Video Games and Attention Problems

Share it now

Can Excessive Video Game Playing Cause "ADHD Like"Attention Problems?

Yes, its just like you thought. The more your child or teen sits around watching TV or playing video games, the more at risk they will be for learning problems and attention problems. We have written about this before, and not to much has changed except that the research is starting to show up to validate what parents have known for years now.

There is a new study out of Iowa State University, published in Psychophysiology, that reports that young adults (they studied young men between 18 and 33 years old) who play around 40 hours per week of video games have more difficulty maintaining focused attention in the classroom or similar settings, and that certain brain wave patterns associated with attention were diminished in the video playing group over the control group.

One of the study’s authors is Dr. Craig Anderson, director of Iowa State’s Center for the Study of Violence. Dr. Anderson has studied the effects of a number of video games on human behavior. He has written an letter to parents that I would encourage you to read here: and his website’s home page is here:

As parents we have to understand that video games may be addictive to our children and teens. In fact, others have reported that up to 30% of all males who play video games regularly may be physiologically addicted to game playing. The more violent the game is, the more potentially addictive it may be.

Parents, please understand that your children are growing up in a culture that is far different from the culture that we grew up in. Our children don't know about Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Viet Nam, or even Jimmy Carter.

Our children have far more media and entertainment choices than we ever grew up with, and they don’t know that they can live without cell phones, ipods, video games, rental videos, cable TV, and the internet – because they have never known a world without them!

Children and teens live their lives saturated with media. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s most recent study of children ages 8 to 18:
• Young people spend an average of 6.5 hours per day with entertainment media, which works out to over 44 hours per week!
• Since young people often multi-task with media, they are actually exposed to about 8.5 hours of entertainment media every day, or about 60 hours per week.
• TV, videos, and music are the dominant entertainment media, averaging 4 hours every day.
• Internet use for fun averages about 1 hour per day.
• Playing of video games averages 1 hour per day.
• By comparison, reading books, magazines, or newspapers averages only 45 minutes per day. Doing chores averages 30 minutes per day, and doing homework averages 50 minutes per day.

Of course, we parents are the ones who have created this media entertainment environment for our children and teens to grow up in. Our homes average 3.6 CD players, 3.5 television sets, 3.3 radios, 3.9 DVD players, 2.1 video game consoles, and 1.5 computers. In fact, 25% of children are growing up in a home with five or more TV sets!

A recent study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine by Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the New York State Psychiatric Institute research team led by Jeffrey Johnson, and Tara Stevens of Texas Tech University.

This study shows that teenagers who spent a lot of time watching TV were more likely to have attention and learning problems “that persist, and interfere with their long-term educational achievement.” The researchers advise parents to limit the amount of time they let their children watch TV (or we would add any entertainment that is similar to TV viewing, such as video game play) to less than two hours per day, adding that they should only watch quality programming.

They specifically noted that video games have little educational value, and may promote attention problems in children. We are concerned by other studies that show that violent video games, they kind that can cause the release of adrenalin, can be highly addictive, and that about 30% of boys who play these games are already addicted to them.

The researchers found that watching TV for three or more hours per day at the age of 14 often resulted in attention problems, failure to complete homework, boredom at school, failure to complete high school, poor grades, negative attitudes about school, overall academic failure in high school later on, and failure to go on to college.

This list looks a lot like a list for someone abusing drugs too, doesn’t it? We have always been concerned that TV viewing acts on the brain much like a narcotic, and that too much viewing can be addictive. Though this study doesn’t address that issue, the list of results from too much viewing is certainly troubling. The researchers conclude that we should restrict the time that our children and teens spend viewing TV or playing video games.

By the way parents, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under two years of age not watch TV at all. TV watching by infants has shown to be associated with problems of attention control, aggressive behavior, and poor mental development. The AAP views excessive television viewing by infants as “one of the major public health issues facing American children.”

Parents, its time that we come to understand that TV and video games are not our friends, and they are not our children’s friends. We were not created to spend 40 hours per week inside our rooms, sitting on sofas, playing video games or watching TV shows. We were made to move, to go outside and play, to work, to interact with others, to make conversation, to think.

It is time for us to re-evaluate how we let our children live their lives. It is time for us to re-evaluate our own lives. Please don’t let those that you love waste their lives in virtual worlds.

Back to Teenagers and ADHD index

Share it now