Does ADHD Mean I Have Less Attention?

Does ADHD Mean I Have Less Attention?
You’ll be surprised by the answer

It’s ADHD Awareness Month. Spread the word.

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ADHD key symptoms include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. It is normal for all children to exhibit these behaviors, but for children with ADHD, these behaviors are more severe and occur more often. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a child must have symptoms for 6 or more months and to a degree that is greater than other children of the same age.

But do children with ADHD really have less attention than their peers? Attention deficit is actually a misnomer of sorts; ADHD children do not have less attention or a ‘deficit’ of attention. Actually their attention is quite substantial, however their ability to direct it or manage it at will is very difficult.

Try to imagine this: four television stations playing in your mind at one time. A lot of information is pouring in, but it’s difficult for you to pay attention to any one thing for very long. That’s the typical mind of an ADHD person. Thus, their attention is not deficit, but it is fleeting; it’s directed quickly from one thing to another.

Think of it like this: you enter a cave with a flashlight (the flashlight will serve as a metaphor for attention). It’s very dark, but you very carefully shine the flashlight in the cave, directing it on the floor to carefully navigate. Your ADHD child enters the same cave with that same flashlight. He constantly shines it all over the cave as he walks forward. So, it’s clear, same flashlight (same attention), but his is scattered or diffused.

Now you know why he’ll walk through the living room time after time and bang his shin or knee on the same coffee table for years.

Now you know why, when you ask him to go to his bedroom, put on his pajamas, and get ready for bed, you find him sitting on his bed a half hour later playing a Game-boy. He processed the, “Go to your bedroom” part. His brain is not yet equipped to process multiple step directions. When that happens in school, it’s a mess.

But why can they play their Xbox or Play Station for hours on end? I literally have to yank the controller from my son’s hand to get him to come to dinner. A characteristic of ADHD is hyperfocus, the ability to tune out everything else and attend to only a particularly engaging stimulus. Video games use high intensity graphics and sound and are loaded with action. Your ADHD child’s mind is tuned for this type of stimulation. They can hyperfocus on this for hours on end. Unfortunately, your classroom teacher cannot compete on this level. As we’ve mentioned before, limit the use of high intensity video games.

Knowing your child’s mind is integral to understanding your child’s behavior. At times they may not respond to your demands and it creates a conflict, but it’s not due to defiance necessarily. It’s often due to the way they process or don’t process information. Knowing this can reduce your conflicts and improve your family life.

Video Game Addiction in ADHD Boys More Likely

Autistic boys too

Read the full article:

Research published in the online July 29 issue of Pediatrics reports that “Children with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] and those with ADHD may be at particularly high risk for significant problems related to video game play, including excessive and problematic video game use.”

Here’s what the researchers found:

*Boys with ADHD were also more likely to spend more time playing video games than other kids.

*More children with autism and ADHD had video game systems in their bedrooms than did typically developing boys.

*Boys with autism were also more likely to play role-playing games.

*Autistic boys played video games twice as long as non-autistic boys, 2.1 hours a day compared with 1.2 hours a day.

This confirms prior research. Other prior research suggests that many video games reduce attention spans, promote impulsive behavior, increase the likelihood of obesity, and greatly reduce social interaction.

It is safe to say that video game usage should be kept to a minimum. Use it as a reward system and not as a two to four hour entertainment system. Its use should be considered dessert (think small portions) and not the main course.

Texting and ADHD

Full artilcle:

How much has information and communication technology (ICT) affected our lives? Researchers say that the average teenager sends a total of over 3,400 electronic [text] messages every month or surfs the Internet at bedtime. Could texting and bedtime web time influence the severity of your child’s ADHD symptoms?

In a study by the JFK Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey, and presented at the 76th annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP), lead author Dr Peter G. Polos and his team found that more than half of these bedtime kiddy texters or web surfers are not only prone to have problems falling asleep, but experience mood, behavior and cognitive problems during the day.

“It is significant that these children are engaging in stimulating activity when they should be in an environment to promote sleep,” says Polos.

