Managing Video Game Use Part III

Managing Video Game Use Part III
6 secrets to managing screen time

Your child likely spends more time, much more time, in front of a video screen than with parents or teachers. Video screens include phones, TVs, desktop computers, game consoles, tablets, etc.


1. Treat screen time like dessert. You wouldn’t let your child sit and eat an entire cake. Instead, it’s healthier to eat a small piece. Treating their screen time like dessert is a refreshing, non-combative way to begin management.

2. Use screen time as a reward. Screen time is like dessert, so it’s more a reward than a right. If they get their homework done on time and do a good job, they earn, for example, 15 minutes of screen time.

3. Set your rules and stick by them. Once you begin a screen time as dessert program, you can develop a set of rules with your child. Chores done, 15 minutes of screen time. No chores, no screen time. No more. No less. Once you establish your rule set, post it on the refrigerator or other public area so there’s no argument about the rules. Consistency means success. Inconsistency means failure.Play Attention's photo.

4. Set family viewing time. Your habits as a parent greatly affect your child’s behavior, so if you’re watching TV and on the computer for 4 hours a night, don’t expect something different from your child. Set a family time to watch TV together. Also, set a family time to go outside and play. Setting a family viewing time and play time establishes your values as a family.

5. Control video screens. Did you realize that your child is likely using video screens while in bed? Video screens are ubiquitous, found everywhere. TV in their bedroom? Not a good idea. Cell phone texting while in bed? Again, not a good idea. Minimize or totally remove video screens from the bedroom. At the very least, have a strict policy that all screens are turned off a half hour or more before bed.

6. Be aware of content appropriateness. Just because your child says, “Jake’s parents let him watch it,” doesn’t mean it’s right for your child to watch a movie with explicit adult content or violence. Being a good manager means taking the time to know what your child is watching or playing (video games). Know the ratings for your child’s videos or video games. Discuss their interests and understand your child’s motivations. Set boundaries according to your family values and stick to them.

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Managing Video Game Use Part II

Managing Video Game Use Part II
Setting firm rules for screen time is good parenting

“The American Academy of Pediatrics ( recommends children older than 2 should watch no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality entertainment media per day.” The AAP also recommends children under the age of 2 should have zero hours.

Based on years of research, the AAP realizes that screen time on a computer, TV, phone, tablet, or console changes brain function. These devices are ubiquitous and found in almost every room in the average home now.

Several studies have concluded: ” Viewing television and playing video games each are associated with increased subsequent attention problems in childhood. It seems that a similar association among television, video games, and attention problems exists in late adolescence and early adulthood. Research on potential risk factors for attention problems should be expanded to include video games in addition to television.”

Setting limits is critical. Granted, the genie is out of the bottle; setting limits may be met with strong opposition initially. It’s also important to know that as a parent, your viewing habits greatly influence your children’s viewing habits.

The AAP says that, “The amount of time that children and teens spend watching television may have more to do with their parents’ TV habits than with family media rules or the location of TVs within the home, according to a study in the August 2013 issue of Pediatrics, “The Relationship Between Parents’ and Children’s Television Viewing.”

Research has also shown that day care centers often expose children to more screen time; ” The researchers found that among preschool-aged children, those in home-based care watched TV for 2.4 hours on an average day, compared to 0.4 hours in center-based settings.”

So three take aways from this post:
1. Screen time is not necessarily quality time and can affect brain function.
2. Setting limits on screen time will depend on a firm policy that is influenced by parents’ habits.
3. Day care settings typically offer more screen time. You should request limitations at the facility.

We’ll tackle an actual management plan next post.

Your attention experts are at Chat with us from that site, call us at 800.788.6786, or use the Contact Us button at the top of this FB page.


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Managing Video Game Use Part I

Managing Video Game Use Part I
The top 3 things to know to begin appropriate management.

To be clear, video game play does not cause ADHD. However, if you’re concerned about your child’s video game play and what it’s doing to their already fragile ability to pay attention to their schoolwork or other matters, you’re likely justified.

