Child development experts have had a lot to say about screen time over the years, but a new study linking digital media use to an increased risk of ADHD in teens offers up some pretty alarming evidence about its negative effects. The research released by a team from the University of Southern California and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) asserts that teens who spend a lot of time using digital devices (phones, tablets, computers, etc.) are more likely to experience psychiatric problems.
In fact, they concluded these kids are twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than their peers who don't experience screen time nearly as much. Previously doctors warned parents to limit their children's exposure to screen time, but never had there been this relationship mentioned to ADHD.
One study author suggested that this is the first time since the rise in popularity of social media and mobile apps, among other tech accoutrements, that this potential link has been studied.
"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," said 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. The team studied almost 2,600 teenagers over a two-year period. They whittled this group down from a larger database of 15- and 16-year-old students, eliminating those who already displayed signs of ADHD.
They then asked the teens how often they used a collection of popular digital media platforms. Following this they divided the participants into three groups: those who didn't use this technology at all, medium use, and high use. The researchers monitored the participants ever six months to learn if their digital media use would produce an ADHD diagnose by their senior year of high school.
By the end of the study, the tally was clear: About 9.5 percent of the 114 teens who used half the digital media platforms frequently and 10.5 percent of the 51 teens who used all 14 platforms frequently displayed new ADHD symptoms. How did the 4.6 percent of the 495 students who were not frequent users of any digital activity showed ADHD symptoms, approximate to background rates of the disorder in the general population. How did the 495 students who were not frequent users of any digital activity fare? Only 4.6 percent showed ADHD symptoms.
According to Science Daily, this is approximate to background rates of the disorder in the general population. While the study didn't help identify cause as to why digital media could have this affect, the team was pleased with what they call a "statistically significant association."
It may be next to impossible to tear your teen's phone away from their fast-typing hands, but modeling a lifestyle in which we, as parents, don't place as much emphasis on digital platforms could go a long way in making them think differently about their choices.