Managing screen time : My 15yo daughter... - CHADD's ADHD Pare...

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Managing screen time

KristinaMN71 profile image

My 15yo daughter has ADHD/anxiety. I am wondering how to get her interested in other activities at home besides screens. I know they have significantly interfered with her cognitive development. For example, in early middle school she showed amazing artistic talent … and then she got her phone at 12 and everything just stopped. She refuses to draw unless it is on her iPad, and she prefers to make “piccrews” (basically digital paper dolls) over all else. She also insists on listening to the most inane podcast out there, some guy reading Reddit stories about terrible people. No matter what we do she always finds a way to get back at those screens!! A big example is that we have tried over and over to take her phone out of her room at night but there are always panic attacks and meltdowns about not being able to listen to her podcast or text friends/crisis line if she is having thoughts of self-harm. So then I put major screentime restrictions on her phone, but (like every other teenager) she knows workarounds that allow her to do things like watch downloaded TikTok videos all night (she doesn’t even have the app on her phone so I don’t know where she downloads them). I feel so manipulated but also so worn down, almost as if it’s too late for anything I do to make a difference. She is just so bright and talented. I hate seeing it constantly squandered. Has anyone managed to get the screens out of the picture??

18 Replies

I actually have a huge problem with children and cell phones but that's mostly because I do work for a criminal defense attorney and the things kids do..... They'd shock ya'll. My kids don't have cell phones. They know why they don't have cell phones. They know that when they are driving age and a cell phone becomes something they need I will get them non-smart phones. They have no tablets. They don't need them. They don't have personal computers. We have 1 tv. They earn time on it. My son does love video games and would play them non-stop if allowed. He's not allowed.

Go get a cell phone designed for old people that calls and that's it. They make them. Is your kid going to throw an absolute fit? Yup.

KristinaMN71 profile image
KristinaMN71 in reply to WYMom

I appreciate your perspective and envy the boundaries you have established. Sadly cutting my kid off from texting would be essentially isolating her from the few friends she has. So we need to figure out a happy medium.

WYMom profile image
WYMom in reply to KristinaMN71

I understand what you are saying but a cell phone is a privilege and if she can't respect boundaries she isn't earning that privilege. She sees her friends at school I'm sure. Also, if she is going to self harm she can come to your room and ask for the cell phone. Unrestricted bedroom cell phone use is your problem and it does sound like you are happy to make excuses for it. Apologies if I am too blunt, it'sy personality.

KristinaMN71 profile image
KristinaMN71 in reply to WYMom

Thank you for your input.

For the night phone thing.. Can you get her a "dumb phone" with prepaid minutes for night time and then remove the smart phone? You can put the crisit line in speed dial too. That way she is safe but can't access the stuff causing problems.

For the podcast, if it is one she isn't allowed to listen to, then you might have to go through those panic attacks.

As someone with cptsd, avoiding a situation to avoid a panic attack does not help. It just gives more "power" to the anxiety.

Does she have a therapist? If so, could the therapist help with the anxiety side of not having screens?

I’ve thought about a “crisis phone” before—maybe even a landline! 🤯 And … you are so right about anxiety avoidance. She has had such violent PTSD symptoms over the past two years that it’s hard not to want to protect her from any “unnecessary” suffering. I know it’s not helping anyone to give in to the short-term fixes. We did start DBT a few months ago which I can tell is going to be extremely helpful … we go as a family, and it’s helping me as much as anyone! (She has been in therapy for a few years but I think this approach will lay a good foundation for both ADHD/anxiety management and trauma work.) Anyhow, your response is really making me feel strongly about putting a plan in action with an eye on long-term benefits. Thank you!!

You got this!

It is hard but will be worth it.

Many children with ADHD need tools to help them cope with the symptoms of ADHD. Some of these tools are thearpy, medication and an educational plan. We have all internet turned off with our cell service at 10 pm and it does not come back on until after he wakes up, and is ready to walk out the door.

If your daughter has a thearpist, write a plan if X she gets Y and include wifi.