Polos’ team analyzed questionnaire responses from 40 children and young adults aged between 8 and 22. This is a small group and the results must be considered preliminary. However, the researchers found that those who used electronic technology at bedtime (texting, game playing, email, surfing, etc.) also experienced sleep-related problems such as excessive movements, leg pain and insomnia, and also had a “high rate of daytime problems, which can include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], anxiety, depression, and learning difficulties,” said Polos.

According to Medical News Today (, the analysis of the questionnaire data showed that:

* 77.5 per cent of the participants had persistent problems falling asleep.

* On average, participants were woken once per night by an ICT device.

* On average, a participant sent 33.5 emails or texts per night when they were supposed to be asleep; and the average number of people texted each night was 3.7.

* The average number of messages sent via ICT per person per month at sleep time was 3,404 and occurred over periods ranging from 10 minutes to 4 hours after bedtime.

* Among the adolescent participants, the older they were, the later they went to bed, and the more time they spent with their ICT devices at bedtime.

* Boys were more likely to use ICT to surf the net and play online games, while girls were more likely to text and make cell phone calls.

* High rates of cognitive and mood problems during the day were linked with sleep time related use of ICT, including ADHD, anxiety, depression, and learning difficulties.

* There were also higher rates of nighttime problems such as excessive movements, leg pain and insomnia.

Polos and colleagues concluded that use of ICT at bedtime may have “an adverse impact on sleep hygiene and daytime function which may be significant”, and that questions about this should be included in routine evaluations of patients reporting problems sleeping.

“These data suggest that further studies are needed to evaluate the short and long term consequences of STRICT on sleep,” they wrote.

Polos explained that “sleep is largely habitual in nature”, and if “children begin this type of behavior, they may set themselves up for the need for external stimulation before sleep later in life”.

This could lead to problems like difficulty falling asleep, not having enough sleep, and feeling sleepy during the day, he said adding that:

“More research is needed to determine all of the short- and long-term consequences.”

Many parents know that healthy sleep habits are especially important to ensure progress at school and healthy development, and are concerned about how best to handle the growing problem of ICT devices in the bedroom.

Polos said that using cell phones or computers, to talk, text, surf the net, or play games, is “more addictive, seductive, and interactive than passively watching television,” because of the graphics, rapid responses and interactivity.

“The sooner parents establish appropriate times for children to use this technology, the better,” he urged, adding that perhaps they should also “move key items, such as computers, from a child’s bedroom into a common area”.

Dr David Gutterman, President of the American College of Chest Physicians said concern about insomnia and other sleep disorders in children is growing and that “research shows that the problem is increasing, so it is more important than ever for physicians to ask questions about technology use when evaluating children for sleep issues”.

New research on attention and video games

Research published in the July issue of Pediatrics reveals that too much time spent watching television and playing video games can cause attention problems.

A graduate student at Iowa State University, Edward Swing, found that excessive screen time, whether in front of a computer or TV, could double the risk of attention problems in children and young adults.

Swing’s research confirms previous findings from Dr. Dimitri Christakis, the George Adkins Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle.  Christakis’ research found that faster-paced shows increased the risk of attention problems.  "You prime the mind to accept that pace. Real life doesn’t happen fast enough to keep your attention,” says Christakis.

The  American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has long recommended that children over the age of 2 view less than two hours of TV or computer per day. Prior to that age, they suggest no TV viewing or computer.

Swing compared data of 1300 children in grades three, four, and five who watched TV or played video games less than two hours a day to children who watched more.  He found that more video time could nearly double the risk of attention problems in children and young adults

"The children were reporting their TV and video game use and the parents were also reporting TV and video game use," Swing said. "The teachers were reporting attention problems," he said of the middle school students.

While both Swing’s and Christakis’ studies do merit attention, they are quite limited.  For example, Swing used teacher rating reports to assess whether children had problems paying attention, if they interrupted classmate’s work, if they had trouble staying on task, or showed problems in other areas related to inattention. Teacher reports typically vary over time and from teacher to teacher. They are also highly subjective. To account for this, Swing had more than one teacher rate the children and that the ratings tended to be in agreement.

