ADHD & Screen Time

ADHD and Screen Time: Finding the Balance

Managing screen time is crucial for individuals with ADHD to reduce symptoms and improve focus. Balanced use involves setting limits, encouraging physical activity, and using screen time as a reward for completed tasks. This approach helps mitigate the negative effects of excessive screen time exposure, such as dependency and worsened ADHD symptoms, while promoting a healthier lifestyle and better mental health.

Published on
22/3/2024
Updated on
estimated reading time
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Written by

Alice

The mini Adhd coach

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In this Article

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A word form our expert

Is Your Smartphone Use Affecting Your ADHD? Here's How to Tell 

Nowadays, our phones handle everything: scheduling doctor's visits, bill payments, keeping up with family, and organizing travel. Living without being online feels nearly out of the question. 🙈

But for those of us grappling with attention and distraction challenges (such as ADHD), what's the effect of this unending screen time on us, and how can we turn our phones into tools that assist us instead of devices to which we're constantly attached?

In this article, we'll discuss:

  • Why ADHD puts us at an increased risk of becoming dependent on too much screen time.

  • Ten signs it's time to re-evaluate your digital media use.

  • How to take back control of how much time you spend on your mobile phone, game console, or tablet.

Intrigued? If we've captured your interest, stay tuned as we closely examine the intricate connection between ADHD and screen time. 👇

I have a hate/love relationship with screens. 🫤

As someone with ADHD, my phone is my best friend - it keeps me organized, makes sure I remember to stay in touch with my friends and family (otherwise, I will forget they exist, thanks to my lack of object permanence 😆), and also fuels my special interests and hobbies through podcasts, videos, and book/movie recommendations. 

My phone is also my go-to when I need cheering up; whether it's scrolling those 'hope core' TikTok videos (thank me later 😁) or finding cute dog compilations, when I need a quick pick me up, social media lures me in and gives my sad little brain a dopamine boost. 

But in the same vein, my phone is a source of distraction, overwhelm, and overstimulation. It bombards me with endless notifications, guilt trips from Duolingo threatening the loss of my streak (the pressure is real! 🥵), and drags me into the infinite drama of group chats I'd rather avoid.

It's a constant battle for my ADHD brain. The paradox of our attention span means filtering out the noise becomes impossible. It's no wonder that putting down our phones feels like an impossible challenge, even when we're well aware of the negative effects that too much screen time can have on our minds and bodies.

Let's dive into the reasons why those of us with ADHD often find it challenging to control our screen time. ⬇️

Sensory Seeking and Novelty

Our ADHD brains are constantly on the hunt for sensory stimulation and novelty, a craving that screens fulfill with ease. The vibrant colors, shifting landscapes, and varied sounds of digital content offer a sensory feast that the physical world often can't match, making the allure of screens hard to resist for those of us seeking to satisfy our cravings for sensory input and fresh experiences. 

This penchant for sensation-seeking drives us toward activities that promise quick entertainment and instant gratification - like a swift 10-minute scroll through TikTok or a rapid session of Candy Crush, and sometimes, even more, detrimental habits such as vaping, smoking, or drinking. 🚬

This relentless search for stimulation is deeply rooted in the way our brains handle dopamine - a neurotransmitter crucial for feeling pleasure and motivation. With typically lower levels of dopamine in ADHD brains, there's a compelling urge to engage in activities that provide an immediate dopamine surge. 🤩

For example, one systematic review found that adults with ADHD symptoms, particularly those displaying higher levels of inattention, are more likely to exhibit signs of smartphone addiction and problematic mobile phone use. 📲

It's as though our brains are on a constant quest for a 'pick-me-up,' aiming to fill a void left by a shortage of dopamine, even if it's just for a fleeting moment. This mechanism underpins our tendency to gravitate towards easily accessible, stimulating content on our screens as we aim to counteract feelings of boredom or dissatisfaction with quick, satisfying hits of digital engagement.

Attention Issues

Catchy email subjects and urgent sale alerts can quickly hook us in. Don't get me wrong - I'm all for snagging a bargain. 😉However, when my to-do list is a mile long, and a notification pops up announcing a 50% off sale at my favorite online store, I find myself mindlessly filling my cart with things I never intended to buy, only to abandon it all a moment later without making a purchase. 

