Can too much digital media use cause ADHD symptoms

Digital media is easily accessible and quick to entertain our brains, but can frequent use make children more prone to the symptoms of attention-deficit, hyper-activity disorder (ADHD)?

According to a new study, it’s possible.

The study looked at 2,587 high school students who had not been diagnosed with ADHD.

Students were surveyed on how much time they spent on digital media including social media.

Researchers found that the students who reported high-frequency use of digital media were more likely than their peers to show symptoms of ADHD.

High frequency use was described as using digital media many times each day.

Signs and symptoms of ADHD include inattention, such as difficulty organizing and completing tasks; and hyperactivity-impulsivity, such as having trouble sitting still.

Michael Manos, Ph.D., of Cleveland Clinic Children’s did not take part in the study, but said it showed that while some children might not meet criteria for ADHD, they are still lured by digital media.

“Digital media is highly attractive,” he said. “Therefore people who have even propensities towards stimulating events are going to be attracted to it.”

Dr. Manos said the study did not show that frequent digital media use could cause a teen to develop ADHD, because ADHD is a genetic condition that involves physical changes in the brain.

However, the interrupting nature of digital media – with alerts and notifications and advertisements – can cause teens to have more difficulty focusing and staying on task.

Dr. Manos said the study provides a good reminder for parents to be mindful of just how much time their teens are spending on digital media, as too much time on devices means less time having real face-to-face communication.

Dr. Manos recommends parents start by setting the right example with their own media habits.

“Many children are exposed to digital media at a very early age – that exposure has to be limited – not only for the child, as the child grows – but, parents also have to be quite cognizant of how much digital media they’re using and how much they’re actually interacting with their own children,” he said.

Current recommendations call for no digital media use for very young children, and no more than one hour for school aged children. When it comes to older teens, Dr. Manos said it’s essential for parents to set reasonable limits that work for their family.

He said a parent’s ability to restrict the media use of their child comes down to consistency and agreement between the child and the parent as to what the parameters are.

“The ability for a parent to control exposure to digital platforms, in whatever form it takes, is diminishing rapidly in today’s world,” said Dr. Manos. “But it’s still imperative that parents are very vigilant about monitoring their children’s exposure to screens.”

Complete results of the study can be found in JAMA.