Video games can be very powerful motivational tools, but they can also be huge distractions, especially for kids with executive functioning problems. Take the combination of Minecraft and ADHD, for example. Parents often report that a child who can barely finish a homework task or chore is able to sit for hours in front of Minecraft if they are able. They try setting time limits or taking the game away for short periods of time, but nothing seems to work. Sometimes restrictive limits parents set on access can make technologies even more attractive.
When kids feel as if they can’t play at all, they can become over-focused on access. This is a little bit like kids who are not allowed to have soda and go to a birthday party and excitedly drink bottles of it, only to feel sick afterwards. In general, I encourage parents not to use video games as a reward because it makes game play into a prize rather than simply one of many activities that kids might do on a regular basis. I encourage video games to be viewed as just another activity, like playing outside with your friends, being on a sports team, reading a book, or hanging out with your family. And it’s even better if you incorporate some video game play into that family time.
Playing as a family in local-server-multiplayer mode is strategy that works for some families. Playing together allows you to watch how your child plays but, more importantly, also allows you to get him to talk about his problem solving. It also prompts metacognition about his thinking during game play and working on social and collaborative skills. In our efforts at LearningWorks for Kids we strongly encourage parents to play games with their kids for the aforementioned reasons and offer specific goals for doing so in the Play Together sections of our game guides.
Playing together also provides you with a bit more authority when it comes to setting effective limits with your child. It allows you to model moderation of your own screen time and begin to discuss this issue at their level. I believe that having these discussions at a younger age could help him to develop self-control as he grows up.
Should you have ongoing difficulty with the limit setting when dealing with the combination of a game like Minecraft and ADHD, there are some tools and strategies that can be helpful for setting time limits and access to electronic media. Apps such as Parent TimeLock or Kid Screen Time are examples of tools to monitor screen time. If homework on the computer is to be done between certain hours every night, a browser add-on such as LeechBlock for Mozilla Firefox can prevent social media and other online distractions. Here is a list of limit setting tools to fit the needs of any family.
Featured image: Flickr user JPSnuffy/Glenn Higgs