The greatest flaw in this research is that Swing did not account for content, i.e. what were the students watching or playing? Were the students watching educational TV or playing educational games? Were they playing race car games? Shooting games? Were they playing problem solving games?  Were the games fast paced? Slow? Did they require reasoning skills? We’ll never know and that’s problematic because it leaves so many questions unanswered. As we are what we eat, we are what we stimulate ourselves with.

"These media aren’t going away," Christakis said. "We do have to find ways to manage them appropriately."  On this I can agree. Limiting time to the AAP recommendations is prudent parenting.

Summer ADHD brain drain

Research tells us that during the summer, the average student loses one to three month’s math and reading gains made over the prior year. Academic losses are so common among students that educators have given the phenomena a name: Summer Brain Drain.

Summer Brain Drain may even be worse for ADHD students already having trouble at school.

Going to school daily provides schedules and routines. The summer break means those routines aren’t there. Expectations are lowered or relaxed. Even sleep schedules are often totally abandoned.

Unfortunately, exercise is often replaced with computer time, watching movies, or playing video games with friends. That’s a bad idea. While there’s nothing wrong with playing video games or watching movies, sedentary activity must always be balanced with exercise. This is especially important for an ADHD student. 

I’ve included some specific articles that approach this topic from varying perspectives. Enjoy and gain the benefits this summer!

Children with ADHD benefit from time outdoors enjoying nature


News Bureau at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from May 15 through June 8. — Kids with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) should spend some quality after-school hours and weekend time outdoors enjoying nature, say researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The payoff for this “treatment” of children 5 to 18 years old, who participated in a nationwide study, was a significant reduction of symptoms. The study appears in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

“The advantage for green outdoor activities was observed among children living in different regions of the United States and among children living in a range of settings, from rural to large city environments,” wrote co-authors Frances E. Kuo and Andrea Faber Taylor. “Overall, our findings indicate that exposure to ordinary natural settings in the course of common after-school and weekend activities may be widely effective in reducing attention deficit symptoms in children.”

ADHD is a neurological disorder that affects some 2 million school-aged children, as well as up to 2 to 4 percent of adults, in the United States. Those with ADHD often face serious consequences, such as problems in school and relationships, depression, substance abuse and on-the-job difficulties.

“These findings are exciting,” said Kuo, a professor in the departments of natural resources and environmental sciences and of psychology at Illinois.

“I think we’re on the track of something really important, something that could affect a lot of lives in a substantial way,” she said. “We’re on the trail of a potential treatment for a disorder that afflicts one of every 14 children – that’s one or two kids in every classroom.”

If clinical trials and additional research confirm the value of exposure to nature for ameliorating ADHD, daily doses of “green time” might supplement medications and behavioral approaches to ADHD, the authors suggest in their conclusion.

Kuo and Faber Taylor, a postdoctoral researcher who specializes in children’s environments and behavior, recruited the parents of 322 boys and 84 girls, all diagnosed with ADHD, through ads in major newspapers and the Web site of Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Parents were interviewed by means of the Web and asked to report how their children performed after participating in a wide range of activities. Some activities were conducted inside, others in outdoor places without much greenery, such as parking lots and downtown areas, and others in relatively natural outdoor settings such as a tree-lined street, back yard or park.

The researchers found that symptoms were reduced most in green outdoor settings, even when the same activities were compared across different settings.

“In each of 56 different comparisons, green outdoor activities received more positive ratings than did activities taking place in other settings, and this difference was significant or marginally significant in 54 of the 56 analyses,” Kuo said. “The findings are very consistent.”

The two researchers have been pursuing the ADHD issue as an extension of a long line of previous research they’ve conducted on the nature-attention connection among the general population in mostly urban settings.

“The medications for ADHD that are currently available work for most kids, but not all,” Kuo said. “They often have serious side effects. Who wants to give their growing child a drug that kills their appetite day after day and, night after night, makes it hard for them to get a decent night’s rest? Not to mention the stigma and expense of medication.”

Simply using nature, Kuo said, “may offer a way to help manage ADHD symptoms that is readily available, doesn’t have any stigma associated with it, doesn’t cost anything, and doesn’t have any side effects – except maybe splinters!”

There are a number of exciting possible ways in which “nature treatments” could supplement current treatments, she said.

