Smartphone use is common among teens, and yet, too much screen time can have harmful effects. A new study done by the University of Southern California on teenagers in Los Angeles, USA, shows that digital overload could be linked to a “modest” but significant rise in new attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The more social media, streaming video, text messaging, music downloads or online chats they engaged with, the more likely they were to report symptoms like difficulty organising and completing tasks, or trouble remaining still.
Previous studies have shown that ADHD, a psychiatric condition involving persistent difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, affects about seven percent of youths in the United States and may be on the rise in some populations.
The findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association were based on 2,600 teens who answered survey questions over a two-year period, making it one of the largest and longest studies on the topic.
About 10% of youths, who said they commonly used digital media platforms, frequently showed new ADHD symptoms over the study period, said the report. In contrast, 4.6% of students, who were not frequent users of any digital activity, showed ADHD symptoms. Researchers cautioned that the rise in ADHD symptoms was “modest” and at least some of the effects might be explained by confounding factors. Since the study was observational and based on survey responses by teens themselves, researchers said they could not prove that smartphone use actually caused ADHD symptoms.
“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,” said Adam Leventhal, a professor of preventive medicine and psychology at the University of Southern California.
Earlier studies examining the effect of television watching and playing video games found modest increases in ADHD among children.
Other studies on effects of smartphone use on teens
Researchers from San Diego State University found that prolonged use of smartphones and computers may increase the risk of depression and suicide-related behaviours in teenagers, especially girls. “These increases in mental health issues among teens are very alarming,” said Jean Twenge, from the San Diego State University.
Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder in the US found that blue light emitted by smartphone screens can disrupt sleep in children and teenagers, as young people are more vulnerable to the negative effects of the devices than adults.
Researchers from Duke University found that excess use of smartphones and other devices may lead to attention, behaviour and self-regulation problems for adolescents already at risk for mental health issues.