Many parents come to know smartphones and other mobile devices as unwelcome companions at the dinner table and a hindrance to face-to-face conversations with their children. They may now have to confront a far more virulent threat: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
According to a new study published Tuesday, constant digital-media use puts adolescents at a higher risk of developing ADHD symptoms, which include difficulty paying attention to details, remembering, and following instructions.
After monitoring more than 2,500 10th graders in the Los Angeles area over a two-year period, researchers found a modest association between the amount of time teen participants spent online and “emerging inattention, trouble with focusing, resisting distraction, [and] controlling [of] impulses.” They were quick, however, to dismiss premature conclusions that excess technology use causes ADHD among teens; no participant was diagnosed with the disorder.
Participating teens were told to state their level of engagement on 14 online media platforms, including various social media, text messaging, and video-chatting apps. Frequent users of many or all 14 platforms are twice as likely to develop symptoms than those who abstain from such activities. So while the results do not support direct causation, they still paint a sobering portrait of a tech-obsessed generation potentially paying for its addiction with mental health.
These findings, though deeply concerning, may not surprise health professionals or parents. Previous research has found a link between depression and social media consumption. Other works exploring how tech exploits the young have become hot commodities for book publishers and film studios alike. Apocalyptic thinkpieces predicting the collapse of a generation — one that’s utterly uninterested in physical interactions and the physical realm — proliferate on the web.
Yet as obvious and intuitive as the dangers may seem, much more research will have to be conducted before anyone can definitively say whether the harms of adolescent media use outweigh its benefits. Rather than freaking out, then, experts suggest that parents hold honest conversations with their kids about the potential downsides of digital platforms — and encourage them to develop a balanced diet of high- and low-tech activities.
Watch the videos below to learn about how technological devices affect children.
Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from children with screens (Toca Boca / Flickr – CC BY-NC 2.0).