A new study came out in the July issue of Pediatrics that shows a link between “screen time” (TV, computers, or videogames) and a teacher’s evaluation of attention problems with kids.
Okay, disclosure time: 1) I’m not a doctor or psychiatrist; 2) I’m not an expert on clinical research; 3) I haven’t seen the study, and don't know if it was validly conducted; 4) Until recently, videogames paid all my bills; and 5) I have some experience with several family members being treated for ADHD.
Here’s what the study says:
"Researcher Edward Swing, a graduate student at Iowa State University, compared participants who watched TV or played video games less than two hours a day -- the recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics for children aged 2 and older -- to those who watched more.
"Those who exceeded the AAP recommendation were about 1.6 times to 2.2 times more likely to have greater than average attention problems," he said."
"...[attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder] is 10 times more common today than it was 20 years ago," he said. "Although it is clear that ADHD has a genetic basis, given that our genes have not changed appreciably in that timeframe, it is likely that there are environmental factors that are contributing to this rise." He and other experts suspect excessive media as a contributor."
Videogame play (and other “screen time”) DOES NOT CAUSE attention problems in kids, and “screen time” DOES NOT CONTRIBUTE to the rise in cases of ADHD.
Here’s the thing:
1) Doctors are much more familiar with ADHD than they were 20 years ago. So of course it’s being caught and treated more than it was. I hope that 20 years from now they’re successfully treating 10 times more disorders than they are today. Medicines are more prevalent, more advertised, and more recommended because they work.
2) “Screen Time” is more prevalent, and is more a part of our lives because it’s more accessible than it was 20 years ago. I imagine that 20 years ago the kids with untreated ADHD were spending too much time reading comics or novels or taking things apart or playing “army” (or “doctor”) in the woods with their friends.
3) Children with attention problems are more likely to turn to things that demand more attention, like videogames and TV, or the Internet. It’s more interesting. It’s more satisfying. And ultimately, it might be better for them than hanging out at home or with their friends unsupervised.
4) Parents of kids with attention problems are more likely to be frustrated with their kids behavior, and more willing to allow them to spend more time doing things on their own. Bored kids are tough on parents.
5) A child or adult with ADHD, who is being successfully treated (medically and behaviorally), is not really much different than a child or adult without ADHD. For the sake of the study, I hope they isolated kids who were diagnosed with ADHD and accounted for that.
Incidentally, one of the side effects of ADHD is the inability to accurately estimate time spent or budgeted for activities. And since ADHD is largely passed on genetically, I might question the research if it was solely reported by the students.
BOTTOM LINE: Be responsible. Make sure your kids are getting their homework done, that they’re spending time doing physical activities. More than a couple of hours of “screen time” a day is probably plenty, but everyone needs to zone out every now and then, whether it’s watching TV, playing videogames, or browsing the web. And if you or your kids’ teachers think they’re not paying attention, check with your physician or counselor, and don’t rule out being treated for ADHD.
Just don’t blame videogames.