For a long time I did not watch TV at all.
Then I discovered Hulu and Netflix…
Sometimes, I admit, I watch too much TV, especially during the winter months. I’ll even multitask – checking email and watching a show.
Mostly, I watch TV as a way to relax and turn off my brain.
Is this ok?
Exploring an Opinion
What is the impact of electronic use by children and adults with ADHD?
Last week Pierre de Villiers emailed me the comments below and asked me to respond. Since I thought my response would be of interest to many of you, with his permission, I decided to answer it in a public forum. While Pierre’s comments are about children, the issues he raises are also relevant for adults with ADHD.
I am of the opinion that screen time (computer games, play station, TV, I-Pod) is a large contributing factor that compounds the negatives in a child with ADHD and that cutting right back on screen time will automatically adjust many of the negatives and provide the child with opportunities to channel his behaviour and energy into positive and creative actions.
What Does The Evidence Say?
First, the chicken and egg question. While Pierre did not assert this, I think it is important to point out that there is no evidence to suggest that electronic use causes ADHD.
However, the research is clear that excessive electronic use does decrease a person’s ability to focus in other endeavors. A research conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health concluded:
“Extensive exposure to television and video games may promote development of brain systems that scan and shift attention at the expense of those that focus attention.”(Jensen, et al., 1997).
Further, Dr. Amen in his book, Healing ADD: The Breakthrough Program That Allows You to See and Heal the Six Types of ADD, agrees. He notes that repeatedly engaging in no brain activities, such as TV, decreases a person’s ability to focus. The less you work it, the weaker it becomes.
What Does Electronics Provide?
Being able to attend to activities can be quite a challenge for adults and children with ADHD. While excessive use of electronics does not cause ADHD, it can further compromise the ability of a person with ADHD to focus.
Deciding to stop using electronics or taking them away from your children isn’t the solution.
As I noted in earlier article, Is The Use Of Electronic Media Stealing Your Time?, the key to devising an appropriate solution will come from an understanding of the reasons for the overuse.
Some of the common reasons that children and adults overuse electronics are:
- It is a form of escapism. Researcher Acevado-Polakovich (Schmidt, 2008) found that children may use TV as a substitute for social interaction, especially if they are experiencing peer rejection. For adults, it may be a way to avoid problematic issues in their life.
- It is a default activity. Decision making can be a struggle for many with ADHD and using electronics may become a habit. Acevado-Polakovich also discovered that children with ADHD are likely to watch more TV with their parents, perhaps because it is a “low stress, low conflict activity.”
- Electronics can also satisfy a biological need for stimulation.
What is The Solution?
If you or your child have ADHD, all the symptoms, positive and negative, will still be present if you discontinue using electronics. Adults and children alike will still have challenges of filtering out distractions, finishing tasks on-time, remembering tasks, etc.
The solution is not always straight forward, as it depends on the needs of each individual. Here are some general guidelines I use.
- Create a holistic treatment plan, as I noted in the article, Is The Use Of Electronic Media Stealing Your Time?.
- Address the reasons for the excessive use. For example, if a child struggles with choosing an activity, they may need the support and involvement of an adult to cultivate alternatives.
- Engage in alternative activities, like exercise / sports, to satisfy the need for biological stimulation.
- Use moderation. Electronics are not bad. Noted pediatrician, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, recommends not more than an hour of TV a day for kids. I think this is a good guideline for adults, too. (I’m working on it!)
- Use electronics as a reward, if needed. Make an agreement with your child that you will take away his allotted electronics time if he does not fulfill his responsibilities, like homework.
ADDed Perspectives Bottom Line:
Electronic use, in moderation, can be an enjoyable activity and is not harmful. When the use is excessive, though, the reasons for the overuse should be addressed in crafting a workable solution.