Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Screen Time vs ADHD

There is an interesting article on the New York Times today about kids with Attention Deficit Disorder and the exposure to TV and video games. Here is a summary:
Even though ADHD kids may lack attention, they can spend hours very focused on TVs and computers. Actually, according to the study, a child’s ability to stay focused on a screen, though not anywhere else, is actually characteristic of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. There are complex behavioral and neurological connections linking screens and attention, and many experts believe that these children do spend more time playing video games and watching television than their peers.
Unfortunately, the kind of concentration that children bring to video games and television is not the kind they need to thrive in school or elsewhere in real life, according to Dr. Christopher Lucas, associate professor of child psychiatryat New York University School of Medicine. “It’s not sustained attention in the absence of rewards,” he said. “It’s sustained attention with frequent intermittent rewards.”
The child may be playing for points accumulated, or levels achieved, but the brain’s reward may be the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Children with A.D.H.D. may find video games even more gratifying than other children do because their dopamine reward circuitry may be otherwise deficient.
In a nutshell, increased screen time may be a consequence of A.D.H.D., but some researchers fear it may be a cause, as well. Some studies have found that children who spend more time in front of the screen are more likely to develop attention problems later on.
In a 2010 study in the journal Pediatrics, viewing more television and playing more video games were associated with subsequent attention problems in both schoolchildren and college undergraduates.
The stimulation that video games provide “is really about the pacing, how fast the scene changes per minute,” said Dr. Dimitri Christakis , a pediatrician at the University of Washington School of Medicine who studies children and media. If a child’s brain gets habituated to that pace and to the extreme alertness needed to keep responding and winning, he said, the child ultimately may “find the realities of the world underwhelming, understimulating.”
Children whose brains need neurochemical rewards seek out an activity that provides it. Children with social problems spend more time alone, facing a screen. Children struggling in the classroom develop mastery in a virtual world. I talk to parents of children with A.D.H.D. about basic dos and don’ts: No screens in the child’s bedroom. Pay attention to the content of the games, especially to violence. Set limits on screen time, and look for other ways to manage family interactions.
Source: NYTimes.com


  1. Anecdotally, I don't know. Both my husband and I have ADHD and I'm basically certain my oldest daughter has it--by her reaction to caffeine. Which has been present since she was 8 months old--over a year before she would be exposed to /any/ screen time (I was so careful with her to avoid it in the first couple years). My younger daughter, however, has zero symptoms and has had much more and earlier screen exposure (it's always easiest with the first, lol). ADHD exists in the homes that I know don't even have televisions, too.

    I can see it being more rewarding, though. I grew up with unrestricted access, but naturally moderated myself to about 2-3 hours a day (some days I wanted a movie, some days I didn't) because the outside and books were just as fascinating. When I hit the teen years, though, and developed severe recurrent depression, I started watching television and playing video games every waking moment I wasn't in school, sleeping, listening to music or reading. It never occurred to me that I was self-medicating the depression.

    My husband was restricted by his dad and outside of video games (which all gamers, regardless of the presence or absence of behavioral disorders spend an astounding amount of time playing) didn't spend that much time in front of a screen.

    Both my nieces were raised half by the t.v. and turn into right little zombies when it's on--neither one of them has ADHD. One is pretty normal and the other is highly gifted.

    But I also don't think ADHD is "caused," nor do we need to be "cured." It's existed in literature long, long before televisions and artificial dyes were created. Yes, we have to learn to live in society, but it's unfair that society can't do anything to help us by teaching us the way that we learn.

    I think society needs to stop looking at us as a "problem" that needs fixing and accept that we have a learning type--I'm a kinesthetic learner. I don't get much out of someone lecturing or reading... combine them and I do better, but put me IN IT... I'll learn it faster than you knew it could be learned.

    In my BD school, I was used to teach the other kids--the very thing that I was kicked out of public school for. I didn't just lecture or repeat the instructions, I had them actually doing it. Those teachers had a lot of things that they screwed up, but that wasn't one of them--they saw that I had a natural talent and they encouraged it and used it.

    We need perspective, not a cure.


  2. Heather, thanks for your very insightful feedback. Great information!