We are in the 21st Century and the genie is well and truly out of the bottle. Technology has exploded into our lives and we are all reliant on digital devices that entertain and control some aspect of our day-to-day living.
Our children with ADHD are using screens to partake in gaming, watching videos and sport, connecting and communicating or checking out funny memes on social media.
Screens are compelling. They are designed to be addictive, sweeping us into the next thing. Whether it is on a phone, Xbox, iPad, Gameboy, tablet or laptop.
An ADHD brain is craving interest, excitement and a dopamine hit. All can be provided by that little inanimate object that doesn’t nag or answer back.
So what’s the problem?
Many parents are concerned that too much time is spent on a screen and it is affecting behaviour and mood.
So let’s see what’s going on….
So let’s start with the positive benefits of your child being on a screen…
- Creates a sense of achievement and success – your child is bloomin good at this stuff
- Improves relationships – your child may find it easier to connect with people online
- Enhances critical thinking – navigating the online world needs amazing problem-solving skills
- Reading skills – there is no doubt that there are ample opportunities for your child to read things that are interesting and purposeful (unlike a school reading book!)
- Development of fine motor skills – all that typing!
Here are just a few concerns that may be worrying you…
- Safety – a major factor for parents
- Lack of exercise – your child needs movement to spark the dopamine chemical and keep healthy
- Affects mood – maybe being on too long makes your child cross and irritable
- Battle to come off – most probably the biggest cause of rows in your home right now
- Interferes with family life – what else could you be doing together
- May affect sleep – a tired child is an unhappy child
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Before I continue, my mantra about parenting is that there should be collaboration as much as possible. Have a discussion, ask for suggestions and find a win-win.
If you go steaming in with a set of rules and possible consequences, then you will be met with defiance, arguments and refusal. Instead, work out together what is reasonable.
Obviously it depends on the age of your child. A teenager may need more negotiation than a 6 year old. But nevertheless, the same principles apply.
ONLINE SAFETY CHECKS
This is your most important role. There needs to be an understanding that as their parent, you will be regularly checking their device. How often this happens is up for discussion. Make it clear you will not read messages but just skim. You are not invading their privacy, you are keeping them safe. You would not send your child off on their own in the real world without safety checks.
For the younger children there should be controls to prevent certain usage and maybe some time limits. However remember your child is better at this than you. Particularly the teenagers. So they will know how to hide and navigate apps and delete their search history. But if they know that you are also quite savvy and are checking, then they may feel more protected. Remember your child doesn’t feel safe if they are feral and given a free rein.
Radio 4 ‘File on 4’ investigated the use of the platform Robox and it may shock you what was discovered. Aimed at children, there are many adults who are logging on too. Children are exposed to scamming, hacking, nudity, theft of Robucks and unmonitored chat. Roblox is aware of the problems and working to set up new controls. A Government Online Safety Bill may help eradicate some of this undesirable behaviour.
But it is important that you are aware and keep monitoring.
It is so important that your relationship with your child is loving, kind and supportive. When they get into difficulties (and they will) they want to be able to come to you and ask for help. No blame, no shame. As I mentioned above, they may come across things that are unsuitable or inappropriate. You cannot ban or delete as they will find a way. Instead, create an atmosphere in your home of discussion, trust and no blame.
Maybe you could engage with them online. Play the game. Check out what Roblox is all about and comment when you see inappropriate stuff. Watch a YouTube together. Find out what is so compelling and addictive and empathise how hard it is to stop and what the possible pitfalls and dangers they may encounter.
Where is your child on their screen? Maybe consider changing the location so you can keep an eye on what’s happening.
PLAN WHAT’S NEXT
Getting your child off a screen is the battle. But maybe the thing is not how long they are on the screen, but what they are actually doing. If they’re chatting with friends, watching a movie, researching about the environment then being online feels cosier. However, if they are involved with shoot-up gaming, requesting more money for Robucks or getting frustrated that they are losing a game, then you may be more mindful that they need to do something else.
You are training your child to help themselves when they are older. Give them the tools to realise that they are feeling wound up, tired, agitated. Promote strategies to set themselves limits.
Make the thing they need to do next really motivating. Something they would enjoy. Go on Pinterest for some ideas what they could do. Use a planner and write it down clearly.
Your child may need an audible alarm, touch on the shoulder or the visual reminder of the next thing.
Make some time for ‘no screens’. This could be whilst you’re at the table eating. Everyone in the family should follow the rule and put their phone away.
Charge you phone out of your bedroom. It is too tempting at bedtime to keep checking – FOMO is real for some people. So if it’s the family rule that all devices leave the bedroom, it is fairer for your ADHD child that is always seeking justice. Buy a digital alarm clock or use an old device if you need an audio book or sounds played to aid sleep.
ACTUALLY, IT’S OKAY
It’s tough to see your child with their head down, disengaged from the family and engrossed in a world you can’t touch.
But consider the positives.
Discuss the pitfalls and keep your relationships loving.
Let them monitor their usage and together set limits and strategies to come off and do something else.
Don’t stress it.
Actually, it’s okay.