Plugged-in Parent: Video games and ADHD

Can video games cause ADHD in kids?


By Sharon Miller Cindrich


The precise cause of ADHD is not known. Experts do know that genetics play a part. There is also evidence that children with low birth weights, those with head injuries or those who were exposed to toxins early in life are at greater risk.

Playing video games, however, is not thought to be a major contributing factor.

When children with ADHD do play video games, parents may see some symptoms magnified. Fidgeting, pacing, bouncing, impulsive language, high levels of frustration or a concentration so strong that it is hard to break (hyper-focusing) may be prevalent.

Children with attention challenges may be especially interested in playing games for several reasons. Those who struggle with athletic abilities and social skills find that computer games level the playing field. Many kids with ADHD who have a tough time concentrating in the classroom find they can focus when it comes to video games. Plus, computer and video games can also be an outlet for stress.

Help keep things balanced by following these simple rules.

Stick to clear limits

Many children with ADHD have difficulty with impulsiveness and self-regulation, so creating clear rules around video games and following through is critical.

Keep reminders in sight

Posting rules and timers can help keep kids on task. Posting gaming time limits (such as 30 minutes of game time after homework is done) plus reminders before they play and near the end of play time will help kids practice time management.

Avoid late night playtime

Games can get any child wired and kids with ADHD often have trouble winding down before bedtime anyway. Cut game time off early in the evening to give kids plenty of time to cool off before bedtime.

Make it social

Children with ADHD may be attracted to video games because they don't have to work so hard at social interactions. Parents can play along and use the opportunity to guide appropriate social conversations and reactions. Encourage kids to give praise for your good moves and to take a deep breath when they fail at a task.

Get them moving

Promote game play that keeps kids moving and improves coordination. Dance Dance Revolution is available for most gaming consoles. Game systems with full-body motion sensors provide great options, too. Kinect Sports or Kinect Dance Central for Xbox 360 combines memory, concentration and physical coordination practice. Wii Fit, Wii Sports or Just Dance are available for the Wii.

Choose games to help

Children with ADHD can find games online to help boost their memory and concentration. Try games at or Middle and high school students can get regular brain workouts at, which offers a free three-day trial.


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