Limiting Screen Time with a Healthy Play Diet


Guest Expert

Limiting Screen Time with a Healthy Play Diet

I field a lot of questions about how to help children with ADHD who seem dependent on screen-based technologies, and most clinical child psychologists probably do, too, these days. Parents report difficulty getting a child to walk away from a video game, but are puzzled by that same child’s inability to sustain focus and persist in a task. Many parents report becoming so frustrated that they resort to yelling in order to gain the attention of their screen-hypnotized child.

Instead of yelling, wouldn’t you prefer to find an effective method to limit your child’s screen time?

Digital Benefits

Some experts suggest that you should simply remove all screens from your child’s life. This strategy is impractical and actually counterproductive in today’s digital world. In fact, the growing consensus is that some screen-based activity, such as playing action and puzzle video games, can enhance your child’s selective attention and problem-solving skills.

For today’s elementary children and pre-teens, mastering technology is a powerful and necessary skill. Teenagers are another animal, though if you set the model for a healthy play diet, then teens will have less problems in this area. For all youth with ADHD, learning to effectively use apps to assist them with organization, planning, and time management can actually lead to academic and real world success.

Play Diet

From my perspective as a parent and psychologist, I believe that the most effective method of moderating screen time is a proactive approach that I call a “Play Diet.” A balanced Play Diet consists of opportunities for physical, social, creative, and unstructured play, in addition to digital play.

While I cover this extensively in my new book, Playing Smarter in a Digital World, here are 3 basic strategies to help begin to put your child on an appropriate Play Diet:

  1. Set a regular schedule for screen-based play and keep to it. The most common and successful schedules include “an hour per day,” ”after your homework is done,” and “only on weekends or holidays.”
  2. Curate acceptable digital content and allow access only to that. Choose games by genres or educational value and allow your child to play these games on a regular basis. Be certain that you find games that are “digitally nutritious,” such as Minecraft, Portal 2, or The Legend of Zelda.
  3. Control the controller. For kids with ADHD who are argumentative about screen time, parents need to be totally in charge of access to the technologies. This might mean placing the router to the Internet in your bedroom and turning it off at a regular time, keeping video game consoles under lock and key, or retaining ownership to tablet and mobile devices, allowing access only with your direct permission.

A good coach can help you put these basic strategies into place and hone your own consistency in management. Unfortunately, some children who are overly focused on screen-based technologies will require intervention beyond the institution of a healthy Play Diet. In those cases, you might seek the support of a therapist.

Ultimately, your overarching goal should be to help your child regulate the amount of screen time used each day. For those children who are not yet ready or able to do so, these 3 basic strategies will help you set clear and realistic expectations, reducing conflict for the whole family. Who knows, you might even begin to enjoy a little healthy play with your child.


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