Ask the Experts

Q: “My Child Decompresses with Video Games and Then Has No Time for Homework. Help!”

“Setting a blackout hour is a very effective way to refocus a child with ADHD’s attention away from playing video games and helps budget his screen time appropriately.”

teen playing video game, decrompressing after school
Q: “My son is super busy with after-school activities and rarely has time to hang out with his friends. When he gets home, his friends usually invite him to log on and play video games. This causes tension because he often gets sucked in and can’t pull himself away to do homework. How can he balance socializing with his friends over video games and having enough time to finish his homework and other responsibilities around the house?” — VideoGameMom

Hi VideoGameMom:

What you’re describing makes total sense. Video games seem never-ending — they are designed to keep children playing long after they should exit. It’s easy for children to lose track of time while playing. The social aspect of talking to and playing with friends as if they are in person makes it much harder for kids to disconnect.

I’m all for decompressing after a busy school day. Kids need downtime before starting their homework or other responsibilities. The problem occurs when that downtime completely stops a student from doing what needs to be done. There needs to be a balance.

Here are a few strategies to help your son balance his after-school decompression time and other responsibilities.

Establish a Blackout Hour

When my children were young, we had a designated time — for everyone — in the evenings when no phones, television, or screens were used.

[Read: An “Ethics Manual” for Your Teen’s Electronics]

Being “forced” to shut down all screens for an hour or so every night allows for uninterrupted and nonnegotiable time to complete homework, practice an instrument, prepare for the next day, and reset the home.

It also takes all negotiations out of the equation. By establishing parameters and boundaries beforehand, the constant questioning of “Can I?” or “Five more minutes, please!” has already been answered.

And the best part?

When your son’s friends ask why he has to turn off a game, he can easily blame you! Saving face and getting work done sounds pretty good to me. All kidding aside, a blackout hour is a very effective way to refocus his attention away from video games and budget his screen time appropriately.

Track Gaming Time

Create a gaming log (I like using a spreadsheet format) where you write down what time your son starts playing a game, the game’s name, and when he stops playing. Total up the gaming hours at the end of each week. Seeing that huge number in real-time, instead of just telling your son, may snap him out of his video game vortex. The data never lies!

[Self-Test: Could My Child Be Addicted to the Internet? ]

Set a Physical Timer

Kids lose track of time when they play video games, especially if they are having a bad game or are working toward advancing to another level. Setting a timer will give your son a visual cue for where he sits in time. If the timer is too easy to ignore, place it on the opposite side of the room or connect it to his gaming console.

Activate the Sleep Timer Function

This tip is my favorite. Buried deep in your television’s settings is a handy sleep timer function. Just choose how long you want the television to be on; the TV shuts off automatically when that time ends. Yes, it’s abrupt, but it does the trick.

Good luck!

Decompress with Screen Time? Next Steps

ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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