This detour back to my actual tasks takes a whole hour. When we struggle to filter out the noise, everything suddenly feels like a top priority. In this era of endless digital marketing designed to grab and hold our attention, our phones trap us in a vortex of distraction that can last for hours. 🤯

Escapism

A lot of us grapple with mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety, OCD, among others. Turning to our screens for comfort - be it through endless Netflix binges or being glued to a Nintendo Switch until the early hours - is a frequent method for managing these issues. And for many of us, using digital devices to divert our attention from our feelings has become a typical coping mechanism. 😞

For instance, a comprehensive meta-analysis uncovered a link between problematic smartphone use (also referred to as cell phone addiction) and heightened levels of depression and anxiety. Specifically, the researchers discovered that using mobile phones as a way to cope can exacerbate symptoms of both depression and anxiety rather than alleviate them.

Hyperfocus Traps

Sometimes, the very feature of ADHD that can be a superpower - hyperfocus - becomes a trap. When we find an activity or topic that interests us, we can become so absorbed that hours pass without notice. This can be especially true for video games, deep dives into internet rabbit holes, or binge-watching TV shows. The immersive nature of digital content can captivate our attention in ways that feel almost impossible to break away from, even when we know other tasks or responsibilities are awaiting our attention.

Social Connectivity Overload

In the digital age, our phones and computers are our lifelines to social interaction, especially for those who might struggle with social cues or face-to-face interactions. However, the constant stream of social media updates, messages, and notifications can create an overwhelming sense of needing to be perpetually connected and responsive. 

This pressure can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and make it difficult to disconnect, even when we're aware of the need for a break. On the other hand, it can also switch into burnout and avoidance, leading us to ghost everyone and ignore our phones entirely. ✋ 

Reward System Hijacking

Social media algorithms hijack our brain's reward systems with likes, shares, comments, and other forms of social validation. 🧠For someone with ADHD, this can create a powerful reinforcement loop, where the desire for immediate positive feedback leads to increased screen time and social media engagement. This cycle can be hard to break, as it taps directly into our innate need for social approval and belonging, and to reduce feelings of rejection. 

Information Overload and Analysis Paralysis

With the entirety of the internet's information at our fingertips, the desire to learn and consume content can become overwhelming. For those of us with ADHD, the abundance of information can lead to analysis paralysis, where we're unable to decide what to focus on or take action because of the overwhelming choices available. This can manifest in endless scrolling, jumping from one article or video to another without ever feeling fully satisfied or informed.

Impulse Control (Or Lack Of It)

Impulse control is a central theme for many of us living with ADHD. It's like our brains are wired with a 'just do it' button that's too sensitive, leading us to act before thinking through the consequences. This aspect of ADHD can manifest in various ways, not just in our digital habits but in multiple areas of life, from spending money and making snap decisions to engaging in risky behaviors.

Impulse control plays a significant role in why we might find it hard to resist picking up our phone the moment we feel bored or why we impulsively start a new video game or social media app without considering the time it'll consume. Our brains crave instant gratification, eagerly seeking that swift dopamine surge, and digital content expertly delivers this right to our doorstep.

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10 Signs It’s Time For A Digital Detox

So, we know how our ADHD symptoms can lead us down the path to the temptation of excessive screen time, but how do we know when it's time to re-evaluate our technology use? 🤔

Here are a few sure-fire signs that your electronic devices could be secretly fueling some of your most intense ADHD-related behaviors.

  1. You're losing track of time frequently.

This is particularly relevant for those with ADHD, who may already struggle with time management and avoidance. The hyperfocus that comes with ADHD can make it even easier to lose track of time on digital devices, exacerbating procrastination and disorganization. 🙁

  1. Your sleep patterns are disrupted.

Individuals with ADHD often have difficulty with sleep regulation. 😴The stimulating effects of screen time, especially before bed, can worsen these issues, impacting our overall mood and cognitive function.

  1. You're feeling anxious or depressed.

ADHD is frequently comorbid with anxiety and depression. Excessive screen use can heighten these feelings, creating a cycle where digital devices are used as a coping mechanism, exacerbating symptoms. 

  1. You're struggling with low self-esteem.

Letting hours slip by on our phones while crucial tasks sit untouched can knock our self-esteem down a few pegs, stirring up those all-too-familiar feelings of falling short and not measuring up. 😢

  1. You're neglecting real-life interactions and responsibilities.

For those with ADHD, maintaining relationships and keeping up with responsibilities is often challenging. Excessive screen time can further distract from these areas, leading to strained relationships and unmet obligations.

