For the Love of Gaming: Why It Hooks Kids with ADHD
Your ADHD gamer is glued to the screen for hours, but tires of reading after a few minutes. What is it about video games that kids with ADHD find so enthralling? We asked ADDitude readers for their thoughts.
ADHD and video games go hand-in-controller. In a virtual world with no distractions, ADHD gamers can take high-stake risks for immediate gratification and seemingly no real-world consequences. Gaming lights up all the brain regions desperately seeking dopamine.
Many parents report that their kids with ADHD are hooked on video games and would choose gaming over almost any other activity. We asked ADDitude readers why they (or their child) think the appeal to gaming is so strong.
“My 7-year-old has been completely hooked on video games since the first time he was allowed time on a tablet at two years old. His screen time is extremely limited because he cannot tear himself away from the screen even to eat. When it comes to turning a game off, he struggles to do it, and melts down once it’s off. I attribute it to the constant stimulation he gets from playing these games. They are colorful and challenging, but in some ways predictable. He gets the novelty that his brain craves with the structure and stability that helps him make sense of the world.” — An ADDitude reader
“He gets to achieve, change games if someone makes him feel bad, and find online friends who accept his quirks. Gaming also helped him to communicate his needs, and to maintain a friendship with no awful consequences if he gets it wrong. The strict rules have helped him understand what words are not okay, too.” — Amy, UK
“My teenage son is obsessed with video games. He’d play them 24/7 if we let him. I think it calms his ADHD brain to focus on one goal right in front of him. He can succeed and move up a level, or he can fail but get another chance. It delivers instant gratification with fewer feelings of inadequacies or failure. This is his social time with his best friend, too. They play against each other while talking (sometimes screaming) over their phones or mics.” — An ADDitude reader
“Our son has ADHD and ASD and would much rather be outside playing basketball or baseball than inside on video games. However, if the weather does not allow, he will get sucked into Minecraft or NBA2K for a few hours. He tells me it’s satisfying to build something and watch it come together.” — Nicole, Mississippi
“Our teen often said the games captivated his attention with their quick pace and activity. As we allowed him to go out more with friends, he seemed to rely less on the games. However, with the growing influence of social media, he replaced that hyperfocus on gaming with his cell phone, so we have been navigating that tough reality.” — K. Williams, Washington, D.C.
“My son is pretty much addicted to gaming. He finds it appealing because it is challenging and there’s always something new to buy with his points in the game. He creates new things and doesn’t have to make any real-life decisions. He is having a hard time in middle school, so this is his go-to distraction.” — An ADDitude reader
“My nine-year-old son loves his Xbox and VR. The games on the VR keep him very active. He works up a sweat!” — Julie, Ontario, Canada
“I see the same phenomenon on social media, which is where my daughter gets stuck. She says she likes that she can actually focus on social media and escape for a while. She can hyperfocus on ‘stuff’ and be calm for a bit — and often, not get in trouble for being too busy and hopping from one task to another. I feel these things are so rewarding to the ADHD brain that it can become their preferred place.” — CK, Colorado
“My son runs to game when he’s allowed and comes upstairs afterward unable to stop talking about what just happened. The endless variety and ever-changing landscape where you are constantly earning rewards and other players’ praise push every ADHD button he has. He even loves reading LitRPG about other people living in worlds that are run like games because the appeal is so strong. Gaming is our most powerful behavioral lever (along with reading the LitRPG) and, in moderation, we’ve found it as a great outlet for him.” — Tasia, California
“My son plays fast-paced video games such as Just Shapes & Beats and Geometry Dash. I think he is attracted to these games because they match the processing speed of his brain. He excels at them because they cater to his strengths instead of the slow pace of other activities, including schoolwork.” — Karolyn, Tennessee
“It seems like video games are the only thing that can match pace with how fast my son’s brain is going. Everything else feels boring to him. When I asked him, he said, ‘I feel like I’m really in it and it’s exciting!’” — Christine, Michigan
“My son has been hooked on anything electronic since he was maybe six or seven years old. We have always had to create boundaries and limits around screens and video games because he cannot do this for himself. He is 15 now. It’s something he does with his friends, so that can be more challenging. He can play video games for hours and ignore everything else.” — Andrea, Iowa
“Interactive video games juice up the dopamine center in the ADHD brain. With ADHD, dopamine levels are lower, so it makes sense it would feel extra good to them. We talk about this as just how their brain works and that they must be careful about getting too addicted to anything that makes their dopamine rocket up.” — An ADDitude reader
“Gaming provides an ADHD brain with continuous challenges and, hence, entertainment that is long-standing for the brain. Boredom is not a possibility!” — Tania
ADHD and Video Games: Next Steps
- Download: Too Much Screen Time? How to Regulate Your Teen’s Devices
- Watch: How to Create a Healthy Video Game Diet for Your Child with ADHD
- Read: Do Video Games Exacerbate ADHD?
Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.