Just like eating veggies, brushing teeth, doing chores, these are all very important and of course they would like it, but in out house they are required.

One additional aspect of ADHD is that most kids function about 2 years younger than their biological age so parenting is very important. With support from a thearpist they can help you put limits for her own good.

This is a very hard journey and having to guide our children to do the right thing is important.

We are always here to support you.

Take care

Thank you for your kindness. This is such a constant struggle but never a “crisis” so it never comes up in therapy. I am going to bring it up tomorrow.

If she is always on her phone and she is focused on her phone/text/social media.. it is most likely tied to her identity and it would be very important for the therapist you know about that and help her define what is healthy..We are always here for you..

Good luck.

I used to worry a lot more about screens than I do now. I’m still fully freaked out by the horrors of the internet, but I decided to take a step back from the screen battle. I realized that, for us, the main issues were anxiety and depression and the screens were a symptom. Interestingly, once I stopped threatening to take all the devices away, the energy went out of the fight and I was able to negotiate more off screen time. We basically do an hour on/an hour off. I’m working to increase the off screen time. My daughter is an artist too. She has gotten really into art projects that can’t be done digitally: needle felting, wood carving, clay. I also encourage making art on the iPad. Basically, I’m trying to encourage non-screen activities and also to share her on screen stuff as much as possible so at least I know what she’s doing. It’s a big project and we’re not there yet by a long shot. But for me, sidestepping the confrontation helped a ton. I forgot to say that I did this in partnership with our therapists who were less “anti-screen” than I thought they’d be.

KristinaMN71 profile image
KristinaMN71 in reply to MaudQ

Thank you! I’ve also had tons of luck with the time on/time off approach—she does prefer sort of mindless hands-on activities these days (e.g. making bracelets, doing her makeup) but I think that is largely because it soothes her anxiety, where making art is risky in her mind because she might not like the end product. So many moving parts with these kids! Regardless, I am going to double-down on having her get out art supplies during downtime. I really appreciate your insights. Your daughter is lucky to have you.

It's really about getting her to understand how all this masses of information affects the ADHD and anxious brain. It's about only taking in and engaging with 'sanitized' information and resources that help you. It's difficult with all this instant access to every bit of information out there, if you are prone to anxiety (and general anxiety disorder is a co-morbidity of ADHD) then it's simply not good for you. For example, I know I engage in a lot of doom scrolling, following links on articles, reading up on everything that seems to be a 'big thing' right now and that can lead to obsession. Like the Ukraine war, politics, global financial crisis, serious lack of leadership, etc. It feels like the world is going mad around us and if you are not able to block out the noise of things that really have no direct bearing on you, then it's going to affect you and keep your mood down.

She has to understand that , in order to find a calm space, she needs to take an active role in putting effort into things that help her mental health and not feed the beast that is always whispering over your shoulder that things are terrible and you must feel everyone else's pain. That's a difficult part of being very empathic and I feel that neuro diverse people are generally more sensitive and empathic, so we feel everything and want to fix fix fix. It's just not possible.

KristinaMN71 profile image
KristinaMN71 in reply to epetzer

I am 100% with you on all of this. As I reflect on it, she really does seek out stories about crime, mental illness, and abuse—more about the core traumas of human existence than big world issues. (Although she does have high anxiety about climate change.) She tells herself it helps to read about the stuff she is going through so she knows she’s not alone, but I know it does indeed “feed the beast.” This is all so helpful! I admire the work you are doing to manage your own mental health. It’s a journey for us all, isn’t it?

I have been reading tons of parenting books since my kids were diagnosed and one of the things that come to mind is to problem solve with your child, which can only happen when you are both calm and when she feels that she is heard. It will be good to come up with ideas with her and to let her start providing alternatives knowing that you have all the other advices here. Also, this problem solving exercise starts with listing all brainstorm ideas first and then looking at what may work for both of you. Just a thought to make sure to involve her. Best of luck.

This is always such good advice … and I always forget about it!! Thank you so much.

As an adult with ADHD, I will say that I developed a video game addiction. Part of this is that when I'm playing a game I can let go of all the controls I put in place to navigate my day. It's one of the rare times where I can just BE. It is intensely compelling, and hard to avoid when I'm under stress.

