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Checking Social Media Accounts Linked to ADHD in Teens?

Updated: Feb 27

In the whirlwind of today's digital age, where the buzz and pings of smartphones are a constant backdrop to our lives, a pressing question emerges: Could the very platforms that keep us connected also be impacting the mental health of our adolescents? Specifically, is the frequent use of social media and other digital media platforms linked to the occurrence of ADHD symptoms among teenagers? Let's dive into recent findings that shed light on this intriguing question.

The Study at a Glance

A comprehensive study aimed to explore this potential connection by focusing on adolescents aged 15 and 16 years who did not initially show symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Over a period of 24 months, researchers meticulously tracked the digital media usage and the emergence of ADHD symptoms among these young participants.

Research Study Details Here:

Chaelin K. Ra, MPH; Junhan Cho, PhD; Matthew D. Stone, BA; Julianne De La Cerda, Nicholas I. Goldenson, BA; Elizabeth Moroney, MA; Irene Tung, MA; Steve S. Lee, PhD; Adam M. Leventhal, PhD

JAMA July 17, 2018 Volume 320, Number 3

Copyright 2018 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Article available as an open access article via this link

What the Research Revealed

The findings were eye-opening. The study discovered a significant association between the frequency of digital media use and the subsequent appearance of ADHD symptoms. To put it more simply, teens who used various digital media platforms more frequently were more likely to exhibit symptoms of ADHD over the two-year follow-up. The odds of developing these symptoms increased by 11% with each additional digital media activity the adolescents engaged in.

Fourteen Types of Digital Media that Teen Examined.

  • Checking social media sites

  • Texting

  • Browsing or viewing images or videos

  • Streaming or downloading music

  • Liking or commenting on others’ statuses, wall posts, or pictures

  • Chatting online

  • Streaming television or movies

  • Playing games by yourself on a console, computer, or smartphone

  • Reading online blogs, articles, news, forums, or books

  • Playing games with friends or family on a console, computer, or smartphone

  • Sharing others’ photographs, images, videos, status updates, blogs, articles, or news

  • Posting own photographs, images, videos, status updates, or blogs

  • Online shopping or browsing

  • Video chatting

More Study Details Here:

In a study involving 2,587 teenagers, who were on average 15.5 years old and mostly girls, researchers explored the link between digital media use and the development of ADHD symptoms over an average follow-up period of nearly 23 months. Initially, none of these adolescents showed significant signs of ADHD. On average, each participant was engaged in about 3.62 different digital media activities at a high frequency, with social media checking being the most common activity (Figure below)

The findings revealed a clear pattern: the more digital media activities teenagers engaged in frequently, the higher their odds of exhibiting ADHD symptoms later on. Specifically, engaging in each additional digital media activity was associated with an 11% increase in the odds of having ADHD symptoms, even after adjusting for other factors.

A closer look at the data showed a notable difference in ADHD symptom rates based on the level of digital media use. For those who did not frequently engage in any digital media activity, the rate of ADHD symptoms was about 4.6%. This rate almost doubled to 9.5% among those who frequently engaged in 7 different digital media activities, and it increased further to 10.5% for those immersed in 14 high-frequency activities.

This study underscores the potential impact of heavy digital media use on adolescent mental health, suggesting a significant association between high-frequency digital engagement and the likelihood of developing ADHD symptoms.

Decoding the Meaning

What does this mean for parents, educators, and teenagers themselves? The study suggests a link between more frequent use of digital media and the development of ADHD symptoms. However, it's crucial to note that while the study found a significant association, it does not definitively prove that heavy digital media use causes ADHD. The increase in symptoms could be influenced by numerous factors, and further research is needed to understand whether there's a direct causal relationship.

The Takeaway

The digital world is an integral part of modern life, especially for today's youth. While these platforms offer unparalleled opportunities for learning, socializing, and entertainment, they are not without their potential drawbacks. This study highlights the importance of being mindful of how much time adolescents spend engaged with digital media.

For parents and guardians, the findings serve as a reminder to encourage a balanced digital diet for their teenagers, mixing online activities with offline experiences that promote mental well-being. For educators and policymakers, it underscores the need for digital literacy programs that teach young people not just how to use technology, but how to use it wisely.

Looking Ahead

As we navigate this digital era, the call for further research is clear. Understanding the nuances of how digital media consumption affects adolescent mental health is crucial. Only with more evidence can we begin to unravel the complex web of interactions between our digital habits and our well-being.

In conclusion, while the digital age brings many benefits, it's essential to remain vigilant about its potential impacts on young minds. By fostering open conversations, setting healthy boundaries, and prioritizing balance, we can help ensure that our teenagers not only navigate the digital world safely but thrive in it.

One of the figures from the Chaelin et al. paper showing that

Figure Legend from the Paper

"Among the 2587 adolescents (63%eligible students; 54.4%girls; mean [SD] age

15.5 years [0.5 years]) who did not have significant symptoms of ADHD at baseline, the

median follow-up was 22.6 months (interquartile range [IQR], 21.8-23.0, months). The mean

(SD) number of baseline digital media activities used at a high-frequency rate was 3.62 (3.30);

1398 students (54.1%) indicated high frequency of checking social media (95%CI,

52.1%-56.0%), which was the most common media activity. High-frequency engagement in

each additional digital media activity at baseline was associated with a significantly higher

odds of having symptoms of ADHD across follow-ups (OR, 1.11; 95%CI, 1.06-1.16). This

association persisted after covariate adjustment (OR, 1.10; 95%CI, 1.05-1.15). The 495

students who reported no high-frequency media use at baseline had a 4.6%mean rate of

having ADHD symptoms across follow-ups vs 9.5%among the 114 who reported 7

high-frequency activities (difference; 4.9%; 95%CI, 2.5%-7.3%) and vs 10.5%among the 51

students who reported 14 high-frequency activities (difference, 5.9%; 95%CI, 2.6%-9.2%).See the Methods section for determining ADHD symptoms. Score ranges from

0 to 14, higher scores indicate greater digital media use. Total number of 14

different digital media activities engaged in at a high-frequency rate (many

times per day) over the preceding week. Panel E shows the ADHD mean

symptom prevalence, across all 4 follow-up time points, weighted by the

number of available observations, presented with error bars representing 95%

CIs by the baseline level of digital media use"

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