Dear Teen Parenting Coach

Q: How Can I Get My Teen to Better Balance Video Games with Homework and After-School Activities?

Teens will choose fun activities (like video games) over challenging, less pleasurable tasks (like homework) every time. How do parents set screen time limits — without triggering explosions? Our Teen Parenting Coach explains.

Q: “My teen has a hard time starting any task, but when he’s playing video games it’s impossible to get him to switch gears! Should I limit screen time and video games? How can I teach him to manage his own screens?”

Yes, you need to limit your teen’s screen time. He will choose fun activities over challenging, or less pleasurable things every time, and you need to teach him how to create a balance. For great advice on regulating technology from toddlers up through high school, I recommend Screen-Smart Parenting, by Jodi Gold, M.D., for guidance.

To start, find a way to block Internet access, and other access to video games, after your teen has reached a certain limit.

You could also try making a deal with your child that he can play a video game for 15 minutes in between his first homework assignment, and his second. This strategy helps to teach delayed gratification by introducing waiting periods, though the multiple, quick transitions from work to gaming and back again can prove too challenging for some teens.

The continued use of such an agreement only works as long as he stops playing the game in the allotted time. Your teen must earn the privilege of playing the video game in between assignments by consistently stopping when the timer goes off.

[“How Much Screen Time Is Too Much?”]

If on Monday he plays for 30 minutes instead of 15, there are no video games on Tuesday. He can earn the privilege back on Wednesday. With technology, the punishment should be immediate and brief. He earns it on a daily basis, and loses it on a daily basis – not for months at a time.

Make sure to review the rules right before starting homework. Your teen may roll his eyes and repeat the rule with heavy sarcasm, but you know he has heard it.

Another way to give your teen more control is to ask, “How long can you do homework before you need a break to look at your phone?” Then, set up a study schedule using an app like Pomodoro. Your teen works for 25 minutes straight, then gets a five-minute break. When he has accumulated four of those, he gets an hour break for screen time. Your teen will be more invested if you negotiate the schedule with him, instead of imposing the schedule on him.

Encourage your teen to evaluate his own performance on the task – not in the heat of the moment, but later in the evening, or the next morning. Ask him to think about what he could do better, or differently. Or, ask, “How did you keep to your schedule? What did you say to yourself to stay on track?” This can make teens more aware of the internal dialogues and strategies that work best for them.

[Free Download: Brain-Building Video and Computer Games]

Technology should be balanced with physical activity and social activity, even if it’s not impacting your child’s grades. No one category should totally absorb your teen’s time.

This advice came from “The Teen Brain on ADHD,” a February 2018 ADDitude webinar lead by Peg Dawson, Ed.D., that is now available for free replay here.

Peg Dawson, Ed.D., is a member of the ADDitude ADHD Medical Review Panel.

Do you have a question for ADDitude’s Dear Teen Parenting Coach? Submit your question or challenge here.

The opinions and suggestions presented above are intended for your general knowledge only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your own or your child’s condition.