Many children with ADHD are characterized by their high levels of activity, impulsive behavior, and sometimes dangerous activities. Parents of kids as young as the age of 2 often report behavior such as running off in parking lots or getting lost while shopping at the supermarket. This type of risk-taking behavior might also be seen in climbing the monkey bars at the playground or jumping off the couch onto the living room floor. Dangerous activities for ADHD kids occasionally result in trips to the emergency room, but more often a series of cuts and bruises is the norm. Risk-taking behavior can also be observed in a more positive fashion such as the 4-year-old who is riding a bike without training wheels, the 8-year-old soccer player who is appropriately aggressive and leads the team in goal scoring, and the 12-year-old whose risky skateboarding skills warranted a sponsorship from the local skate shop.
The search for risk-taking and dangerous activities in children diagnosed with ADHD can often be seen in their choice of video games, movies, and music. They may be drawn to some of the more violent, highly-active video games; become entranced with scary movies; or truly enjoy fast-paced and loud music. While none of these activities are dangerous by their nature, parents of boys with ADHD often try to redirect or “nudge” their children into risky but less physically dangerous activities.
Why do children with ADHD want to worry their parents with their dangerous stunts? The rationale is that kids with ADHD are drawn to high levels of stimulation. Beyond the sheer fun of it, this type of excitement appears to have a basis in brain functioning, as it increases the amount of dopamine, the neurotransmitter most closely associated with the reward center of the brain. Recent neurobiological data suggest that boys with ADHD do not produce the same amount of dopamine for boring or mundane activities as do their typically-developing peers, but they do have similar levels for more engaging activities. One of those activities where ADHD children produce higher levels of dopamine in their brains is in playing video games. However, most parents want their kids to be interested in more than playing video games all day. As a result, finding other activities to engage interests that may be viewed as somewhat “dangerous” is an important task for their parents.
One very powerful way is to find other pursuits that combine the interest that kids with ADHD show in video games and technology with “risky” real-world activities. These activities are more likely to sustain their attention, and playing video games and using other technologies offers an opportunity to supplement and improve skills.
Tips for Managing ADHD and Dangerous Behavior:
l.) Get involved in extreme sports. One of the best ways to help children become involved in doing extreme sports is to combine the sports with video games that practice these sports. Studies indicate that children who play sports video games increase the amount of time they spend playing and practicing these same sports. Video games such as Skate and SSX can be very useful tools for encouraging an interest in extreme sports.
2.) Let them go fast. While you don’t want your 10-year-old driving your car, you might want to consider whether riding a dirt bike or a go-kart might be a strategy to sustain his attention and focus. These types of motorized vehicles are often extremely rewarding for boys with ADHD, and they are 100% under the parents’ control. As a result, getting homework done, completing chores, and behavioral compliance can be linked to opportunities for using these vehicles. Playing racing video games such as Need for Speed, Wipeout HD and Gran Turismo may also improve attention skills and interest in real-world racing sports.
3.) Let them stay up later. Many boys with ADHD have a great deal of energy and tend to have difficulty falling asleep at an early hour. Rather than fighting them on this, you might want to consider letting them take the “risky behavior” of staying up later. However during the time they are staying up later, get them engaged in some type of worthwhile activity. Preferably this would be something such as reading or doing art or a writing assignment. Other strategies could include using audio books, as long as they are not scary stories, or listening to music. We strongly discourage allowing boys with ADHD to play video games or watch television within an hour and a half of going to bed at night.
Featured image: Flickr user Tony Alter