Teens who spend tons of time on the internet may develop ADHD symptoms

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Teens who spend tons of time on the internet may develop ADHD symptoms

"If we're being honest, it's damn near impossible to stay focused when the internet is at our fingertips. There's always one more notification to read, one more deal to be had, one more like to chase.

While some experts have suspected that this kind of instant feedback and gratification might negatively affect young minds, a new study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests such connectivity comes at a worrisome cost by increasing ADHD symptoms in teens who use digital media at a high rate.

When researchers surveyed 2,587 high school students in a prospective, longitudinal study, they found that teens who engaged in 14 different digital media activities multiple times a day had increased odds of developing ADHD symptoms.

The activities included checking social media sites, texting, online chatting, and posting one's own photos, videos, blogs, or status updates. More than half of those surveyed logged onto social media platforms and texted multiple times per day.

Ten of the 14 activities were significantly associated with ADHD symptoms like difficulty completing tasks and trouble remaining still. The self-reported symptoms were measured every six months for two years.

The risk grew by a modest 11 percent with each additional media activity the students engaged in at a high rate. Yet the cumulative effect meant that teens who participated multiple times per day in seven of the 14 activities showed more than twice the prevalence for symptoms than teens who weren't frequent media users.

    "This study raises new concerns whether the proliferation of high-performance digital media technologies may be putting a new generation of youth at risk for ADHD."  

The students, a diverse group that all attended Los Angeles County schools, didn't have significant ADHD symptoms prior to participating in the study.

That said, this doesn't mean that digital media necessarily caused their ADHD symptoms.

"We cannot confirm whether there is a causal effect of digital media use on ADHD from our study," Adam Leventhal, the study's lead author and director of the USC Health, Emotion, & Addiction Laboratory, wrote in an email. "However, this study raises new concerns whether the proliferation of high-performance digital media technologies may be putting a new generation of youth at risk for ADHD."

Those concerns will no doubt rattle parents who already feel unsure about helping their children navigate digital media use when the internet is practically inescapable.

Apps to limit screen time have proliferated in the past year, and Leventhal said those tools could aid parents: "Simply having information on the extent of use may be a good starting point for thinking about whether changes in media use might be helpful."

Last month, Apple introduced its Screen Time feature to help users gauge and restrict their phone use. It also allows parents to track their children's activity and set limits accordingly. Yet, we still don't know if there's an optimal amount of time to spend on a digital device, or at what point excessive use might negatively affect a person's brain functioning and mental health. "

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Tags: Cellphone, Teens