Discouraged Over Technology Use with ADHD? Take these Steps!

The 2020 holiday season will be one where we are connecting with family and friends far and wide, many of us grateful for technology.  At the same time, when we live with ADHD, we can feel disconnected when we’re faced with the overuse of mobile phones, multi-tasking on multiple devices, and an always-on lifestyle through technology.  

ADHD, Technology Overuse & Internet Gaming Disorder  Teens on Phones

While multi-device technology allows for a variety of ongoing conversations and tasks to take place at the same time, it can also be a persistent source of distraction for all of us. Add to the mix the consistent interruptions, back and forth bouncing between devices, and decision fatigue from judging which to prioritize, each media-related task gets partial attention. In a world where we crave human connection, we feel drained, cheated, and frustrated.  


When living with ADHD, impulsivity, distractibility, difficulty focusing, and restlessness are common symptoms that can impact device over-usage. 


According to numerous studies, there is a high correlation between ADHD and multi-communicating, which is the tendency to communicate on more than one device at the same time (Seo, Kim, and David, 2015). The result is a mixed bag. Multi-device usage can satisfy the need for consistent stimulation in a person with ADHD. But heavy media multitaskers tend to get derailed by these external distractors (Cain & Mitroff, 2011; Minear, Brasher, McCurdy, Lewis & Younggren, 2013). For example, you or your child could be researching a project online; you notice a YouTube video that caught your eye, you click on it, then another one pops up, and before you know it, several hours have slipped by.


This can happen to all of us, but with an ADHD'er, the ability to resist an impulse is more difficult to control, especially with the external distractions of multi-media. 


Individuals with gaming problems have more impulse-control difficulties than youth without gaming problems. Studies show that ADHD, associated with impulsivity, is linked with media overuse from college age to adult, (Cho, Kim, Kim, Lee & Kim, 2008; Yen, Yen, Chen, Tang & Ko, 2009). There is also a positive correlation between internet addiction and ADHD for both college students and adults (e.g., Cho et al., 2008; Yen et al., 2009). 


Internet gaming disorder is an excessive preoccupation with gaming past the time when actively playing games. For instance, during school hours, a young adult could be thinking about what it will take to move to the next level, a mistake they made when playing a game, or new strategies as soon they can get back into playing a game. Other signs may include a loss of interest in non-gaming activities, and tenacious gaming even with the awareness of school or work difficulties. There can also be intense and overpowering arguments with friends or coworkers about gaming.

ADHD, Media, and the Need for Belonging

Texting, online gaming, FaceTime messaging, WeChat, and other modes of online interactions provide the social motivation of belonging and address the need for acceptance from others.

Individuals with ADHD can have challenges with interpersonal skills and therefore feel more socially isolated.  

Games today can foster oftentimes anonymous online social connections, giving people a sense of belonging, and some games provide the chance at a new personality.

The paradox is although online engagement provides social reassurance, it most often leads to being always on, constantly checking messages, and being perpetually available on one’s devices. Moreover, multiplayer online role-playing games can mean assuming a personality that can be violent, keeping to online time minimums, or being sold for lots of money. 

Here are three strategies to help you take steps to address technology overuse when living with ADHD. 

Evaluate the Problem Behavior  

Especially during these times, we want to have some flexibility. For example, if our kids or loved ones are socializing with friends we know, we want to encourage that. Still, it’s helpful to know where your loved one falls on the spectrum of problem behavior.
According to one study, those with internet gaming disorder gamed over 20 hours per week for more than 5 days a week. Those gaming 12 hours or more, 5 or more days a week, might be on course for problems (Petry, Nancy, Pause and Reset, 2019).  
Quick Tips:
Track internet usage (frequency and amount of time) for several weeks. You may already know how much your loved one is online; however, monitoring usage is helpful for raising online awareness, depending on the age. 
 •  Restructure the environment. Create a central, nonprivate area for devices, and restrict usage outside of bedroom areas. Bedroom usage can encourage inappropriate use. Changing the online environment will not only help to raise awareness for online behavior but will also decrease unmonitored activity.  
 •  Create a master list of usernames and passwords of all devices and discuss with your child the need to allow parental access. For your teen, rather than requiring access to private email and Facebook you might only require access to various devices (depending on your comfort level). For your younger child, you may require access to all passwords for all accounts 

Stop Enabling  

When you’re providing your child the means to engage with online activities, this means you could be unintentionally enabling the behavior you’re trying to eliminate. Even if your child purchased the game or gaming console, you may be providing phone, computer, and internet services that are also needed for multiple purposes. Still, you may need to implement restrictions to stop problematic usage.   
Quick Tips:
 Allow your child to experience natural consequences. For example, if they are pulling all-nighters from being online and can’t wake up in the morning for school, allow your child to experience the logical consequences of being late or missing class for a day or two, and discuss alternatives. 
Sign a contract based on an agreement. Perhaps you agree that your child will have a 10 pm ceiling on internet usage and all electronics, and he will use an alarm clock to wake up in the morning, rather than his device. Or, perhaps you will take control of the electronics and internet after 10 pm., and after a reasonable time period, if homework isn’t completed by that time, the console will be donated. 
 Consider whether to continue paying for cell phone data plans or home internet connections. Cell phones still work to text and answer calls without WiFi. A password-protected internet line could be an option before the last resort of eliminating the internet altogether

Identify Offline Activities with Agency  

Although we are now limited by our world situation, there are still passions your loved one can explore. Encourage solitary and social pastimes that are unrelated to internet use. The more rewarding these activities become, the less likely the temptation to be drawn back into problematic online behavior.
Online usage, especially game usage, can be the only place where individuals with ADHD feel they have control or competency. Support your loved ones to make their own choices over their offline activities. Recognize where else in your loved one’s lives they may feel a lack of control or perceive low competency and support them to develop their own sense of agency.  
Quick Tips:
 Create a list of solitary and social activities and rank your ideas. Support your loved one to think of fun activities that haven't been tried for a while or at all. The more activities that are tried, the more it is likely that they will participate in one of them. Categorize the activities according to solitary, social, or need to be planned. 
 Identify the online "at-risk" time you are replacing that was usually spent online. For example, after-school time, late at night, etc., and replace this time with other activities.
 Reward desired behaviors with specific encouragement as the behavior occurs. “I noticed you didn’t rush through your homework so you could play video games.” Then reward consistent behavior as soon as it occurs. “Let’s do something fun together when you finish all your homework tonight. “
• Differentiate online activities. Especially during these times when the internet has become a connection to the outside world, consider the distinction between online chats with a friend and gaming, and allow for flexibility. Similarly, while podcasts and audiobooks make use of the internet, they are also developing necessary auditory and cognitive skills. 
 Allow your loved one to have some agency over the activities they choose and when they engage in them. Support your loved one to set their own goals.

Although we're all grateful for technology during these uncertain times, when living with ADHD, we can feel disconnected when we’re faced with the overuse of technology. To address technology overuse:

• Evaluate the Problem Behavior 

• Stop Enabling

• Identify Offline Activities with Agency 

Experiment with some of these and let me know how it goes for you!




 PS. Need more assistance with technology overuse for yourself or your loved one? 

Contact me for an ADHD Strategy Assessment and we can talk about some solutions you can put into place now!


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