Spending time in ordinary “urban nature” – a tree-lined street, a green yard or neighborhood park – may offer additional relief from ADHD symptoms when medications aren’t quite enough. Some kids might be able to substitute a “green dose” for their afternoon medication, allowing them to get a good night’s sleep.

“A green dose could be a lifesaver for the 10 percent of children whose symptoms don’t respond to medication, who are just stuck with the symptoms,” Kuo said. As Kuo and Faber Taylor wrote, a dose could be as simple as “a greener route for the walk to school, doing classwork or homework at a window with a relatively green view, or playing in a green yard or ball field at recess and after school.”

The National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council, U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service supported the project.

Exercise Improves Learning and Memory
Chalk up another benefit for regular exercise. Investigators from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) have found that voluntary running boosts the growth of new nerve cells and improves learning and memory in adult mice.
"Until recently it was thought that the growth of new neurons, or neurogenesis, did not occur in the adult mammalian brain," said Terrence Sejnowski, an HHMI investigator at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies. "But we now have evidence for it, and it appears that exercise helps this happen."
USA Today (

ADHD treatment is getting a workout
Doctors haven’t done many definitive studies about exercise and ADHD, says David Goodman, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. But Goodman says it makes sense that working out would help people cope with the condition. Studies show that exercise increases levels of two key brain chemicals — dopamine and norepinephrine — that help people focus.

"Your cognitive function is probably better for one to three hours after exercise," Goodman says. "The difficulty is that by the next day, the effect has worn off."

If kids could exercise strenuously three to five times a day, they might not need medications at all, says John Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Ratey is so intrigued by the question that he’s writing a book about how exercise can reduce symptoms of ADHD or at least help patients cope.

Team sports might help children with ADHD in several ways, says James Perrin, a professor of pediatrics at Boston’s MassGeneral Hospital for Children. Children with the condition benefit from following a regular schedule. Coaches who lead kids through structured exercises also might help build concentration and organizational skills.

Immediate rewards and the ADHD brain

A Nottingham University research team in the United Kingdom found that the brains of children with ADHD appear to respond to immediate rewards in the same way as they do to medication. Their research was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

“Our study suggests that both types of intervention [medicine and immediate reward/reinforcement] may have much in common in terms of their effect on the brain,” said Professor Chris Hollis, the lead investigator of  the study.

The research team used an EEG (electroencephalograph) to measure the brain activity of children as they played a computer game that provided extra points for less impulsive behavior.

The researchers devised a computer space game which rewarded the ADHD children when they caught aliens of specific colors  while avoiding aliens of designated colors. The game design actually tested the children’s ability to resist the impulse to grab the wrong colored aliens.

To test whether immediate reward/reinforcement made a difference, one iteration of the game rewarded the children fivefold for catching the right alien and penalized them fivefold for catching the wrong one.  All of this was done while activity in different parts of their brains was monitored with an EEG.

Hollis found that the immediate rewards helped the children perform better at the game. This was verified by the EEG which  revealed that both medication and immediate reward/reinforcement were "normalizing" brain activity in the same regions.

Many parents of ADHD children are aware that giving a reward to an ADHD child a week after their good behavior is insignificant to that child. ADHD children respond better to immediate reward, not delayed reward.

"Although medication and behavior therapy appear to be two very different approaches of treating ADHD, our study suggests that both types of intervention may have much in common in terms of their effect on the brain. Both help normalize similar components of brain function and improve performance,"  said Hollis.

"We know that children with ADHD respond disproportionately less well to delayed rewards – this could mean that in the ‘real world’ of the classroom or home, the neural effects of behavioral approaches using reinforcement and rewards may be less effective."

It’s obvious that providing immediate rewards/reinforcement 24 hours a day and 7 days a week would be impractical and impossible. But what does this research tell us? It tells us that if we are to train an ADHD student, feedback, reward, and reinforcement need to be immediate if we are to get their brain to rewire.

We at Play Attention have known this for many years. This is why we integrated immediate feedback/reinforcement for attention training, cognitive training, memory training, and behavioral shaping by using feedback technology. We patented this method years ago because of its inherent strength. While we knew this was the best way to achieve success, we feel research like this rather reinforces our approach. It’s about time the world caught up!

Should I play or should I grow?