As we’ve noted in previous posts, video game play by ADHD children has been studied for many years. These children tend to complain of more inattentiveness, more behavioral problems, and impulsivity in comparison to ADHD children that do not play video games (Chan 2006, Swing 2010, Gentile 2012).

Top 3 things to know to begin appropriate management:
1. Know a game’s rating before you buy it for your child.
2. There are many types of video games.
3. A video game should not be used as a babysitter.

Know a game’s rating before you buy it for your child. Games are rated just as movies are rated. Video game ratings are issued by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).

ESRB Rating Categories:
Content is intended for young children.Play Attention's photo.

Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.

e10+ EVERYONE 10+
Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.

Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.

Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.

Content suitable only for adults ages 18 and up. May include prolonged scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content and/or gambling with real currency.

Not yet assigned a final ESRB rating. Appears only in advertising, marketing and promotional materials related to a game that is expected to carry an ESRB rating, and should be replaced by a game’s rating once it has been assigned.

Good parenting means limiting your child to games appropriate for his or her age. It is not healthy to expose your child to excessive violence, mutilation, or sexual activity until they are mature enough to process these stimuli.

Video games cannot be lumped together, and the classification of video games is quite extensive. Games can be action adventure, action, first person shooter, simulation, strategy, role playing, etc. Know the types of games your child is interested in and be able to discuss them with him or her.

Video games are not babysitters. Screen time should be limited. We’ll discuss more about this next post.

Your ADHD experts are at Call them at 800.788.6786 or use the Contact Us button at the top of this FB page.

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Video Game Addiction in ADHD Boys More Likely

Autistic boys too

Read the full article:

Research published in the online July 29 issue of Pediatrics reports that “Children with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] and those with ADHD may be at particularly high risk for significant problems related to video game play, including excessive and problematic video game use.”

Here’s what the researchers found:

*Boys with ADHD were also more likely to spend more time playing video games than other kids.

*More children with autism and ADHD had video game systems in their bedrooms than did typically developing boys.

*Boys with autism were also more likely to play role-playing games.

*Autistic boys played video games twice as long as non-autistic boys, 2.1 hours a day compared with 1.2 hours a day.

This confirms prior research. Other prior research suggests that many video games reduce attention spans, promote impulsive behavior, increase the likelihood of obesity, and greatly reduce social interaction.

It is safe to say that video game usage should be kept to a minimum. Use it as a reward system and not as a two to four hour entertainment system. Its use should be considered dessert (think small portions) and not the main course.

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Video Games & ADHD

What’s the link?

According to The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), video games (introduced in 1972) are ubiquitous. They are played on home consoles like Xbox, Play Station, Nintendo, etc. used with TV sets. They are played on computers and on computers with access to the Internet. But one doesn’t need a large computer; you can play video games on handheld game systems and even your cell phone. And, of course for us older folks, they can still be found in coin-operated arcade machines. Not surprisingly, computer and video game sales in the United States are a $19 billion industry.

The KFF also reports that more than two-thirds of all children ages 2-18 live in a home with a video game system. Video game playing, even more than television watching, is an activity that kids tend to do alone.

The KFF also notes that, “Ethnicity and income level are indicators of video game playing, particularly among older kids ages 8-18: African American and Hispanic youth play more video games than White youth, and kids from low and middle income communities spend more time playing video games than kids from high income areas.”

What does this all amount to? The average young person accumulates 10,000 hours of gaming by the age of 21. How does that compare to school attendance? It’s just 24 hours less than they spend in a classroom for all of middle and high school if they have perfect attendance. It’s the equivalent of a full time job at more than 40 hours a week.

A new study says that playing video games can create a vicious cycle for ADHD children.

Douglas A. Gentile, PhD, of Iowa State University and lead author of the study published in the American Psychological Association’s journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture cites that not enough time has been spent studying the impact environment can have on children with issues like impulse control and attention deficit disorder. This would include socioeconomic impact and parenting styles.

