Ask the Experts

Q: What Activities (Besides Video Games) Captivate the Attention of Teens with ADHD?

Video games are addictive for ADHD brains. If your teen tends to hyperfocus on screens, help him strike a healthier balance with these creative alternatives: ideas for activities and interests that will capture the attention of even hardcore, non-sporty gamers.

Q: “Like most teenagers, my son with ADHD really enjoys video games, especially when he plays with his friends remotely at home. However, he hyper-focuses on any activity that includes screen time and does little else. What are some good hobbies or general interests you have seen that are especially good for teens with ADHD? My son does not play or watch sports so any sport-related suggestion will most likely not work.” —Frustrated Father

Hi Frustrated Father:

It wasn’t long ago that I was sitting in your seat – the parent of a high-school student with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) who enjoyed playing video games with his friends. He also had no interest in watching “sport ball,” as he called it, or participating in it. Luckily, we had put a few parameters in place along the way to strike a healthy balance between gaming and cultivating his own interests.

How to place parameters around screen time. I encourage parents to schedule “blackout” hours daily when everyone in your home engages in activities other than screens. You set a period of time — such as two hours — when the house is “dark.”  This is the perfect time for your son to dive into other activities or interests.

Remember, it is YOUR responsibility to determine when and how long he can play video games and to introduce clear and specific controls, rules and consequences.

That said, here are a few ideas that your son might find interesting and engaging.

Cooking. When my older daughter told my son that girls love a guy who can cook, hands down, this became my son’s favorite “non-screen” activity! (Try any angle you can!) Cooking is active, engaging, hands-on, and creative. He would watch the Food Network, download recipes from various websites, and order special ingredients online. And a tip within a tip? I would pay him for his “services” if he cooked dinner for our family. That sometimes was incentive enough!

[ADDitude eBook: Video Games and the ADHD Brain]

Music. We are a household of musicians, so my son grew up with music in his blood. But I believe anyone can cultivate this hobby. Play music all through your house. Break out your old vinyl if you still have it. Ask him to create playlists for YOU on Spotify. (I still do this!) Take a trip to your local music store so he can literally fiddle with all the instruments. And, if you can, go with him to a live concert or twelve. There is nothing better than seeing a live performance to peak interest!

Cars. Does your son have his driver’s license? If so, does he know how to change the oil? Change a tire? Recognize when something goes wrong? It was one thing for New York State to deem my children ready to drive. It was another for me and my husband to do so. Your son is at the perfect age to learn all there is about cars and their maintenance.

Games. Friday night poker games were a staple in our house when my son was in high school. The same group of boys who were gaming on line found their way to the card table in our den. We provided snacks, pizza, and soft drinks — and the game provided hours of socializing, strategy and game playing. Win Win!  (If poker is not your son’s first choice, try chess or cards.)

Old Movies. Has your son seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High?” What about “The Lost Boys” or “Less Than Zero?” Give your son a list of YOUR favorite movies from when you were his age. There is nothing wrong with binge watching the classics and you just might find yourself glued to the couch to watch along with him.

[Free Download: Too Much Screen Time? How to Regulate Your Teen’s Devices]

Exercise. Does your son do any type of exercise? Physical movement is so critical for the health and wellbeing of an ADHD brain. Perhaps, instead of playing sports, he would prefer to ride his bike? Swim or run regularly? Even skateboard? When my son was in high school, we scheduled one-on-one sessions with a private trainer twice a week. He needed the body doubling to initiate and the benefits were tremendous for his mind and body.

Good luck.

Organization guru Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to marital communication and from mastering to-do lists to breaking video-game habits.

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