That being said, aspects of what you describe makes me wonder if she possibly has autistic traits or other co-morbidity with the adhd. Often with autism it will start rearing its head in high school or university because coping strategies that were fine when she was younger are no longer socially acceptable, and it causes either a breakdown of her social network, being overwhelmed, or both.

I work in mental health and addictions, and something that irritates me is when people limit access to the addiction when that addiction has been their sole coping strategy for a long time and expect that they'll just magically switch to healthier coping strategies.

Obviously if there is risk or threats of self-harm, cold turkey isn't a viable option. Instead, here are a few alternatives with the ultimate goal of weaning her off the most problematic use:

1) negotiate a plan with her where she can get her phone if she first practices other coping strategies.

2) set up a token economy system where she earns points/coins for various things, such as exercise, in person socialization, mindfulness/relaxation/meditation exercises. Tokens cam be exchanged for a certain amount of screen time.

3) initially focus on changing what she does on the phone rather than focusing on when she uses it. For example, finding a healthier podcast for her to listen to at night, or better yet, some music or an audiobook. Negotiate this with her, including reasonable consequences for engaging in unauthorized use. Don't make it too harsh, but make it something you KNOW you can follow through on.

Most important is to try and keep the dialogue open with as little judgemental language as possible. Don't shy away from expressing your concerns, especially using a formula like "Seeing you X causes me to worry because I'm seeing consequence Y and I'm worried about consequence Z" When people are worried about a loved one, our impulse is to leap in and try to fix things. Most often when we do that, we cause a disconnect because we skip the step of listening, understanding and validating. With suicide intervention, one of the hardest (and most important) things is to be willing to listen to the reasons they want to die. It's hard for us, but essential to them, because most often to create positive change, someone needs to feel that they're heard and that they have someone that will walk with them rather than pulling them in a direction they're not ready to go.

Find out what needs are met by that horrible sounding podcast and the tic tok videos. The better you understand her needs and how her behaviour scratches that itch, the more likely you'll be able to find alternatives you can both be happy with.

Ultimately, whatever you decide, hopefully it is something you can decide together, and the most important thing for you is to be clear in setting boundaries and consequences, and be consistent in following through. Don't tell her you'll take her phone unless you are willing to keep the phone away from her regardless of what she says. And if she threatens self-harm, suggest she call a crisis line on a landline, or be prepared to bring her to an emergency room. Ignoring threats of self-harm isn't a good idea, and allowing her to use it as a weapon to get what she wants does nobody any good. If she threatens self-harm, you can (as much as is practical) stay with her to make sure she's alright.

Also, if she has a history of self-harm, do your best to limit her access to her go-to means (e.g. if it's pills, lock the medicine cabinet. If it's cutting, remove anything sharp (including pens and the like) and closely monitor what she has access to.

Also realize that if someone is determined to engage in self-harm, they will be able to find the means and opportunity to do so. I remember talking to someone who was upset about the nurses taking their headphones away, and how ludicrous it was, proceeding to point out at least a dozen things in their line of sight, on a psyc unit, that could be used to attempt suicide. I'm not saying this to scare you, but to tell you that you can't physically prevent someone from attempting. The best way to prevent suicide is to establish and maintain a meaningful connection with them.

Make sure you get support for yourself as well, not just for your own sake. When I was suicidal, I didn't reach out because I felt I'd be a burden and I didn't want to drag others down with me. Knowing that someone was well supported would've helped me feel comfortable connecting with them.

Wow. Thank you so much for putting this time and effort into replying to my post. By the time I was finished reading it (twice), I wanted to hire you as my parenting coach! I am literally printing this out and using it as a guide in the weeks to come.

“Jumping in and saving” has definitely been my MO in the wake of her PTSD, even though I know it doesn’t help her … I’m working on tolerating the discomfort of seeing her suffer. We finally have a great DBT program and therapist, which I know is going to help me as much as it does my daughter.

Thanks again for your wisdom.

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