Summer vacation has started, and inevitably our children will be spending a lot more time in front of TV sets, smartphones, and computers—any screen that helps reduce boredom. It may be convenient for us parents that our children are occupying themselves, but is it really such a good thing for children with ADHD during summer? Not really.
To understand why, we’ll take a look at what happens in the brain when the children play computer games or watch TV. Does the fact that they can concentrate so intensely while playing at the computer mean that they can also do so in class? Is there any way to take away these devices? And if not, how can we make them useful rather than harmful?
What is the effect of screens on your children’s brain
Surely you’ve noticed how focused your children are when they play computer games or watch TV. Almost nothing can distract them, and they can sit there for hours. So why can’t they concentrate the same way in class or while doing homework?
If we scanned your child’s brain while playing a computer game we would see that it is making a huge effort to generate activity in neurons that process the large amount of excitement caused by the game. But the kind of concentration the child needs in order to play a game is entirely different from the concentration he needs to listen and learn in school, where he must focus attention for long periods of time without receiving any immediate positive feedback. The computer, on the other hand, provides immediate feedback after every action.
Computer games are designed as a series of challenges. After completing each challenge, the game awards points to the child and opens the next challenge to him. The child progresses from victory to victory. In the brain, each victory causes the secretion of dopamine, which is the chemical expression of excitement.
How does any of this relate to ADHD? Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is not properly regulated when a person has ADHD. The computer game that affects the secretion of dopamine works the same way as Ritalin: it regulates the secretion of dopamine, which doesn’t happen naturally for children with ADHD. This is why ADHD children love their computer games so much; these games are so exciting compared to all the other boring games away from the screen. For children with ADHD during summer, there is much more time for exciting screens.
To be honest, children with ADHD are not the only ones who are addicted to screens. Everywhere you go, you see children and adults with their heads down staring at their smartphones. These little screens are stealing our children’s attention and time. And we haven’t even begun to talk about their social skills and about what happens to them if they spend all day in front of the screens. Even when they do talk to friends, they do so by texting or using instant messages or Facebook.
Make “screen rules” for children with ADHD during summer vacation
During the school year, children spend half the day in school, away from screens. But during summer vacation, if they are not given viable alternatives, they can spend the entire day doing nothing but staring at screens.
To be realistic, we cannot keep our children away from screens altogether, but here are a few things we can do to limit their use:
- Make the time spent in front of the screen positive: instead of useless games and movies, find games that are educational or can help develop certain skills.
- Limit the use of screens to several hours a day. The smaller the child is, the less time he should be spending in front of the screen. Make the rules very clear to everybody and stick to them even when it’s not convenient for you to do so.
- Set clear rules about the use of screens in your home. For example:
– No screens during meals
– No screens when friends are over to play
– No screens after 7 p.m.
– No screens for more than two hours at a time
Make rules that suit your household and that you can live with and enforce.
- Help find alternatives: encourage other games indoors and outdoors, invite friends to come over to play, decide on other activities that you can do together during vacation. This will give your children something to look forward to and a reason to take their eyes off the screen. ADHD during summer is not as hard as you think if your child has activity options.
Have a great vacation!