Reviewed by Heather Cashell, LCSW
Video games are an enormous part of many peoples childhood. It gives children something to do, it keeps them entertained during a rainy day, it provides a sense of accomplishment when they play well, and it can be educational (depending on the game the child is playing).
According to the Entertainment Software Association, approximately 90% of all American children play video games, and it generally follows children into their adult years. This is evidenced by the fact that nearly 58% of all Americans play video games and the average age of a gamer is 30 years old.
While video games are nothing new to children, especially with the rise of technology over the past few decades, many parents are concerned for their child’s health when combining video games with ADHD symptoms -- especially since it’s very easy to gain a video game addiction.
So, are video games a cause for concern with ADHD?
Over the years, researchers have failed to find any evidence supporting the fact that playing video games causes ADHD, also known as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. They’ve also concluded that playing video games doesn’t worsen or treat ADHD symptoms.
With that being said, researchers have found that children with ADHD often play video games more than children without ADHD. Although ADHD causes inattentiveness, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity, many children don’t experience those same symptoms while playing video games.
At the same time, research shows that continued and excessive use of video games can lead to an increased risk of developing ADHD symptoms in the future.
This has led many researchers and parents to wonder why children with ADHD are so drawn to video games and how it impacts their life as they grow older -- especially since most of these children continue their gaming patterns into their young adult and adult years.
Don’t worry; we’re going to detail everything you need to know about combining video games with ADHD -- including when video games are good for your child and when it’s time to start worrying about the video game’s impact on your child’s health.
WHY DO CHILDREN WITH ADHD GRAVITATE TOWARDS VIDEO GAMES?
Individuals with ADHD are turning to video games at an increasingly high rate when coping with certain symptoms. While it’s not a cause for concern in some situations, other situations need to be addressed immediately to ensure your child forms positive and healthy habits.
Although researchers continue to study the different reasons why video games are so popular among ADHD patients, they have zeroed in on several possibilities:
- Instant Rewards - since many children with ADHD struggle to learn in a normal setting, video games offer an opportunity to learn at their own pace without being ridiculed by others. Video games also trigger the release of dopamine in the brain, making the child feel pleasure.
- Escape Reality - many children with ADHD don’t enjoy their day-to-day life and are often looking for a way to escape reality. Video games take the child away from what’s happening around them and allow them to play in a fantasy world.
- Social Setting - when video games were first introduced to the world, they were largely a one- or two-person activity. With video games today, you can either play alone or with dozens of others at once. It gives the user control over the type of setting they want. When playing with others, children find it easier to socialize than in real life.
- Hyper-focus - one of the major symptoms of ADHD in children is hyper-focus and zero-in on a task or activity. When playing video games, children enter this extreme level of focus and struggle to pay attention to anything happening around them. In some cases, the child might not hear you if you call them due to their hyper-focus mode.
Children with ADHD seem to love playing video games. It helps them forget about their symptoms, keeps them entertained in ways that other activities don’t allow them to socialize from a distance, and helps them find pleasure on a daily basis.
Due to the child’s extreme interest in playing video games, as opposed to their lack of interest in everything else, many parents struggle to say “No” to their children when playing video games. Some parents just want to see their child happy, while others have no idea what video games are doing to their child.
Either way, parents need to understand the different benefits and downfalls of video game usage -- especially when combining that usage with ADHD symptoms. It’s the only way to know when video games are right and when they’re wrong for the child.
ARE THERE ANY BENEFITS WITH ADHD AND VIDEO GAMES?
In addition to the child enjoying video games, there are various other reasons why parents are hesitant to intervene with their child’s video game habits. Believe it or not, video games come with various benefits for both children and adults.
First of all, it’s a great way to socialize. We mentioned this above, but it’s worth mentioning again because most parents want to see their children build relationships with others. When parents see their child form friendships online, it’s hard to tell their child “No” when they want to play.
Secondly, video games help children build very useful skills that translate into their normal day-to-day life. For example, children increase their visual-spatial ability when playing video games. They also improve their hand-eye coordination, decision-making, ability to strategize, plan, prioritize, and solve problems.
Finally, video games help children collaborate with others, understand the importance of teamwork, and bond with the other players in the game.
Many people don’t know that the FDA approved a specific video game as a form of ‘medicine’ that is marketed and prescribed to children of all ages. It’s a simple, obstacle-dodging, target-collecting game that doesn’t look as real as some of the other games your child plays, but the research behind it is astounding.
Available on smartphones and tablets, the FDA studied over 600 children before concluding that it’s an effective treatment for ADHD. In fact, nearly 33% of the children who played saw a significant reduction in attention-deficit and saw that progress over several months.
While it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution and won’t replace traditional treatments for ADHD, it shows that video games have a use in medicine. Of course, it all depends on the video game being discussed.
WHEN ARE VIDEO GAMES TOO MUCH?
Parents are often at odds when it comes to ADHD and video games. Sometimes video games are frowned upon when the child has ADHD, while other times, they’re highly recommended. It's difficult for many parents today to keep track of when video games are okay and when they’re too much for the child.
Since video games have many benefits in today’s digital world, you don’t want to take video games away from your child, especially if it’s something they enjoy. The key is to limit the amount of time they spend playing video games and ensure they aren’t using video games to replace other activities.
The best way to monitor this is to pay attention to your child’s habits. Do they often choose to play video games before doing their homework or after their homework? Do they choose to play video games instead of going outside to play? Are they starting to spend more time playing video games than interacting with others in real life?
Video games are supposed to compliment the child’s life, not take over the child’s life and consume their normal routine. Over time, the children will become more dependent on the video game than seek happiness outside of the video game.
FINDING ALTERNATIVES TO VIDEO GAMES
When parents start to notice changes in the child’s behavior, thought process, routine, or actions, it’s time to take action before developing a video game addiction.
First, the parent must learn to set rules for video game usage. This includes limiting the amount of time the child plays each day, limiting how long they play each session, limiting what types of games they play and ensuring the child isn’t choosing video games over more important things.
Next, the parent needs to learn how to enforce the boundaries they set for the child. This often varies depending on the child and how they react to certain rules, but it needs to be done. Whether that means locking up the video games until you’re ready for them to play or punishing them when rules aren’t followed, parents must keep their children honest.
While taking away the video game, it’s also important to help the child find healthier alternatives and better ways to spend their time. The obvious alternatives are the ones that need to be completed -- homework, studying, chores, and playing outside are all required each day.
Outside of that, try spending more time with your child to learn more about what they enjoy, their hobbies, and what interests them. If they don’t have any, help them find it. Often, children simply don’t know what they like and don’t have the intuition to search for it.
Joining a sports team or participating in individual sports, signing up for group activities like Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, and joining a dance class are some quality options. There are countless activities for children no matter what city you’re in; you just have to find them!
VIDEO GAME ADDICTION, ADHD, OR BOTH?
With how popular both video games and ADHD are today, it’s becoming increasingly common for children and young adults to suffer from both of them. While video games often provide the child with joy, it doesn’t always mean a positive outcome.
As children become more obsessed with video games, they become more dependent on it -- especially when they have ADHD and struggle to find that same pleasure in other activities. With that being said, it’s highly difficult to know when a child has ADHD, when they’re suffering from a video game addiction, and when it’s both.
That’s where Mind Diagnostics steps in to provide some clarity. We’ve created a wide range of mental health tests -- including an online ADHD test -- to guide children and parents towards the right help or treatment.
It’s an easy test that only takes minutes to complete, but the results could change your life for the better. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions, comments, or concerns. We look forward to helping you find the right therapist for your mental health issues.