Your teenager with ADHD spends too much time playing video games, but you don't want to donate his xBox to charity or lock up his iPad just yet. Here are some things you can do to steer him toward a more balanced digital life without having to "cut the cord."
> Make the alternatives more appealing. Work with your teen to find other activities that will engage him and that will help him develop new interests and hobbies. If your child is the creative type, nurture other interests by, say, buying him art supplies and signing him up for painting or drawing lessons. Cooking lessons are, to my amazement, very popular among those with ADHD. If your teen likes adrenaline rushes, encourage him to take up exciting physical activities, like skateboarding, skiing, rock-climbing, or surfing, as an alternative to screen time. I have seen teens happily give up their video games for such high-adrenaline activities.
> Broaden his digital horizons. If your child loves technology, encourage him to use it for more productive pursuits than playing games. Have him use his smartphone or a video camera to make videos that he can share with family members or post on YouTube. He can learn programming language and create his own video games, or log on to websites, such as Scratch or Gamestar Mechanic, to design games and animations. He can launch his own website or blog using Tumblr or Wordpress.
> Set a schedule. Many families of teens with ADHD find that routine and structure are imperative to helping their children work to the best of their abilities. However, with a teen's busy life and his need for independence, it can be difficult to impose a schedule on him. Strategies used with younger children, such as "an hour a day" or "just on weekends," won't work with a teen. Parents should make a deal with their teen: Homework first, then games. If grades drop, gaming time drops, too. The way a parent presents this is important, though. Talk with your teen about this rule in the context of teaching him how to allocate time responsibly. Avoid equating a "first, then" policy with punishment. Stress that there is a sequence in which things are done in order to preserve the gaming time your teen has now.
> Control the Internet. Request your cell-phone provider to block usage between specified hours for teens who can't stop playing. Because a teen's cell phone is often his go-to technology for game playing, this approach works well. Another strategy is to keep the router in your bedroom, so you can control the Internet. Unplug it if your teen doesn't listen to your requests for limited playtime.
> Balance video games with other types of play. Rather than viewing video game playtime as negative, consider it part of a healthy "play diet." If your child is spending a substantial proportion of his time engaged in outdoor exercise, socializing with friends, and completing his homework, then spending some time playing video games is not a bad thing. Video games can give kids things to talk about with their friends, sharpen their digital skills, and improve some critical thinking skills, as long as they don't overdo it.
This balanced approach should involve the entire family. Parents need to show some restraint when using their smartphones, tablets, and other devices. On a daily basis, parents should try to be physically active, spend quality time with family members, and pursue "hands-on" interests like cooking, reading, and gardening.
> Take a family vacation from technology. One day a month, or more, shut off all televisions, computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices. Use this time to work on a family project, go on a hike, read, play board games, or do an art project. Have a plan to keep everybody in the family busy and engaged. You might find that no one really misses his technology very much.
RANDY KULMAN, PH.D., is the author of Playing Smarter in a Digital World.