Hyperfixation involves complete engagement in a specific person, thing or activity that interferes with your teen’s ability to do anything else. Also known as hyperfocus, the condition is often connected with other conditions, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), autism, and depression. Let’s take a deeper look at teens and hyperfixation to determine whether your child is displaying hyperfixation symptoms.

What is Hyperfixation?

When your teen is hyperfixated it interferes with their ability to function properly and complete daily tasks and activities. Although it’s okay for your teen to be completely engaged in a specific activity such as doing their homework, or playing a sport, if they are unable to engage in anything else, or are doing it so intently they stop engaging with family and friends, this is when hyperfixation occurs.

What are Common Hyperfixation Symptoms?

Signs your teen might have hyperfixation issues include:

  • Poor hygiene and self-care
  • Ignoring or being unaware of loved ones
  • Not aware, interested, or able to engage with others
  • Complete engrossment in something
  • Not being able to break their attention from something they are doing
  • Unable to discuss topics other than their hyperfixation

How Do I Know My Teen is Hyperfixated?

There are several types of hyperfixations your teen might display, including:

  • A person: A positive or negative fixation or emotions towards a specific person that becomes unhealthy or poses a possible threat to the individual.
  • Food: Only being interested in eating a specific food or meal that interferes with consuming a healthy diet.
  • Shows/movies: Becoming “obsessed” with a certain movie or show they love to watch over and over again to the point of distraction from reality and daily activities.
  • Hobbies: Only engaging in a specific activity that keeps them from performing other, more important tasks.
  • Thoughts: Being hyperfocused on their own train of thought, to the point that it distracts from schoolwork, social life, family, and responsibilities.

What are the Risks Factors for Hyperfixation?

While it is difficult to pinpoint a specific cause for hyperfixation there are a few things that can increase the risk, including:

  • ADHD symptoms
  • Being on the autism spectrum
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Are There Any Dangers to Hyperfixation?

Yes, hyperfixation can present dangers to teens if their hyperfocus keeps them from sleeping, eating, and taking care of their personal hygiene. This can lead to physical illness. However, hyperfixation can also lead to risks for family members, such as forgetting to pick up a younger sibling at school or not caring for a younger sibling when parents aren’t home. A neglect of schoolwork can lead to academic failure, while teens with part-time jobs will lose their source of income.

Not fulfilling their responsibilities such as their share of the chores because they are focusing exclusively on entertainment such as gaming or watching their favorites shows can lead to resentment in the household and interfere with family dynamics. A hyperfocused teen also negatively impacts all their relationships due to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and a lack of social engagement. This can lead to isolation that furthers their hyperfixation.

Can Hyperfixation Be Stopped?

When hyperfocusing becomes a problem for your teen, it’s important to speak to a healthcare provider as soon as possible. This is the only way to confirm a hyperfixation and help find the right approach to help stop it. Some considerations when determining the best approach to stop a hyperfixation would be:

  • Discovering underlying conditions such as ADHD symptoms, autism, depression, anxiety, OCD, etc. to help address the possible cause
  • Recognizing the hyperfocus as it pertains to an OCD patient using the behavior to distract from their obsessive focuses
  • Understanding the brain function of those with conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, or neurodivergence to teach patients how to balance things they enjoy with other activities of daily life
  • Addressing mental illness issues and helping patients understand how their hyperfixation is interfering with relationships and daily activity

Tips to help teens avoid hyperfixations include:

  • Set time limits for specific activities such as gaming, binge watching shows, being on social media, etc.
  • Set a schedule for their responsibilities and make sure they stick to it
  • Keep an eye on homework and grades to make sure they aren’t falling behind
  • Teach them mindfulness so they are always aware of what they are doing and are less likely to get lost in something
  • Monitor obsessions with individuals such as celebrities, fellow students, teachers, etc.

When to Reach Out to A Professional

If you are worried your teen is displaying signs of hyperfixation, you can speak to your family doctor or a therapist to have them diagnosed and ensure they receive proper treatment.

Click here to learn more about resources to help teens at Telos.