In the past, most research has focused on biological and genetic factors.

Gentile thinks that ADHD should be examined by looking at both nature and nurture, both the heredity of these problems and what impact parenting and environment has on them.

In an interview with Vox Games, Gentile states, “We’ve focused on biology and genetics almost exclusively in the past; it has led to some breakthroughs in medications. But this has left parents feeling powerless when their child’s school calls and tells them there may be a problem. Parents have been left feeling like the only option is to medicate their children, which many are understandably hesitant to do. Once we understand some of the environmental aspects that can increase or decrease attention problems, this can give parents a first step to try before they move onto medications.”

Gentile’s team tracked the behavior and gaming habits of more than 3,000 Singaporean school children, aged 8 to 17, over three years. The children were administered various self-reporting tests to diagnose ADHD and impulse-control issues. The reports also required the children to track how often they played video games and the video games’ degrees of violence. The study, Gentile said, was part of a much larger study on the positive and negative effects of video games.

As has been found in past research (Christakis 2004; Landhuis 2007, etc.) the researchers found that video games both help and hurt with attention issues.

Video game play seems to increase visual attention which is the ability to rapidly process information from your surroundings. For example, if you’re playing an aerial combat game, it’s necessary to quickly process and assess the number of opposing combatants so that you don’t get shot down. While this skill is necessary for this task, it is of little value in the ordinary classroom.

The negative impact is far greater than the benefits. Gentile thinks it can make it harder for some children to complete goal-oriented tasks that require long-term concentration. According to his research, the excitement and excessive stimulation of playing a video game far exceeds any ordinary daily stimulation making the real world less interesting.

Gentile also notes that time spent playing video games may also detract from the time a child might spend developing their impulse control. “Electronic media use can impair attention necessary for concentration even as it enhances the ability to notice and process visual information.”

Specifically, Gentile’s research, echoing prior research, found that children who spent more time playing video games were more impulsive and had more attention problems. Even more importantly, he discovered that children who have those issues also tended to play more video games producing a vicious cycle.

Gentile says, “Certainly games (and other media) have many potential benefits and potential harms,” he said. “The reason I study the media and children is to try to learn how to maximize the benefits and minimize the potential harms.”

He also said that he limits the amount of time he lets his child play video games. That’s wise. One has to understand what the video game is teaching and that the video game IS teaching whether you like it or not. Is it teaching us to be more impulsive? Is it teaching us to require instant gratification? Is it teaching us to have shorter attention spans? The answer to all of the questions for the average player is: YES!

Play Attention was developed to counter this vicious cycle by teaching the correct skill sets that provide a lasting benefit to maximize personal potential and optimize one’s life.

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Texting and ADHD

How much has information and communication technology (ICT) affected our lives? Researchers say that the average teenager sends a total of over 3,400 electronic [text] messages every month or surfs the Internet at bedtime. Could texting and bedtime web time influence the severity of your child’s ADHD symptoms?

In a study by the JFK Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey, and presented at the 76th annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP), lead author Dr Peter G. Polos and his team found that more than half of these bedtime kiddy texters or web surfers are not only prone to have problems falling asleep, but experience mood, behavior and cognitive problems during the day.

“It is significant that these children are engaging in stimulating activity when they should be in an environment to promote sleep,” says Polos.

Polos’ team analyzed questionnaire responses from 40 children and young adults aged between 8 and 22. This is a small group and the results must be considered preliminary. However, the researchers found that those who used electronic technology at bedtime (texting, game playing, email, surfing, etc.) also experienced sleep-related problems such as excessive movements, leg pain and insomnia, and also had a “high rate of daytime problems, which can include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], anxiety, depression, and learning difficulties,” said Polos.

According to Medical News Today (, the analysis of the questionnaire data showed that:

* 77.5 per cent of the participants had persistent problems falling asleep.