Entertainment vs. learning
Entertainment is usually a passive act that includes an activity which provides a distraction to everyday events or provides amusement. A good example of entertainment is watching a movie or concert. However, one may also actively participate in recreational entertainment  such as playing video games or sports. One does not participate in an entertaining activity to be educated. That is far from the goal of entertainment. In fact, we participate in entertainment to be relieved of having to work, having to learn, or having to be actively engaged for those purposes. We seek entertainment for fun and pleasure.

Entertainment is a vast industry. The modern American video game industry made about $18.85 billion on video-game hardware, software, and accessories in 2007. That’s nearly twice what movie theaters made and triple what the video game industry made in 2000. Most authorities on video games estimate that 70 to 80 percent of boys and approximately 20 percent of girls play video games daily.

Learning is on the other end of the spectrum from entertainment. In order to learn, we need attention, challenge, and deliberate practice. We need to be actively engaged. To apply the mind with the intent of long-term retention, assimilation, and application of new information. This implies both effort and commitment. While we may employ some of these elements, the purpose is far different in a learning environment. The purpose of learning in Star Trek: Bridge Commander is to keep the ship from exploding by using the controls correctly.  Learning is there to benefit your game play.  While this takes some reasoning and trial and error, is this useful in the classroom or at the office? Not likely. It’s not likely transferrable or to generalize either unless your child’s job is commanding Star Fleet.

If I may paraphrase the late martial artist and film legend Bruce Lee, you cannot learn to swim by kicking your legs and stroking with your arms on land. You have to jump in the water. You cannot learn to run a marathon by jogging around the track. 

In other words, if we want to learn something, it has to be taught with a purpose or aim, and we have to practice it deliberately to improve. If we closely examine what video games our spouse, child, or clients are playing, then we might just be alarmed at the violence, the lack of humanity, and gratuitous sex involved.

The most popular video games are those that are visually intense and graphically frenetic. It’s important to mention here that paying attention to visually stimulating and frenetic activity is another hallmark of an ADHD individual. Offer a 3-ring circus and their brain is quite capable of attending to it. Ask them to clean their room, a much less stimulating activity, and it’s very difficult. This predisposition towards highly stimulating activities seems to involve the brain’s reward and gratification systems as well as its processing and other regulatory systems.

Thus, a high stimulation Xbox or Play Station game is quite satisfying; ADHD individuals can hyperfocus on these games for hours on end. What does that teach? Research tells us that people who play these games do learn visual recognition skills, i.e. they can rapidly determine the number of opposing characters on screen far faster than the average human being. So, if the only thing they’re going to be is a fighter pilot, then these games might be suitable.

Other research tells us that if one chronically plays these games (chronically would be classified as one hour or more per day), one is more likely to report lower grades at school, diminished attention at school, and a greater probability of being addicted to these games or the Internet itself. Good Japanese research also noted that entertaining, highly stimulating video games that involve little else than pointing and shooting can lower both the metabolic rate and EEG in the frontal lobes of the brain. The frontal lobes, among other capacities, govern attention, aggression, and impulsivity. This is important to know especially if you have an ADHD person in your household using these games.

It seems that most ADHD children and adults are prewired to pay attention to overly stimulation things. That seems to be a hallmark of the trait. They frequently become hyperfocused on them for hours at a time. Taking these games away is probably not practical. However, limiting play time is quite sensible.

If one is to learn skills, techniques, or methods that will strengthen the brain, then the video game must be quite different than the Xbox or Play Station most popular list.

Upcoming, part 3, Play Attention vs. off the shelf video games.

Should I play or should I grow?


This blog is partially based on material I presented to the International Atomic Energy Agency of the United Nations in Vienna, Austria.

Playing vs. learning
What’s the difference between playing and learning? Sometimes there is no difference. People can learn through play. Educators have known this for years. Grade school teachers often try to teach using games. Games engage, excite, and motivate students. However, there is a significant difference between games that simply entertain and games that facilitate learning.

When learning through games or other modalities, three fundamental catalysts are necessary for the brain to create and grow a neural pathway facilitating long-term retention. These catalysts are attention, challenge, and deliberate practice.

