Screen Out All Distraction – ADHD and Television

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Television and ADHDFirst there was the television….then the computer….the Wii….the iPad and cell phones that do everything from cruise the internet to take pictures. Screens full of information can easily distract your ADHD-1 teen or tween from doing anything productive.

I know that a kid who says he’s working on a term paper on his laptop can have windows active with Facebook, Youtube videos and several virtual chatting conversations. Despite the excuse you may hear – “But Mom, I need to get on Facebook to get my assignment from Jessica!” – most screen time isn’t that fruitful.

How can you, the parent still have some semblance of control (think benevolent dictatorship) when so many screens are vying for your child’s attention? Here are a few tips to manage the screens in your household:

Television, the one-eyed god of the family room. The science fiction that scares me the most is the sort that refers to the ever presence of a blaring television set without an “off” button. I’m not paranoid and I don’t lie awake at night worrying about governmental control of the masses through the TV. However, I really don’t like to see my kids staring blankly, passively at a television screen.

We weren’t very far along in our kids’ academic careers when we recognized that homework and television couldn’t peacefully co-exist. (This was true even for the daughter who didn’t have ADHD-I tendencies.) For our family, the obvious solution was no television during the school week. You may find that it works at your house to allow a thirty minute show once all assignments are done for the next day. Draw those boundaries at a place that’s comfortable and workable at your house, but be consistent in whatever you decide. Your kids can always sniff out indecisiveness and inconsistency.

Computers, how to cruise the net without fender benders or fatalities. Every person at our house has a personal computer. Part of the reason is their dad’s a geek (whom I dearly love, by the way) and is always shopping for the latest technological advancements. Another part of the reason is that we hate sharing our computer (that has access to automatic billing, checking accounts, articles about ADHD and other vital resources) with a child who can attract a computer virus faster than a dog attracts fleas. I hate dealing with a crashed hard drive, don’t you?

The internet is a great tool – personally, I love spell check and finding a synonym with the click of a button. Yet even with security software and various parentally installed blockages, a misspelled word could land your child in an inappropriate site. There’s no computer-generated substitute for your physical presence. When your child’s on the net, be in the room! Notice where he is – and don’t be afraid to ask questions. “Is this the site you need for the history report?” The inevitable audible eye roll is evidence that you’re doing your job as a vigilant, tech-savvy parent.

At what age is it okay for your child to have a computer in his bedroom? For our family, the university sophomore has a computer in his dorm room, and the high school senior has a computer in her bedroom. The 9th grader still mostly uses her laptop at the dining room table – and I’m good with that. I can still peel potatoes, talk to her and occasionally walk behind her to get a glimpse of the screen.

Kayla’s family has all boys, who have different makeups (read hormones and temptations). They have a policy to not let their high schoolers have a computer in the bedroom. Mike still lives at home, and although he is an adult, he still opts to keep his computer in family space because, as he says, “I’m a guy.”

X-Box, Wii and other video gamers’ dream machines. Video games, like TV shows, have been relegated to weekends rather than school days at our house. Holidays and summer vacation time can easily turn into one long virtual game fest if your kids control the hand-held controller. While veteran video gamers have great manual dexterity, I was more interested in encouraging the habit of reading in our children. One method that combines a love of video games and the hope of more reading is a chart where kids earn their video gaming time by increments of time spent reading. For example, 30 minutes of reading could earn 30 minutes of gaming. If you’re interested in seeing the sort of Excel spreadsheet that was used in our family, email me and I’ll send you a copy.

Is your cell phone turned to “vibrate”? Cell phones are great for a parent’s peace of mind, but once your son’s home, there’s no logical reason for the cell phone to ring. Short (no longer than 15 minutes) vital calls can be made to the land line less expensively. A gadget that not only receives calls but also receives text messages, takes pictures, offers GPS, cruises the net….should not be on the desk of any individual with ADHD-Inattentive tendencies who hopes to study or get homework done. Beep, bo, buh, beep, BEEP…dang how do you get that cute little French accent mark over a word here??? Sorry, I was distracted…..

Screens are here to stay, but they don’t need to dominate your life or your children’s lives. Set some boundaries, be consistent and use all the varying screens as tools when you need them.