* On average, participants were woken once per night by an ICT device.

* On average, a participant sent 33.5 emails or texts per night when they were supposed to be asleep; and the average number of people texted each night was 3.7.

* The average number of messages sent via ICT per person per month at sleep time was 3,404 and occurred over periods ranging from 10 minutes to 4 hours after bedtime.

* Among the adolescent participants, the older they were, the later they went to bed, and the more time they spent with their ICT devices at bedtime.

* Boys were more likely to use ICT to surf the net and play online games, while girls were more likely to text and make cell phone calls.

* High rates of cognitive and mood problems during the day were linked with sleep time related use of ICT, including ADHD, anxiety, depression, and learning difficulties.

* There were also higher rates of nighttime problems such as excessive movements, leg pain and insomnia.

Polos and colleagues concluded that use of ICT at bedtime may have “an adverse impact on sleep hygiene and daytime function which may be significant”, and that questions about this should be included in routine evaluations of patients reporting problems sleeping.

“These data suggest that further studies are needed to evaluate the short and long term consequences of STRICT on sleep,” they wrote.

Polos explained that “sleep is largely habitual in nature”, and if “children begin this type of behavior, they may set themselves up for the need for external stimulation before sleep later in life”.

This could lead to problems like difficulty falling asleep, not having enough sleep, and feeling sleepy during the day, he said adding that:

“More research is needed to determine all of the short- and long-term consequences.”

Many parents know that healthy sleep habits are especially important to ensure progress at school and healthy development, and are concerned about how best to handle the growing problem of ICT devices in the bedroom.

Polos said that using cell phones or computers, to talk, text, surf the net, or play games, is “more addictive, seductive, and interactive than passively watching television,” because of the graphics, rapid responses and interactivity.

“The sooner parents establish appropriate times for children to use this technology, the better,” he urged, adding that perhaps they should also “move key items, such as computers, from a child’s bedroom into a common area”.

Dr David Gutterman, President of the American College of Chest Physicians said concern about insomnia and other sleep disorders in children is growing and that “research shows that the problem is increasing, so it is more important than ever for physicians to ask questions about technology use when evaluating children for sleep issues”.

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New research on attention and video games

Research published in the July issue of Pediatrics reveals that too much time spent watching television and playing video games can cause attention problems.

A graduate student at Iowa State University, Edward Swing, found that excessive screen time, whether in front of a computer or TV, could double the risk of attention problems in children and young adults.

Swing’s research confirms previous findings from Dr. Dimitri Christakis, the George Adkins Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle.  Christakis’ research found that faster-paced shows increased the risk of attention problems.  "You prime the mind to accept that pace. Real life doesn’t happen fast enough to keep your attention,” says Christakis.

The  American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has long recommended that children over the age of 2 view less than two hours of TV or computer per day. Prior to that age, they suggest no TV viewing or computer.

Swing compared data of 1300 children in grades three, four, and five who watched TV or played video games less than two hours a day to children who watched more.  He found that more video time could nearly double the risk of attention problems in children and young adults

"The children were reporting their TV and video game use and the parents were also reporting TV and video game use," Swing said. "The teachers were reporting attention problems," he said of the middle school students.

While both Swing’s and Christakis’ studies do merit attention, they are quite limited.  For example, Swing used teacher rating reports to assess whether children had problems paying attention, if they interrupted classmate’s work, if they had trouble staying on task, or showed problems in other areas related to inattention. Teacher reports typically vary over time and from teacher to teacher. They are also highly subjective. To account for this, Swing had more than one teacher rate the children and that the ratings tended to be in agreement.

The greatest flaw in this research is that Swing did not account for content, i.e. what were the students watching or playing? Were the students watching educational TV or playing educational games? Were they playing race car games? Shooting games? Were they playing problem solving games?  Were the games fast paced? Slow? Did they require reasoning skills? We’ll never know and that’s problematic because it leaves so many questions unanswered. As we are what we eat, we are what we stimulate ourselves with.