  1. Your attention span Is even shorter than normal.

The quick, varied stimuli provided by screens can worsen attention span, making it even harder for individuals with ADHD to focus on less immediately gratifying tasks.

  1. You're relying on things like social media for emotional regulation.

Individuals with ADHD may struggle with emotional dysregulation. Turning to screens for comfort can prevent the development of healthier emotional coping strategies, leaving individuals more vulnerable to mood swings and emotional instability. 

  1. You're less productive than normal.

ADHD can impair one's ability to start and complete tasks efficiently. Excessive device use can be a significant distraction, affecting productivity and leading to frustration and feelings of worthlessness. 😔

  1. You compare yourself to others online.

The tendency towards impulsivity and seeking external validation in ADHD can make social media particularly challenging, as it may amplify feelings of inadequacy and lead to negative comparisons with others.

  1. You check your phone constantly - and you're anxious if you can't

There's no clear-cut definition of how often it is too often to check your phone - it's more about how it impacts you and how much control you feel you have over your usage. 

For those with ADHD, constantly checking our phones goes beyond boredom or staying in touch - it reflects our brain's deep need for new stimuli. This behavior can resemble addiction, though it's unique in the realm of behavioral addictions like excessive smartphone use.

There's a growing trend in research studying the effects of 'nomophobia,' where being out of contact with a mobile device leads to anxiousness, nervousness, and discomfort. In fact, recent research identifies a connection between nomophobia and adolescents with ADHD

Whether adults with ADHD are more likely to struggle with this or not remains unclear, but if your phone dying when you don't need it urgently fills you with more fear than freedom, it's probably time to take a look at your relationship with it.

ADHD-Friendly Tips For Managing Screen Time

In today's digital era, our attention is constantly pulled in various directions by the sheer volume of content available to us. It's not your fault if you find it challenging to stay focused; the digital platforms are designed by experts incredibly skilled at capturing and maintaining our attention. 

In this environment of limitless information, our attention is often monetized by tech companies, making it difficult for everyone, and particularly challenging for individuals with ADHD, to maintain control over where their focus goes.

The modern world, with its infinite scroll of media, tempts us into a cycle of consumption that can feel inescapable. Still, it's important to remember that this constant overstimulation is a condition of our environment, not a deficiency within us. 💕

So, what can we do when the world around us is engineered to hook our attention? We take charge. 💪We remind ourselves that beneath the noise, our focus is still our own to command. It's time to reassert control, turn away from screens' artificial glow, and rediscover the warmth of human connection. 🥰

Here’s a few ways we can try doing this:

  1. Focus on the ‘IRL’

Encourage a new ritual: phone-free dinners or specific social time. This simple practice is a stepping stone toward valuing face-to-face interactions. It's about being fully present with those around us in 'real life,' savoring the moment without the ping of social media pulling our attention away. 😍

  1. Customize your notifications

The relentless buzz of notifications can fracture focus. Taming this by turning them off or customizing them for specific times or contacts can be revolutionary. It's not just about reclaiming peace; it's about choosing when and where we give our attention.

If it's not urgent, it's not worth the interruption. 

By decluttering your digital alerts, you streamline your focus, reserving it for the truly important pings of daily life. 

  1. Put in digital boundaries

Creating specific 'offline hours' can be incredibly liberating. It's like setting an 'open sign' for when you're digitally available, teaching yourself and others that your time is precious. This doesn't mean going 'off the grid' - you can still be reachable in an emergency! 📱

  1. Make tech work for you.

Fight fire with fire by utilizing apps designed to help you monitor and manage your smartphone usage. 😉For example, OffScreen allows you to block distracting apps and filter communications, ensuring you're only accessible when necessary.

Need a bit more of an extreme approach? 😂 Flipd allows you to impose a lock on your phone for predetermined durations, ensuring there's no option to backtrack. Restarting your device won't circumvent the lock, making it a foolproof way to commit to focused time. 

Flipd also lets you control the lock on someone else's device from afar, so you can boost your focus and accountability game by having someone you trust help keep your ADHD symptoms in check. Together, these apps can be powerful allies in reducing screen time and enhancing your focus and productivity.

  1. Keep certain rooms tech-free

Ejecting your smartphone from the bedroom can lead to better sleep and a more serene start to the day. Replace the habit of scrolling with the simplicity of an alarm clock, breaking the cycle of nighttime and morning phone checks. You could also do this for the office - keeping your phone in your bag, or if you work from home, in another room entirely. 

