The digital age has gifted the world with life-changing technological advancements, allowing connectivity and communication on a global scale like never before.
However, as much as our lives revolve around our online activity, a new study has found that being constantly “plugged in” to digital media increases the risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in teenagers.
Researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) examined the mental health consequences of using social media, music and movie streaming, gaming, and other entertainment-related apps.
The results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and show that heavy digital media users are twice as likely to develop ADHD than teenagers who spend less time on their phones and tablets.
Previous related research focused on TV or video games, and the researchers discovered that there was a lack of current studies that looked at digital media use.
“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, an author of the study. “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.”
4,100 students from 10 public high schools in Los Angeles County ages 15 and 16 were asked to participate in the study. Adolescents were chosen for the research because those are the ages that correspond both with the appearance of ADHD symptoms and more access to digital media.
The researchers then removed those students who had been diagnosed with ADHD leaving 2,857 who were followed for a period of two years.
The participants were asked how frequently they used 14 popular digital media platforms and the researchers sorted the students into no use, medium use, and high-use categories.
After that, the researchers checked back with the students every six months between 2014 and 2016, specifically looking for developing ADHD symptoms.
When the two years were up, the results showed that high users were more likely to develop ADHD.
“We can’t confirm causation from the study, but this was a statistically significant association,” said Leventhal. “We can 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.”
According to a recent survey, teens spend almost nine hours a day online and the concerning results show that increased media use increases the risk of ADHD, a disorder that can impede development and ability to focus.
“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,” said Leventhal.