"These media aren’t going away," Christakis said. "We do have to find ways to manage them appropriately."  On this I can agree. Limiting time to the AAP recommendations is prudent parenting.

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Summer ADHD brain drain

Research tells us that during the summer, the average student loses one to three month’s math and reading gains made over the prior year. Academic losses are so common among students that educators have given the phenomena a name: Summer Brain Drain.

Summer Brain Drain may even be worse for ADHD students already having trouble at school.

Going to school daily provides schedules and routines. The summer break means those routines aren’t there. Expectations are lowered or relaxed. Even sleep schedules are often totally abandoned.

Unfortunately, exercise is often replaced with computer time, watching movies, or playing video games with friends. That’s a bad idea. While there’s nothing wrong with playing video games or watching movies, sedentary activity must always be balanced with exercise. This is especially important for an ADHD student. 

I’ve included some specific articles that approach this topic from varying perspectives. Enjoy and gain the benefits this summer!

Children with ADHD benefit from time outdoors enjoying nature


News Bureau at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from May 15 through June 8. — Kids with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) should spend some quality after-school hours and weekend time outdoors enjoying nature, say researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The payoff for this “treatment” of children 5 to 18 years old, who participated in a nationwide study, was a significant reduction of symptoms. The study appears in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

“The advantage for green outdoor activities was observed among children living in different regions of the United States and among children living in a range of settings, from rural to large city environments,” wrote co-authors Frances E. Kuo and Andrea Faber Taylor. “Overall, our findings indicate that exposure to ordinary natural settings in the course of common after-school and weekend activities may be widely effective in reducing attention deficit symptoms in children.”

ADHD is a neurological disorder that affects some 2 million school-aged children, as well as up to 2 to 4 percent of adults, in the United States. Those with ADHD often face serious consequences, such as problems in school and relationships, depression, substance abuse and on-the-job difficulties.

“These findings are exciting,” said Kuo, a professor in the departments of natural resources and environmental sciences and of psychology at Illinois.

“I think we’re on the track of something really important, something that could affect a lot of lives in a substantial way,” she said. “We’re on the trail of a potential treatment for a disorder that afflicts one of every 14 children – that’s one or two kids in every classroom.”

If clinical trials and additional research confirm the value of exposure to nature for ameliorating ADHD, daily doses of “green time” might supplement medications and behavioral approaches to ADHD, the authors suggest in their conclusion.

Kuo and Faber Taylor, a postdoctoral researcher who specializes in children’s environments and behavior, recruited the parents of 322 boys and 84 girls, all diagnosed with ADHD, through ads in major newspapers and the Web site of Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Parents were interviewed by means of the Web and asked to report how their children performed after participating in a wide range of activities. Some activities were conducted inside, others in outdoor places without much greenery, such as parking lots and downtown areas, and others in relatively natural outdoor settings such as a tree-lined street, back yard or park.

The researchers found that symptoms were reduced most in green outdoor settings, even when the same activities were compared across different settings.

“In each of 56 different comparisons, green outdoor activities received more positive ratings than did activities taking place in other settings, and this difference was significant or marginally significant in 54 of the 56 analyses,” Kuo said. “The findings are very consistent.”

The two researchers have been pursuing the ADHD issue as an extension of a long line of previous research they’ve conducted on the nature-attention connection among the general population in mostly urban settings.

“The medications for ADHD that are currently available work for most kids, but not all,” Kuo said. “They often have serious side effects. Who wants to give their growing child a drug that kills their appetite day after day and, night after night, makes it hard for them to get a decent night’s rest? Not to mention the stigma and expense of medication.”

Simply using nature, Kuo said, “may offer a way to help manage ADHD symptoms that is readily available, doesn’t have any stigma associated with it, doesn’t cost anything, and doesn’t have any side effects – except maybe splinters!”

There are a number of exciting possible ways in which “nature treatments” could supplement current treatments, she said.

