Updated: Dec 3, 2018
Why can’t my child focus in school, but when it comes to a video game he can focus like a laser beam for hours?
If you are the parent of a hyperactive or 'focus challenged' child you are probably completely stumped (and frustrated) by the above question…
This concept seems to defy logic…a child can either focus or he can’t, sit still or he can’t…but not both, otherwise it must be a behavior problem.
So what is up???
Well for starters, it is completely natural for all of us to be able to focus better on something we are personally interested in or get enjoyment from. But more scientifically, and psychologically, video games provide a lot, both chemically and socially, to kids that have attention issues.
When kids play games and rack up points, move to higher levels, and unlock characters and goodies, their brain is rewarded by dopamine, a neurotransmitter that’s released each time they “win.”
Dopamine is our ‘feel good’ hormone and works in the pleasure centers of our brain. It works to excite our brain. This chemical is often at the center of attention deficit kids’ love affair with electronics.
Contrary to popular belief, hyperactive or attention deficit kids, have a problem with their brainwaves being in a low or almost sleep state. Their constant activity is actually their body’s way of trying to keep their brain awake. In fact, medications like Ritalin, control ADHD/ADD by increasing dopamine activity. So, when kids play video games they are in a sense self-medicating, giving their brain that extra boost.
Also, kids with ADHD/ADD can sometimes be ridiculed and ostracized, and struggle to make friends. Online they can create false personas about themselves that are more positive and confident than in their real life. The ability to make virtual friends online is easier than in person, they can take on a personality that is a stronger, and more popular version of themselves...it is a place where they are not defined by their struggles.
Furthermore, the constant and rapid stimulation of video games is hard to match in real life. The brains of children adapt to this speed, and everyday life, teachers, and school work, are just not exciting enough to meet their attention needs. So, when kids are forced to work in the slower pace of real life, it literally feels like a drag on their system.
So how do we fix it?
The best strategy is to restrict the amount of time they spend lost in these artificial environments. It is important that we provide lots of real life stimulating and exciting situations that offer reward and enjoyment to replace the gaming. Parents, this one will require some extra effort and patience to initiate and encourage. Kids will be reluctant to give up this time and you will most likely receive a lot of grumbling and resistance. Be strong, patient, and know that it is so important to bring them online in the real world. They need to learn how to have fun, how to make friends, and have a feeling that they belong to something. These skills are necessary to get along in life…real life.
References used for this article include:
- Shapiro, Jordan PhD., Forbes, "How Video Games Impact Children"