ADHD and Video Games: Is There a Link?
Everything in Moderation
"Too much of anything isn't good for you," says Eugene Arnold, MD, child psychiatrist at Ohio State.
Video games take away the need for what Arnold calls, "effortful attention." According to Arnold, "the game controls what you pay attention to. But kids with ADHD need practice in controlling their attention." So, he stresses restraint. "There's nothing wrong with video games in moderation," Arnold says.
In his practice, he's actually using screen technology that looks a lot like a video game to see if kids with the disorder can increase their concentration. Test subjects control space ships on a screen using their brainwaves. When the mind wanders, the ships go off course. When there's concentration, the ships stay on course.
The experiment is designed to teach kids how to control their brain function. The goal is to reduce the need for medication, which, right now, more than half of all kids diagnosed with ADHD take.
"Practice makes perfect," says Arnold, who stresses that they're not just playing video games. "This is not entertainment," he says. "This is hard work for these kids, who are learning how to take charge of paying attention."
He calls it "brain exercise."
Be Clear With Your Kids
Even without an experiment like Arnold's, video games already are one of the few areas where kids with ADHD can exercise cognitive skills. Games demand that they pay attention, even for a short time. Players must focus in order to achieve the goals of the game. Along the way, there are consequences, both good and bad. This is a concept that works well within the game, and in the real world.
"Whatever the issue is, there are consequences for good and bad behavior. That's what I try to stress to parents," says Larry Rosen, MD, author and research psychologist. He says you must be clear with your kids about the rules when it comes to time spent on video games. "I tell them to negotiate with their kids, make the child part of all decisions on behavior and consequences," Rosen says. He suggests setting caps on the amount of time your child can play video games. "And there should be a break between games," he adds. "Something that doesn't require a screen."