Note: Today’s post is a general approach to handling screen health when you are parenting a child or children with ADHD. For the purposes of this post I am mainly focused on household screen use. Smartphones and the teen years is a more intense level of screen use to navigate and for that reason my next blog post in 2 weeks will dive a little deeper into smartphones as an extension to this post. Stay tuned and make sure to sign up for my newsletter to make sure that you don’t miss it!
Digital wellness, screen health, and online safety are buzzwords we often hear as parents.
In our increasingly digital world, these themes have become even more relevant. Screens aren’t inherently “bad.” They can be tools for education, creative inspiration, and social connection. However, as with all things, balance is key. This is particularly true for children with ADHD, who often find screens alluring due to their immediate feedback and rapid-paced action.
As we approach the middle of summer vacation, balancing digital engagement with our children’s overall wellbeing can seem daunting. But, fear not, for this blog post aims to empower you with a nuanced and holistic approach towards managing screen time.
Imagine your child’s online world as a high-risk park playground teeming with potential dangers and excitement alike. As parents, we would supervise this play area, establish boundaries, and provide downtime after long sessions. The same principles apply in the digital world. Clear guidelines on screen duration, content type, and usage timing, coupled with periods of digital detox, can help your child manage screens in a healthy way.
To approach this topic holistically, I like to consider four major themes: The Displacement Effect, The Dopamine Connection, Mental Health, and Safety. Screen time studies have mixed ideas on how exactly screens impact development. A big part of this is because a lot of this science is ongoing and in progress. Recommendations vary from study to study and country to country. Often recommendations simply set time parameters, but don’t have actual science to back up the numbers stated. What research has in common is these 4 areas.
The Displacement Effect: What is your child’s screen time displacing? Important activities like sleep, physical activity, and social connection can easily be displaced with excess screen time. During summer, establish a routine that balances screen time with outdoor play, creative pursuits, and social engagements. This ensures a rich, well-rounded summer experience for your child.
The Dopamine Connection: Screens, with their constant rewards and minimal effort, can enthrall children with ADHD. Screens create a constant stream of new and reinforcing tasks, giving us a dopamine reward that involves less effort and repetition than most non-screen tasks. For children with ADHD that already struggle with motivation, getting started, boredom, and less available dopamine this is a key area to consider. It is important to give screens a clear “time home” so that children are clear on when screens are an option and when they are not. Additionally making non-screen activities like movement, creative pursuits, and outdoor time easy to access help to make the comparison feel less intense.
Mental Health: With extended screen time potentially correlating with increased anxiety, addictive behaviors, and self-regulation challenges, encouraging regular breaks and open conversations about feelings can help. Physical activities also go a long way in mood regulation and anxiety reduction.
Safety: The impulsive nature of children with ADHD can heighten safety concerns online. Additionally the anxiety, rejection sensitivity, and overwhelm that often co-exists with ADHD can increase the mental health impacts of online bullying, social media, and violent video games. Clear rules about online behavior, parental controls, and open dialogue about online safety can mitigate risks.
In this digital age, the goal isn’t to scare parents and children away from screens.
Instead, it’s about empowering parents to guide their children in creating lifelong healthy screen relationships. I have highlighted my approach to creating a healthy screen time plan below. Additionally for more on this topic check out my parenting in the digital age e-book:
Crafting Your Family’s Screen Health Plan: A Step-By-Step Guide
Screens can be both beneficial and potentially harmful, depending on how they’re used. As parents, guiding our children to foster a healthy relationship with screens is crucial. Here is a step-by-step guide to creating a Screen Health Plan for your family this summer, specifically tailored to families with children who have ADHD.
Step 1: Consider the Displacement Effect
Identify and list all the healthy, screen-free activities your child and family should prioritize, such as sleep, physical activity, imaginative play, social connections, outdoor time, mealtimes, and learning/productivity tasks. These elements form the basis of a balanced life.
Step 2: Create a Schedule
Develop a flexible schedule or rhythm that includes these priorities. This schedule should work around non-negotiable commitments such as work, school, and summer camps. Once you’ve allocated time for these priorities, you can then find a consistent time slot or sequence for screen use.
Step 3: Establish Boundaries
Decide on the boundaries that all adults in the home can maintain consistently. Remember, consistency is the key to a successful screen use plan. Consider using digital tools to uphold these boundaries without emotional stress.
Step 4: Decide on Digital Options
Together as a family, determine what platforms, devices, apps, and websites are permissible and when. Keep in mind that not all screen time is created equal. For instance, short trending videos affect brain chemistry differently than long-form movies. New post on this coming soon to my Instagram account: @behaviourcoach
Step 5: Set Clear Expectations
Establish clear screen behavior expectations, including where your children can use screens, what they can view, who they can interact with, how long they can engage, and how they should handle interruptions. Creating a visual guide can help children internalize and adhere to these new expectations.
I prefer to set time parameters such as screens are available between this time and this time if we are home as opposed to setting a duration. Sometimes setting a duration such as 2 hours per day can lead to children feeling like they HAVE to fit in their time even if they had a full day.
Step 6: Model Positive Screen Time Behavior
Parents should consider their own screen habits and how they influence their children’s screen behavior. Remember, technology is a tool that adults, too, need to use mindfully.
Implementing a Screen Health Plan can be challenging. Thankfully, various digital tools can support parents in maintaining boundaries and expectations. Such tools not only boost online safety but also lessen the emotional burden of consistently enforcing boundaries. Some recommended options include Kaspersky Safe Kids, Norton Family, Qustodio, and Meet Circle.
Remember, crafting a Screen Health Plan isn’t about banishing screens; instead, it’s about using them responsibly and mindfully. With this plan, your summer vacation can be a transformative period in your family’s digital wellness journey, empowering your children with lifelong screen health skills.