  1. Schedule digital downtime

Intentionally schedule phone-free time into your day, or commit to having certain days where you use it less, such as Sundays. Treat these periods with the same respect as any important meeting - they're appointments with peace and productivity. 🧘 During these times, let your phone rest, and you'll likely find your mind does the same.

These strategies are more than just tips - they're acts of reclaiming your mental environment. Each suggestion is a step towards a space where your attention is respected, your presence valued, and your screen time is a choice, not a compulsion. 💪

Key Takeaways

  • Screens provide a vital source of sensory stimulation and novelty, satisfying the ADHD brain's craving for dopamine and instant gratification. Although they offer quick entertainment and can be a coping mechanism for mental health challenges, they also contribute to procrastination and overstimulation.

  • There are several challenges that mean people with ADHD might be at an increased risk of too much screen time, specifically in relation to ADHD symptoms. 


These include:

  • Difficulty filtering out distractions
  • Mental health problems
  • Hyperfocus
  • Issues with social relationships 
  • Impulsive and compulsive behavioral problems such as Internet addiction 
  • Overwhelm and decision paralysis
  • There are a few key signs that it may be time to reassess our technology use, such as losing track of time, disrupted sleep patterns, heightened feelings of anxiety or depression, neglecting real-life interactions, and an uncontrollable urge to check devices constantly.
  • To combat excessive screen time and its negative impacts, practical strategies tailored for individuals with ADHD include:

  • Prioritizing real-life interactions over digital ones.
  • Customizing notifications to reduce distractions.
  • Implementing digital boundaries and specific offline hours.
  • Using technology, like apps, to monitor and limit screen usage.
  • Designating tech-free zones and times to improve focus and sleep quality.


Remember, the overwhelm you might feel from so much screen time exposure stems from the constant bombardment of information, not from any personal failing or flaw. 

For those of us with ADHD, the aim is not to cut out screens entirely but to change our relationship with them. 💕

These tweaks can make tech work for you, not against you; they'll help you enjoy what matters without letting screens dominate all of your attention or time, making sure technology adds to your life instead of getting in the way of it. 

What’s Next?

In the mood to learn more about the connection between ADHD, distraction and screen time, whether that’s video game use or how people with ADHD use social media? 

We’ve got you covered! ⬇️

How Social Media Influences The ADHD Brain

A Guide to Healthy Video Game Habits When You Have ADHD

Staying Focused: Understanding & Overcoming Distractions With ADHD

Start your ADHD diagnosis journey!

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Does screen time affect ADHD?

Screen time can significantly impact adults with ADHD, a condition characterized by symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Excessive screen use, particularly before bedtime, may worsen these ADHD symptoms, according to research. Adults with ADHD can manage screen time by engaging in physical activity and mindfulness practices to mitigate adverse impacts on their mental health. For school-aged children and preschool children with ADHD, increased screen time has been associated with a worsening of ADHD symptoms, including inattention and hyperactivity. Early screen exposure and video game use are risk factors that may influence when and how ADHD symptoms in children develop, but there is less evidence to suggest it is the cause. Limiting children's screen time and promoting activities that do not involve electronic devices are crucial steps in managing ADHD symptoms effectively.

How do I reduce screen time for ADHD?

Adults with ADHD can manage screen time by setting personal goals to limit the use of electronic devices. It can be beneficial to implement strategies such as creating a family media plan, utilizing parental tools (for those managing screen time for their children), and prioritizing non-screen activities. Reducing screen use can improve symptoms of ADHD, enhance working memory, and support overall mental health. To effectively reduce screen time for children with ADHD, parents and caregivers are encouraged to establish routines and rules that limit screen exposure, such as setting daily screen time limits, encouraging physical activity, and using parental controls to monitor screen use. Creating a balanced approach to screen use and other activities can help manage ADHD symptoms and support the child's health and development. Engaging the whole family in these efforts can ensure a consistent and supportive environment for managing screen time.

Do kids with ADHD watch a lot of TV?

Children with ADHD may be more inclined to watch a lot of TV and engage in video game use compared to their peers without ADHD. The instant feedback and stimulating nature of screen media can be particularly appealing to kids with ADHD, potentially leading to excessive screen use. Research suggests that school-aged children and older children with ADHD might spend more time on screens, which can interfere with sleep, physical activity, and other aspects of healthy development. Parents and caregivers must monitor and manage media use to ensure a balanced lifestyle.

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