Last week we began a discussion on a topic that some people would regard as fairly controversial: a possible link between ADD/ADHD diagnoses and video games. I pointed out that I would normally be reluctant to make strong claims about the existence such a link. This is slowly changing thanks to more and more research coming out showing a positive correlation between gaming and ADD/ADHD.
Research on this topic is still in its infancy and it is clear that we might be dealing with a kind of chicken and egg situation. In other words: Are children suffering from ADD/ADHD more likely to become addicted to video games; or is it the case that videogames exacerbate the symptoms of ADD/ADHD? This very important question will only be answered by focused research. What is clear, however, is that parents of children struggling with ADD/ADHD should at the very least actively monitor their children’s involvement with videogames.
The monitoring and perhaps even control of gaming will not go down too well with most dedicated gamers, especially as many of them view their gaming identity as such an important part of who they are. I am convinced, however, that this will in some cases be unavoidable if you have your children’s best interests at heart. I suspect that the best way to deal with this issue is not to go in with all guns blazing but to rather attempt to have a rational discussion about the content and possible ‘real-life’ consequences of videogames.
I would strongly recommend that you carefully analyze your child’s video gaming before you attempt to have a discussion about it with him or her. This does not mean that you should follow them around with a clipboard for a number of days but rather that you take an active interest in what they are playing and how often they do so. Some of the things that you should pay attention to are:
Content: Modern videogames often have highly complex storylines. These storylines (and related activities) can sometimes be highly questionable from an ethical point of view (e.g. Players are rewarded for killing policemen in the Grand Theft Auto series). This is perhaps enough reason for restricting the playing of some games. From the perspective of a parent dealing with ADD/ADHD there are also several other reasons. Many videogames make use of shock tactics, repetitive actions, lighting, music and sound to create heightened levels of attention and awareness. This kind of adrenaline induced ‘hyper-reality’ will often make it very difficult for a gamer to return to the real world and pay attention to rather more mundane things such as chores and schoolwork. Many concerns in the first area (e.g. questionable ethics and morals) will be pointed out by the rating systems used for games. The second set of concerns (i.e. the creation of a stimulating hyper-reality that will spoil a child for the ‘ordinary’) will not be. It is therefore highly advisable that you do your own research into the kinds of games that your child is playing instead of merely relying on the ratings system. If you would not feel comfortable trying out a game for yourself you should, at the very least, read some reviews on the internet.
Time: You may have gotten used to your son’s position in front of the console as his ‘natural habitat’! However, many parents would be shocked by how many hours some children routinely spend playing videogames. This is obviously very worrying from both a health and a social development point of view. The interesting thing is that most gamers would themselves be rather surprised by the amount of time that they spend playing. Keeping an informal tally and discussing it with your child could help clarify the problem when you do get round to a discussion.
Activity displacement: Every hour spent playing is automatically displacing other activities. Could it be that your child’s playing habits is crowding out activities that could be very beneficial in helping him/her deal with the effects of ADD/ADHD? You can attempt to determine whether this is the case by making a list of things that your children enjoyed before taking up gaming and that they can’t find the time for anymore. Sometimes these activities can be something as basic as sitting down for a balanced ‘ADD/ADHD busting’ meal with the rest of the family!
Carefully investigating the three areas listed above (content, time, and activity displacement) should give you a very clear idea of whether your child’s gaming has strayed from innocent leisure activity to significant contributing factor to ADD/ADHD symptoms. This is obviously a very tough call to make and the resultant discussion is likely to be even tougher! I am convinced however that going through this exercise could be extremely important in helping parents to protect their children from long term harm. Next week we will discuss ways in which you can encourage responsible and healthy gaming habits.