Spending time in ordinary “urban nature” – a tree-lined street, a green yard or neighborhood park – may offer additional relief from ADHD symptoms when medications aren’t quite enough. Some kids might be able to substitute a “green dose” for their afternoon medication, allowing them to get a good night’s sleep.

“A green dose could be a lifesaver for the 10 percent of children whose symptoms don’t respond to medication, who are just stuck with the symptoms,” Kuo said. As Kuo and Faber Taylor wrote, a dose could be as simple as “a greener route for the walk to school, doing classwork or homework at a window with a relatively green view, or playing in a green yard or ball field at recess and after school.”

The National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council, U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service supported the project.

Exercise Improves Learning and Memory
Chalk up another benefit for regular exercise. Investigators from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) have found that voluntary running boosts the growth of new nerve cells and improves learning and memory in adult mice.
"Until recently it was thought that the growth of new neurons, or neurogenesis, did not occur in the adult mammalian brain," said Terrence Sejnowski, an HHMI investigator at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies. "But we now have evidence for it, and it appears that exercise helps this happen."
USA Today (

ADHD treatment is getting a workout
Doctors haven’t done many definitive studies about exercise and ADHD, says David Goodman, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. But Goodman says it makes sense that working out would help people cope with the condition. Studies show that exercise increases levels of two key brain chemicals — dopamine and norepinephrine — that help people focus.

"Your cognitive function is probably better for one to three hours after exercise," Goodman says. "The difficulty is that by the next day, the effect has worn off."

If kids could exercise strenuously three to five times a day, they might not need medications at all, says John Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Ratey is so intrigued by the question that he’s writing a book about how exercise can reduce symptoms of ADHD or at least help patients cope.

Team sports might help children with ADHD in several ways, says James Perrin, a professor of pediatrics at Boston’s MassGeneral Hospital for Children. Children with the condition benefit from following a regular schedule. Coaches who lead kids through structured exercises also might help build concentration and organizational skills.

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Immediate rewards and the ADHD brain

A Nottingham University research team in the United Kingdom found that the brains of children with ADHD appear to respond to immediate rewards in the same way as they do to medication. Their research was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

“Our study suggests that both types of intervention [medicine and immediate reward/reinforcement] may have much in common in terms of their effect on the brain,” said Professor Chris Hollis, the lead investigator of  the study.

The research team used an EEG (electroencephalograph) to measure the brain activity of children as they played a computer game that provided extra points for less impulsive behavior.

The researchers devised a computer space game which rewarded the ADHD children when they caught aliens of specific colors  while avoiding aliens of designated colors. The game design actually tested the children’s ability to resist the impulse to grab the wrong colored aliens.

To test whether immediate reward/reinforcement made a difference, one iteration of the game rewarded the children fivefold for catching the right alien and penalized them fivefold for catching the wrong one.  All of this was done while activity in different parts of their brains was monitored with an EEG.

Hollis found that the immediate rewards helped the children perform better at the game. This was verified by the EEG which  revealed that both medication and immediate reward/reinforcement were “normalizing” brain activity in the same regions.

Many parents of ADHD children are aware that giving a reward to an ADHD child a week after their good behavior is insignificant to that child. ADHD children respond better to immediate reward, not delayed reward.

“Although medication and behavior therapy appear to be two very different approaches of treating ADHD, our study suggests that both types of intervention may have much in common in terms of their effect on the brain. Both help normalize similar components of brain function and improve performance,”  said Hollis.

“We know that children with ADHD respond disproportionately less well to delayed rewards – this could mean that in the ‘real world’ of the classroom or home, the neural effects of behavioral approaches using reinforcement and rewards may be less effective.”

It’s obvious that providing immediate rewards/reinforcement 24 hours a day and 7 days a week would be impractical and impossible. But what does this research tell us? It tells us that if we are to train an ADHD student, feedback, reward, and reinforcement need to be immediate if we are to get their brain to rewire.

