Summer Vacations with ADHD: Managing Screen Time When You’re Traveling with Kids

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

Everyone looks forward to summer family vacations! This fun, memory-making, quality family time can be the highlight of the summer. Unfortunately, before the fun can begin parents of kids with ADHD must endure the long trip to the vacation destination. Without fail, long car and plane rides stir up some of the most challenging ADHD behaviors in children and cause sibling squabbles to reach new heights. In an effort to keep the peace and minimize boredom, most parents rely heavily on tablets, phones, and in-flight movies. They do this with good reason - screens can be very effective at keeping behavior in check. Unfortunately, for kids with ADHD, long stretches of screen time can have negative effects on their attention and behavior for hours (and sometimes days) after the journey is over. Many kids with ADHD have difficulty regulating their attention around screens. They become hyper-focused when they’re watching a show or playing videogames, but when the screen is taken away struggle to transition to another activity. In fact, research shows that some kids with ADHD continue to “crave” screen time for hours after they have spent a significant amount of time in front of screens. For these kids, taking the device away at the end of the trip can lead to meltdowns and outbursts, as well as seemingly constant begging for more screen time during the entire vacation. Not an ideal way to start off your family holiday!

So, what should parents do? If your child struggles with regulating his or her attention and transitions around screen time, then keeping videogames and movies off limits during the trip is your best option. If this doesn’t feel manageable or realistic, then follow these three guidelines to keeping screen-related disruptions to a minimum:

  1. Limit screen sessions to 30 minutes. Keeping your child’s screen sessions relatively short, with longer screen-free breaks in between, will help your child regulate his or her attention. He or she will have an easier time transitioning off the screens, and he or she should have fewer “screen time” cravings after the trip.
  2. Create a screen schedule and stick to it. Plan out times when screens will be allowed and share this schedule with your child ahead of time. Keep track of screen session time by using the timer on your phone (it’s very easy to lose track and accidentally allow your child a much longer session then was planned). Do the same for the time between screen sessions. This way, when your child asks you when he or she can have the device back you can simply tell him or her to check the timer.
  3. Reward your child. If your child is not used to having limits around screen time, then adjusting to a schedule may be challenging. Acknowledge this when you discuss the schedule and your expectations with him or her ahead of time. Let your child know that he or she will earn a reward at the end of the trip if he or she keeps a positive attitude while sticking to the schedule. Make sure to praise him or her along the way and let him or her know that he or she is well on the way to earning a reward.

Wondering what you should do to keep your child entertained in between screen sessions? The best activities are those that your child is able to look forward to and feel excited about. So, start by asking him or her to come up with some ideas. Bring some of your own ideas to the table too. Look for special activities that your child doesn’t typically have an opportunity to do every day, to keep the novelty and interest high. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. No Mess Creative Toys. No mess creative toys and art supplies, like molding and sculpting Wikki Sticks (, Travel Spirograph (, and dot art created with inexpensive school supply stickers (, can keep kids entertained for hours.
  2. Mad Libs. Mad Libs ( “fill in the blank” stories will have everyone laughing, and will help the time fly by.
  3. Comic Books and Graphic Novels. If your child is a resistant reader, then reading a chapter book during a long car or plan ride isn’t going to seem like an appealing activity. Instead, substitute with graphic novels or comic books. Many kids wish they could choose graphic novels or comic books as their “assigned” reading during school year, so having the opportunity to pick them as their vacation reads will feel like a treat.

This family vacation, keep screen time to a minimum and fill the time with fun activities that your kids will enjoy.  With a little planning and creativity, your vacation will be off to a great start this year!



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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