How to help kids with ADHD manage screen time

By The Understood Team

How to help kids with ADHD manage screen, girl on a phone playing a game

Lots of kids have trouble managing screen time and knowing when it’s time to unplug. But ADHD can make it even harder for kids to make good decisions about technology. Learn about common trouble spots and ways you can help.

Trouble spot: Time management

The challenge: ADHD can make it hard to keep track of time. Kids who struggle with time management can spend hours and hours in front of a screen without realizing how much time has passed.

How you can help: Avoid saying things like “Five more minutes.” Instead, learn how long it takes your child to complete specific aspects of games and social media. Then talk together about what your child wants to accomplish, and set the stopping point based on those goals.

That allows you to give warnings based on natural stopping points, like “You need to log off at the end of this round.” Make sure to praise your child for logging off promptly and without a lot of complaining.

Trouble spot: Impulse control

The challenge: Kids with ADHD are more likely to engage in risky behavior, like watching inappropriate videos or sexting.

How you can help: Keep TVs, computers, and other electronic devices in a common area, like the living room. This makes it harder for your child to spend too much time online or engage in risky behavior.

Set time and content limits in the settings on your child’s cell phone or tablet. And let them know you’ll be doing surprise inspections to make sure they’re staying safe.

Trouble spot: Difficulty sleeping

The challenge: Bedtime can be challenging for kids with ADHD. Being online at night can make it even tougher for them to wind down.

How you can help: Try to end screen time at least an hour before your child goes to bed. To ensure that happens, try moving cell phones and other electronic devices out of the bedroom at night. You can also set “downtime” in the settings on many devices.

Trouble spot: Getting distracted

The challenge: All the bells and whistles online make it hard for kids with ADHD to stay focused on things like chores or homework. And when they’re online, kids with ADHD can get “lost” in a game and forget they had those tasks to do in the first place.

How you can help: Avoid having the TV on in the background during homework time. And if the homework space happens to be in a busy room, headphones or earplugs could help.

Keep in mind, too, that just because your child is on the computer doesn’t mean the homework is actually getting done. They may be distracted by their phones too. Check out apps to help kids manage online distractions, like games and social media, until homework is complete.

Create a screen time contract

Making a screen time contract is a great way for you and your child to set boundaries together.

Brainstorm together so that the contract:

  • Builds in time for homework
  • Includes ideas on stopping points and transitions
  • Has firm guidelines about the types of apps and sites that are not acceptable

Working together on a contract can help you feel more like teammates and less like opponents when it comes to managing screen time.

Use this cell phone contract as a starting point. And once you’ve both agreed to it and signed it, keep it someplace handy so you can both review it regularly.

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    About the author

    About the author

    The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Jodi Gold, MD is a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist in private practice.