We at Play Attention have known this for many years. This is why we integrated immediate feedback/reinforcement for attention training, cognitive training, memory training, and behavioral shaping by using feedback technology. We patented this method years ago because of its inherent strength. While we knew this was the best way to achieve success, we feel research like this rather reinforces our approach. It’s about time the world caught up!

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Should I play or should I grow?


Entertainment vs. learning
Entertainment is usually a passive act that includes an activity which provides a distraction to everyday events or provides amusement. A good example of entertainment is watching a movie or concert. However, one may also actively participate in recreational entertainment  such as playing video games or sports. One does not participate in an entertaining activity to be educated. That is far from the goal of entertainment. In fact, we participate in entertainment to be relieved of having to work, having to learn, or having to be actively engaged for those purposes. We seek entertainment for fun and pleasure.

Entertainment is a vast industry. The modern American video game industry made about $18.85 billion on video-game hardware, software, and accessories in 2007. That’s nearly twice what movie theaters made and triple what the video game industry made in 2000. Most authorities on video games estimate that 70 to 80 percent of boys and approximately 20 percent of girls play video games daily.

Learning is on the other end of the spectrum from entertainment. In order to learn, we need attention, challenge, and deliberate practice. We need to be actively engaged. To apply the mind with the intent of long-term retention, assimilation, and application of new information. This implies both effort and commitment. While we may employ some of these elements, the purpose is far different in a learning environment. The purpose of learning in Star Trek: Bridge Commander is to keep the ship from exploding by using the controls correctly.  Learning is there to benefit your game play.  While this takes some reasoning and trial and error, is this useful in the classroom or at the office? Not likely. It’s not likely transferrable or to generalize either unless your child’s job is commanding Star Fleet.

If I may paraphrase the late martial artist and film legend Bruce Lee, you cannot learn to swim by kicking your legs and stroking with your arms on land. You have to jump in the water. You cannot learn to run a marathon by jogging around the track. 

In other words, if we want to learn something, it has to be taught with a purpose or aim, and we have to practice it deliberately to improve. If we closely examine what video games our spouse, child, or clients are playing, then we might just be alarmed at the violence, the lack of humanity, and gratuitous sex involved.

The most popular video games are those that are visually intense and graphically frenetic. It’s important to mention here that paying attention to visually stimulating and frenetic activity is another hallmark of an ADHD individual. Offer a 3-ring circus and their brain is quite capable of attending to it. Ask them to clean their room, a much less stimulating activity, and it’s very difficult. This predisposition towards highly stimulating activities seems to involve the brain’s reward and gratification systems as well as its processing and other regulatory systems.

Thus, a high stimulation Xbox or Play Station game is quite satisfying; ADHD individuals can hyperfocus on these games for hours on end. What does that teach? Research tells us that people who play these games do learn visual recognition skills, i.e. they can rapidly determine the number of opposing characters on screen far faster than the average human being. So, if the only thing they’re going to be is a fighter pilot, then these games might be suitable.

Other research tells us that if one chronically plays these games (chronically would be classified as one hour or more per day), one is more likely to report lower grades at school, diminished attention at school, and a greater probability of being addicted to these games or the Internet itself. Good Japanese research also noted that entertaining, highly stimulating video games that involve little else than pointing and shooting can lower both the metabolic rate and EEG in the frontal lobes of the brain. The frontal lobes, among other capacities, govern attention, aggression, and impulsivity. This is important to know especially if you have an ADHD person in your household using these games.

It seems that most ADHD children and adults are prewired to pay attention to overly stimulation things. That seems to be a hallmark of the trait. They frequently become hyperfocused on them for hours at a time. Taking these games away is probably not practical. However, limiting play time is quite sensible.

If one is to learn skills, techniques, or methods that will strengthen the brain, then the video game must be quite different than the Xbox or Play Station most popular list.

Upcoming, part 3, Play Attention vs. off the shelf video games.

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