reasonable goals.

Collaborate on your technology plan.

Redirect to agreed-upon alternatives.

Expect pushback and decide in advance what to do.

Employ Easy on/Easy off technique.

Notice cooperation and nurture consistency.

Screens stay out of bedrooms at night. 

START with reasonable goals about media use right now. During COVID, kids are on their technology more, plain and simple. But this doesn’t mean that they should have free reign over screen use in your family. What do you think is a reasonable daily amount of screen time? What do they think? If you are unsure, talk with your pediatrician or primary care provider for their advice. The goal is balancing the high dopamine activities of online stimulation with lower dopamine periods to rebalance brain chemistry and settle down.

COLLABORATE on a plan about when, where and screen time occurs. All screen time is not equal: there’s a difference between TikTok, texting, Snapchat, gaming, surfing the net and watching television. Talk about these differences and how to equalize them. Find neutral ground between what your kids want and what you think is best. The bar may be lower now due to COVID and that’s okay but let them know it’s an evolving situation where things can change.

REDIRECT and be very clear about what qualifies as inappropriate use of screens. Sexting, online bullying, visiting unsuitable sites, sneaking devices and being online at 2 a.m indicate a lack of respect about screen privileges. Set up logical consequences for the behaviors listed above and ways for kids to earn back your trust.

EXPECT PUSHBACK and you will not be surprised when it arises once again. Your child or teen will not thank you for creating screen time as an earned privilege. In fact, they will most likely become angry and tell you that being online is their right. I don’t agree. Our children are entitled to food, clothing, shelter, love, healthcare, education and a secure environment. Screen time is not on this list. It is a ‘want-to” that follows the ‘have-to’s’ of life. Have a plan in place for this so you are prepared. Monitor your own screen use. Kids with ADHD can smell hypocrisy a mile away. They will howl if adults stay on their phone at dinner but the kids’ phones are relinquished for a quiet meal.

EMPLOY EASY ON/EASY OFF TECHNIQUE and think about the role that you want technology to play in your family. Decide how much screen time (not for school) you want your child or teen to have daily. Have a conversation about how much they desire. Decide on a baseline amount and a bonus amount of time. Perhaps the baseline is one hour after homework is completed and another two hours for earned time. How kids EASE OFF baseline once it is completed determines if they earn some of the bonus time. You can also attach bonus time to completion of chores, lack of yelling or cursing, readiness for school, going to bed on time, etc. Any desired behavior should be linked to earned screen time. Write down your plan and post it in the kitchen so it can be referred to easily. 

NOTICE AND VALIDATE COOPERATION Notice and validate any cooperation your child offers and expect to adjust the plan along the way. Pick a time for a short weekly family meeting to discuss the earned privileges plan (maybe give it a snappy name) and how it’s going.  Expect to make adjustments but do not do this in the middle of an escalation. Your child will exert many tactics to get you to back down. Stay steady!! Let them know that all changes can be discussed in the weekly meeting and that negotiation does not mean they will get what they want. A good compromise occurs when everybody is a bit unhappy with the agreement. 

SCREENS STAY OUT OF BEDROOMS AT NIGHT to avoid sneaking and using technology at inappropriate times. Our brains need a break from looking at a screen to integrate, regroup and rest. Middle-of-the night texting, gaming or watching YouTube videos disrupts kids’ sleep and makes for tired, cranky children. Set up a screen-free family time during the day (meals, chores, games, baking, sports, etc.). This will give kids a chance to connect with others and practice real time social skills. It will also foster closer relationships with you through conversation and activity.

Good luck and remember that any change takes time, practice and patience to take hold!

Want to learn more?  Read more about ADHD