Screen Time & COVID-19: How to Support Teens with ADHD
Collaboration is the key to appropriate use of electronics during this time of remote learning and social distancing.
by Caroline Maguire, MEd, CCG, PCC
Connecting with others is essential, and that is especially true for teenagers with ADHD during this unprecedented COVID-19 quarantine. Most teenagers with ADHD, however, spend too much time on electronics, so it is necessary—now more than ever—for parents to engage them in collaborative discussions that lay out expectations.
You can use this time—when most of the rules about screen-time limits and appropriate hours for waking and sleeping have gone out the window—to help your teenager practice self-regulation. Soon they will be out on their own, with no parental limits. Learning to coauthor their own limits will help them in the not-too-distant college environment.
Some teenagers binge on extra screen time for a couple of weeks and then return to normal. When teenagers have ADHD, however, they often find it hard to turn off the screens. More than likely, your teen’s screen habits were already of concern to you before the stay-home directives.
You can use these five suggestions to establish “new normal” limits.
- Collaborate on the plan.
Don’t just announce the plan; collaborate together on what a daily schedule should consist of, including exercise, screen time, family participation, chores, homework, and so forth. Allow ample opportunity for your teenager to voice their concerns, and listen with genuine curiosity.
Rather than assume you know the answers, ask questions: “Why is this so important? What makes you fight so hard for that video game?” Resist the temptation to overreact. Instead, breathe deeply and truly listen for the root of their motivation.
Of greater importance is gaining your teen’s trust and confidence, not discipling minor rule infractions. Your approachability will help your teen know that he can always feel comfortable coming to you.
- Reflect; clarify; be curious.
Paraphrasing and repeating back what your teen says will demonstrate empathy and help clarify his or her concerns. For example, he might declare: “I need free time, I am working so hard.” By summarizing and repeating his statements, you allow your teen to clarify, share greater insight, and elaborate.
- Agree to the plan.
Be sure your teen understands your expectations and the details of the collaborative plan. Include when, which screens, what must be done in advance, and the time expectations for exercise, screen-free time, family participation, chores, and so forth. Include family responsibilities and listen for where your teen needs allowances.
- Expect conflict.
Decide now what happens if there is a disagreement. Make a realistic plan on how to cope with the conflict and set behavior boundaries. Consider whether mobile phones should be charged in the kitchen during schoolwork or homework time, how many warnings are allowed, what can replace screen time, and how sibling arguments should be addressed.
- Establish fun alternatives to screens.
Sort out fun things to do together, how much time to devote to each activity, and what new skills can be learned during this time of social distancing.
Everyone benefits from screen-free time, so work collaboratively to come up with new recipes, exercises, home decorating, and so on. You know your child better than anyone. Use this time to build on their strengths and passions.
Caroline Maguire, MEd, CCG, PCC, is the author of the groundbreaking book Why Will No One Play with Me? and a seasoned social skills coach, trainer, and speaker. Learn more at carolinemaguireauthor.com.
Great article! I find that collaboration is KEY to making new guidelines with my teens.
We followed this plan and came to a deal that everybody is happy with so far. Deal: If my teens meet their requirements for one day (there are a lot: keeping up with all schoolwork, helping in the kitchen, keeping up with personal hygiene, keeping their rooms clean, 30 mins of physical activity, 30 mins of reading, cat care, college hunting for one, project time for the other, notable family time in the evening, 8am rise time, 11pm bedtime), they’re free to arrange their time and media use as they see fit for the next day. But it’s a rolling thing. So if one of them gorges on media use one day and doesn’t get in all of the reading or scoop the litterbox, say, they lose the flexibility for the next day and have to get all of the “requireds” done before they can have any play media time. Incredibly, my 14 y/o son said he likes this plan because he feels like it makes him a better person. Whoa! I wish we’d tried this sooner. And it’s such a great dry-run for the college years. My older son has had a couple stumbles, resulting in doing all of the “work” first and missing out on some of the social Minecraft time online with friends that happened in the early afternoon, which is a painful but effective learning experience. Plus, I no longer feel like I have to (unsuccessfully!!) tally how much time they’ve been on their devices and kick them off after the (previous) 2-hour limit. I can simply look at their printed checklists over breakfast and see how they did the day before. We talk about it as our “Balance Plan.” Win-win!!