A student must pay enough attention to incoming stimuli to even begin the learning process. Too little attention causes the student to constantly redirect attention to other stimuli.  Picture your ADHD child trying to learn multiplication tables. While the teacher is teaching 2 x 2, he’s paying attention to the bird outside the window. Little chance that multiplication tables will be learned soon. So, attention is crucial, in fact, it’s the core to all learning. For an ADHD person, the ability to direct attention and sustain it without distraction is impaired.

If the teacher can get a student to pay enough attention to multiplication tables, the student must then be challenged. Challenge arrives when the brain confronts something it doesn’t quite understand. The brain attempts to place the information into a tenuous relationship with information it already possesses. If the brain already knows the information, it simply retrieves the data from its storage bank. So, if the teacher presents 2 x 1, and the student knows immediately the answer is 2, then there’s no challenge and little is learned. However, if the teacher presents 2 x 7561, then the student is challenged and must use all of his pre-existing knowledge to find a solution. Attention and challenge spark creation and growth of new neural pathways for long-term retention. However, long-term retention is not guaranteed until we practice.

Deliberate practice
Educationalists have known that haphazard studying or practice results in haphazard learning. Deliberate practice is a term coined by Dr. Anders Eriksson, a professor at Florida State University ( He studied how people become experts in their fields and found that the length of time they practiced and their use of deliberate practice greatly influenced their expertise. 

Let’s use multiplication tables again to describe deliberate practice.  Chances are that you learned your multiplication tables by practicing one group at a time; multiplying by 1, by 2, by 3, etc. In many years of teaching, I never saw a student learn multiplication tables by learning 2 x 3, then 7 x 9, then 6 x7. We learned in a sequence that was deliberately practiced until mastered.

When I was learning to multiply by 6, I had difficulty with 6 x 7, 6  x 8, and 6 x 9. So, my teacher made special flashcards for me with these specific problems written on the cards. I used these cards, blocks, and other devices to practice these difficult sequences. If I didn’t get the right answer, I got immediate feedback that I was incorrect. I used this feedback to make changes to my strategy in attempting to find the correct solution. That’s deliberate practice; sorting out the difficult elements that we have not learned, developing strategies to learn them, getting feedback regarding correctness or incorrectness of these strategies, and practicing them correctly and  long enough to attain long-term retention.

Most people do not  use deliberate practice. We just practice, i.e. we just repeat the same thing over and over without taking the time or making the effort to work on the elements that are most difficult for us. We often only practice things that are easy or that we’re already good at performing. We avoid the difficult elements that don’t provide immediate reward, and that seems to be the line that clearly distinguishes expert from amateur.

Coming soon, part two: Entertainment vs. Learning

Youth and Video Game Addiction

The journal, Psychological Science (May, 2009 Douglas Gentile. Pathological Video Game Use among Youth 8 to 18: A National Study) sampled youth aged 8 to 18.

Iowa State University Assistant Professor of Psychology, Douglas Gentile, found that 8.5% of the gamers to be pathological players. Gentile bases his statistics on standards established for pathological gambling. So, while parents often cite that their child is ‘addicted’ to video games, Gentile’s standards necessitated that video game play actually caused family, social, school or psychological damage due to video game playing habits.

“What we mean by pathological use is that something someone is doing – in this case, playing video games – is damaging to their functioning,” Gentile said. “It’s not simply doing it a lot. It has to harm functioning in multiple ways.”

On average, the pathological gamers in the study played video games at least 24 hours per week. This is nearly twice as much as non-pathological gamers. Parents of pathological gamers also allowed their children to have video game systems in their bedrooms far more often than non-pathological gamers. 

According to Science Daily, Gentile found that pathological gamers reported having more trouble paying attention in school and thus received poorer grades in school, had more health problems, were more likely to feel “addicted,” and even stole to support their habit.

The study also found that pathological gamers were twice as likely to have been diagnosed with attention problems such as Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

“There is still much we do not know,” Gentile said. “We don’t know who’s most at risk, or whether this is part of a pattern of disorders. That’s important because many disorders are co-morbid with others. It may be a symptom of depression, for example. And so we would want to understand that pattern of co-morbidity because that would help us know how to treat it.”

