Many parents are concerned about their children spending a lot of time playing video games. Could these games cause or worsen ADHD? Are there any games that can actually help with focus and attention? Let’s review the pros and cons of gaming for both children and adults with ADHD.
Is gaming good for ADHD?
While there is no evidence that games cause ADHD, they can certainly create addiction and interfere with day-to-day activities. One study from California found that teenagers who use digital devices excessively are two times more likely to develop ADHD symptoms in the future when compared with infrequent users. Besides video games, frequent texting, watching movies, and video chats may also worsen symptoms of ADHD.
People who have ADHD are more drawn into video games than everyone else. That is because these games create a boost in dopamine, as they offer instant rewards, require short periods of attention, and stimulate the mind creating hyperfocus. The sounds, the flickering lights, the battles you can win, all the game’s details make the user feel successful, in power. Games also take a person out of the real world, which can be painful for a person with ADHD.
Gaming can be beneficial for someone with ADHD if a few rules are followed closely:
- Games should be a reward for a completed task- whether that task is related to homeworks or house chores. Many parents admit that they leave their children to play games freely. Yet, children should be allowed to play only after they finish a task. As an adult you can set similar rules, as well.
- Limit screen time. The average 8-10 years old American child spends almost 8 hours daily on different media, and teenagers may spend even more than 11 hours daily. Having a TV in the bedroom further increases the amount of screen time. This trend is very unhealthy. The American Pediatric Association suggests a total entertainment screen time of no more than 30-60 minutes daily on school days and no more than 2 hours during the weekends and holidays. Children younger than 2 years of age should not have exposure to screen media at all. Adults can also benefit from setting up a limited amount of screen time.
- The type of games is important. Parents have to monitor the games and movies played by the children. Games with extreme violence or games with sexual content are on the no-no list. Watch for signs of addictive behavior: getting angry or temper tantrums when they need to stop playing, staying late at night to play games, spending less time with family, visibly obsessed about gaming, loss of interest in other activities that were enjoyed in the past, and lower performance at school.
- Chess (the real, old fashioned chess with a real board, played with a person). Researchers believe people with ADHD could benefit from playing chess, as it decreases both inattention and overactivity. Playing chess trains the mind and improves critical thinking skills. It helps understand the other person’s perspective , thus promotes empathy and helps build relationships. The brain activity also improves, as more theta brain waves are formed in the brain during the game.
- EndeavorRx. The first prescription game officially approved by the FDA is 2020, EndeavorRx is recommended for children age 8-12, especially for those with inattention and inattention- hyperactivity forms of ADHD. This clinically proven game is not a replacement, but an addition to the standard treatment that includes medication and behavior therapy. According to EndeavorRx, 68% of the parents reported improvements in the ADHD related impairments after 2 months of use, and 73% of the children reported improvement in attention.
- A variety of online games are available at Mental UP, an education platform formed in collaboration with scientists, child development experts, and game designers.These games had been specifically created for children from preschool to grade 8 to develop memory, attention, logic, and cognitive skills.
- An Amazon exclusive game called Chutes and Ladders Game, can be played by children aged 3 and up. It is designed for those who need help to deal with both success and failure, using ladders to climb up and chutes to slide down which. The lesson of the game is that failures lead to success. The goal of the game Hoot Owl Hoot is to boost executive functioning skills. Hedbanz can help a child practice social skills , because they need a partner to communicate, ask questions and find answers.
- Consider alternatives to online games that have a positive impact on brain health and can be equally enjoyable. Listening to music, playing a sport and finding a new hobby can all benefit a person with ADHD.
Using the right games, for limited amounts of time, and as a reward system can be beneficial for individuals with ADHD. It is however important to avoid games that create addiction, promote aggression or cause stress and anxiety. It is best to evaluate after a couple of months the effects of playing those games and adjust the plan as needed.