Symptoms of ADHD in adolescents linked to heavy screen time

    Abdulaziz Sobh

    0/5 stars (0 votes)


    Teenagers who spend a lot of time using digital media show an increase in the symptoms of attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a new study reports. That does not mean that parents should panic over text messages from teens at the table; it simply means that if your child is a heavy media user, maybe you should talk about why they like it so much.

    Today's study monitored the symptoms of ADHD in a group of nearly 2,600 high school teens. Students who used multiple types of digital media several times a day were about twice as likely to report new ADHD symptoms in a two-year period than their less-active classmates, according to the study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

    Studies have linked digital media such as social networks to changes in mental health before; The use of Facebook, for example, has been linked to falls in well-being, but it is difficult to say what the cause is. In studies of depression, one possibility is that depressed people who find it difficult to socialize are substituting online interaction for real-world interaction, which means that the internet is not causing depression at all. In today's study, it is possible that the emerging symptoms of ADHD drive children to the instant gratification of digital media. It could also mean that the constant distractions of the internet make it difficult for teenagers to learn to be patient, control impulses and concentrate, and lacking those things are characteristic of ADHD.

    This study did not indicate whether the most frequent use of digital media caused the symptoms of ADHD or how those symptoms affected the lives of adolescents. But it is true that these children used digital media before their symptoms began. "It's not an apocalyptic scenario, it should not increase the moral panic about technology," says Jenny Radesky, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan who was not involved in the study. But it is a reason for parents to talk with their children about their motivations and reactions to the use of technology.

    Michael Rich, the director of the Children's Health and Media Center at Boston Children's Hospital, who did not participate in the study, agrees. "We want to do more than just wring our hands and say, 'Oh, me, oh my, it's not the' 50s anymore," he says. "Is this how we are evolving as a species? And is this a bad thing to do, or is this going to be useful for the future?

    The study is the first to analyze long-term ADHD in the modern media environment, where smartphones provide distractions whether we want to or not. Researchers led by Adam Leventhal, a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, surveyed sophomores in 10 different schools in Los Angeles County. More than 2,800 adolescents completed a questionnaire on the symptoms of ADHD and another on their use of digital media.

    The ADHD survey asked students to evaluate whether phrases such as "I am easily distracted" or "I do not listen when spoken to directly" were applied to them. The students also completed a survey that rated the frequency with which they used 14 different types of digital media, such as consulting social networking sites, texting their friends, broadcasting television or movies, or playing games.

    Students who already had significant symptoms of ADHD in the first survey were removed from the study because the researchers wanted to find out what came first: the symptoms of ADHD or the use of digital media. The nearly 2,600 students who did not have significant symptoms of ADHD continued and took the same surveys periodically over the next two years.

    The team found that nearly 81 percent of students reported using at least one form of digital media several times a day (often social networks or text messages). With each additional digital media platform, students reported that they used frequently, such as TV broadcasting or games, their chances of experiencing ADHD symptoms increased.

    The 495 adolescents who reported infrequently using digital media had a 4.6 percent chance of reporting ADHD symptoms in follow-up surveys. That probability almost doubled to 9.5 percent for the 114 students who reported frequent use of seven of the 14 digital media platforms. And it went up to 10.5 percent for the 51 students who said they used the 14 platforms several times a day.

    There are some clear limitations to the study: on the one hand, the use of digital media and the symptoms of ADHD were completely self-reported. And people may be forgetful or reluctant to admit stigmatized symptoms and behaviors. The study also did not investigate what could be behind the increase in symptoms. But Leventhal and his colleagues have some theories. For example, it could be that phone notifications could divide the children's focus and further hamper the development of the skills they need to concentrate, which would cause an increase in the symptoms of ADHD. It is also possible that entertainment and social stimulation just a few clicks away could accustom children to instant gratification, which makes it harder to learn to be patient.

    The relationship could work in another way: perhaps early ADHD led some of the teens to online distraction. But students who reported stronger symptoms of ADHD did not end up using more media, the study says, which is a blow to that theory. It is also possible that something else drives adolescents to digital media and interferes with their ability to concentrate. "The biggest ones are poverty or psychosocial stressful family dysfunction, they all correlate with the use of heavy media, and they all correlate with attention problems," says Radesky, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study.

    So, as a parent, it might make sense to talk to your child if you are worried. That will give you more direct information about how much time you are spending on digital media (and why). Radesky suggested that parents who want to discover how to have that conversation should take a look at Common Sense Media. She used it to give advice on how to talk to teenagers about the healthy use of social networks. That could include limiting the number of time teenagers can spend on social media applications by using a tool like App Limits, recently released by Apple.

    The investigation is still early, says Leventhal. But with the digital media that continues to advance, he says: "I think it's something that health professionals, scientists, and the community, in general, should watch out for." Radesky says that it is essential not to be overwhelmed by the results, "not to feel". how to ruin the children's future or fundamentally change their abilities to succeed in school. "Your recommendation? Just talk." There are so many teaching moments in the use of technology because nobody knows what is the best way to do it. We are all testing it every day. "