An Iowa State University study in Pediatrics has found that spending much time watching television and playing video games contributes to children’s attention problems in school. The study asked teachers to rate student behaviors related to concentration, like how well the child stayed on task or how often the child interrupted others. At home, parents logged hours spent watching television or playing video games. Students logging more screen time had slightly more difficulty concentrating than students who logged less, with those who logged more than two hours per day of screen time faring the worst.

Dr. Christopher Ferguson, Associate Professor at Texas A&M University, has noticed some issues with the methodology that may be problematic when drawing the conclusions from the results. There have been conflicting research showing some video games may actually increase focusing and attention.

Research Results and ADHD

Although the study does not sample children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, the findings of the Iowa State study may suggest that screen time can worsen ADHD symptoms. Children with ADHD tend to become highly focused on activities that are stimulating and that they find interesting, like watching television and playing video games. More mundane tasks, like doing schoolwork or cleaning their rooms, are more difficult for children with ADHD to complete.

The “attention-deficit” in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder tends to exist only in the more routine, less interesting situations children face. When involved in interesting activities, children with ADHD “hyperfocus,” or become highly focused no the activity to the point of losing some awareness of time and surroundings. Most of life consists of more mundane tasks, making coping difficult for ADHD kids.

Video Games, Kids, and Attention

Some specialized video games use EEG biofeedback, or neurofeedback, to train the brain to increase its attention span and focusing abilities and may help children with ADHD. Neurofeedback is based on technology used to help pilots increase attention in flight.

The hope is to retrain the brain in ways that last and do not end as soon as treatment stops. Although initial research results are promising, the technology has not been tested thoroughly enough to completely sway ADHD experts.

Still, commercial video games do not use the same technology. Since children with ADHD have brains that already prefer highly stimulating images, extended time watching television or playing video games could possibly train their brains to prefer even more stimulation, increasing the possibility of concentration problems during school.

Parents Should Use Discretion When ADHD Kids Play Video Games

More research needs to be conducted before anyone can say for sure if playing video games worsens ADHD symptoms. Parents know their own children best and may be able to observe for themselves whether or not their ADHD child’s behavior depends on how much TV they watch or how much time they spend playing video games.