Gentile is continuing his own research, currently conducting both longitudinal and clinical studies to determine risk factors and symptoms found in pathological youth gamers.

It is wise for parents to limit use of video games and TV. Treat them as you would dessert; limited portions used as a reward.

The War on Video Games and ADHD

Recently, national media have declared war on TV, video games, and various other media.  Supported by a study performed by the National Institutes of Health (“NIH”), the news appears gloomy; these various media cause obesity, declining grades, etc.  I’ve even read some press that they may be related to childhood onset of diabetes (related to lack of exercise) and ADHD!

The NIH’s claims are alarming and necessitate a review of the method they employed to derive the claim they make that 80 percent of the studies reviewed have linked media use to negative health effects. I’ve said this before, when researchers review other researcher’s studies (study of study approach), generalizations are contrived that don’t necessarily convey actuality.  Granted, I’m not an advocate of chronic video game play, overuse of the Internet, TV, cell phone, or anything for that matter. Overuse is over use. Moderation is best. Overuse tends displace other healthier activities like taking walks, interacting with human beings face to face, or reading a good book.  So before chucking your Xbox out the window, let’s examine the flaws in this study a little more closely. Then, let’s discuss what actually is happening with video game use.

The NIH report was sponsored by sponsored by the nonprofit group Common Sense Media.  To be candid, I like this group.  It makes sense. Its mission statement reads:

Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the media and entertainment lives of kids and families.

We exist because media and entertainment profoundly impact the social, emotional, and physical development of our nation’s children. As a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization, we provide trustworthy information and tools, as well as an independent forum, so that families can have a choice and a voice about the media they consume.

I’ve reviewed many of the 173 studies included in the NIH report. And while the NIH report conveys that media use impacts children’s health negatively, I am unable to find reliable data that justify this huge generalization.  This generalization was derived by lumping together research on movies, video games, cell phone usage, Internet usage, TV, movies, etc.  Unfortunately, when information is not disaggregated, it does not control for the way in which the media was used during the research or particular types of video games, movies, etc. For example, was the Internet use studied used for play, school research, or shopping?  Were the video games educational or entertainment? With the NIH’s method of aggregating data, we’ll never know.  Compounding this is the fact that research available on the impact of media like texting, social websites, etc. is nascent.

As I’ve noted many times before, children with ADHD tend to be pre-wired to concentrate on high stimulation and less able to control concentration on mundane tasks. This is neither a gift nor a blessing.  However, this coincides with the finding that children with ADHD had watched more TV as toddlers. This correlation often generates a great misconception (often propagated by the media) that TV-viewing causes ADHD. It would be more likely that the predication toward high-stimulation makes TV far more attractive to children with ADHD than playing with a stuffed toy or Legos.

The strongest correlations may be made with obesity and sexual behaviors.  Obesity is obvious; sedentary behavior (sitting in front of the TV or computer) would lead to obesity and many other diseases associated with obesity including diabetes.  Sexual behavior is obvious as well.  Watching others perform sexually whether under a mild TV-G rating or explicit pornography on the Internet, does impact the child watching. Most research indicates that children will experiment with intercourse or other sexual behavior in a correlation with their ability to access it via media.  Of course, what is not accounted for is the impact of parental influence (or lack thereof) and media exposure.

I’m frequently asked questions by parents about media and their children.  “Should I let my child play video games?” “How much TV is too much?”

Video games are not created equally. The most popular utilize compelling, sharp video imagery, fantasy, and violent action. I’m afraid the genie is out of the bottle. Whether you’re concerned about TV or video games, it is vital to first screen what your child is watching or playing.  Watching TV with them or watching them play their video games gives you the opportunity to discuss offensive, sexual, or violent material. You may object and censor their use or viewing of this material.

As a parent, you set the example as well. If you are sedentary, your child will likely be sedentary (as well as your pet). Play with your child, take them outdoors.

Treat video games like dessert. Dessert is given as a reward, and it is given in highly limited quantity.

So, even if research says correlations exist, you mustn’t dismiss the impact that you impart as parent. Study of study correlations often result in generalizations which may or may not be significant to your family.  As parent you are the decider – provided that you accept that role and are proactive.