- Teenagers who frequently use smartphones and multimedia devices are at an increased risk of developing ADHD symptoms
- ADHD or attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder is a brain disorder affecting children and adults
- The ubiquitous digital diversions available nowadays may be putting an entirely new generation of youth at risk of ADHD
Children who spend lots of time using digital devices are prone to psychiatric problems, says a team of USC scientists in a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Influence of Digital Media on Teenagers
In fact, teens who are heavy users of digital devices are at twice the risk of showing symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
compared to infrequent users, the study finds. Earlier studies have only linked the use of TV or video games to the illness.
"What's new is that previous studies on this topic were done many years ago, when social media, mobile phones, tablets and mobile apps didn't exist," said Adam Leventhal, professor of preventive medicine and psychology and director of the USC Health, Emotion and Addiction Laboratory at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
‘Children in their adolescent years who are heavy users of digital devices are twice as likely to show symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) compared to infrequent users.’
"New, mobile technologies can provide fast, high-intensity stimulation accessible all day, which has increased digital media exposure far beyond what's been studied before," he said.
A survey by nonprofit Common Sense Media showed teens spend nearly nine hours in a day using online media.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a separate survey that showed 43 percent of high school students use digital media three or more hours per day.
The current generation is exposed to an unlimited, always available supply of digital diversions, including social media, streaming video, text messaging, music downloads and online chat rooms. Do these have any consequences on the mental health of a teenager? The authors set out to determine just this.
Link between Digital Media and Mental Health
The scientists chose 2,587 eligible students who did not have any preexisting ADHD symptoms; this was done to focus only on the occurrence of new symptoms that manifested over the two-year study. The students were between the ages 15 and 16, across 10 public high schools that represented mixed demographic and socioeconomic status from Los Angeles County.
The research team focused on teens because it's the age when ADHD
has its onset and when children get the freedom to access digital media.
The team asked the children how often they used 14 popular digital media platforms and sorted them into three categories:
- No use
- Medium use and
- High use depending upon the frequency of use
Scientists monitored the students once in six months between 2014 and 2016. They wanted to determine whether the use of digital media in 10th grade was associated with ADHD symptoms tracked through 12th grade.
In the end, the proportion of children who showed new ADHD symptoms were:
- 9.5 percent of the 114 children who used 7 out of the 14 digital media platforms frequently
- 10.5 percent of the 51 kids who used all 14 platforms frequently
- 4.6 percent of the 495 students who were not frequent users of any digital activity
There was a statistically significant and persistent association in the study prompting Leventhal to say with confidence that "Teens who were exposed to higher levels of digital media were significantly more likely to develop ADHD symptoms in the future."
- Will help us understand how new mobile media devices and the continuous content options available nowadays may affect the mental health of children.
- Make us wary of the future where digital media is going to become more prevalent, faster and stimulating
- Show concerned parents, schools, technology companies and pediatricians that tech-dependent teens are prone to be driven to distraction, or something worse
"This study raises concern whether the proliferation of high-performance digital media technologies may be putting a new generation of youth at risk for ADHD," Leventhal said.
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/index.shtml)