ADHD symptoms linked to digital media use

By Jacqueline Howard

Published July 25, 2018

The more teens check social media and stream video, the more likely they are to develop symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a new study suggests.

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The Study:

  • 2,587 students

  • 10 Students across Los Angeles County, California

  • 15-16 years old with no significant symptoms of ADHD

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Students completed surveys in which they reported how frequently they engaged in 14 digital media activities, such as

  • Texting

  • Playing digital games

  • Video chatting

  • Reading online content

  • Streaming music

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The Findings:

Each high-frequency engagement in a digital media activity was associated with higher odds of having ADHD symptoms.

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By the Numbers:

  • On average, 9.5% of the students who reported engaging in seven digital media activities reported ADHD symptoms

  • 10.5% of those who reported engaging in all 14 digital media activities reported ADHD symptoms

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More research is needed to determine whether that relationship is causal or reflects reverse causation.

Photo Illustration/Thinkstock

Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician, called the study

The best to date.

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With constant digital media use,

"You can create a habit of mind where your brain is constantly seeking something more interesting, something more stimulating, because it's always available -- and that leads to distractibility. The biggest problem children with ADHD have is, they're easily distracted."

Dr. Dimitri Christakis

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'The results must be understood as tentative'


According to Andy Przybylski, an associate professor and director of research at the University of Oxford's Internet Institute, the study

  • Is a proof of concept

  • Doesn't measure either digital media use or ADHD directly

  • Is an exploratory study instead of a registered or confirmatory study


Digital media guidelines doctors recommend

Allie Schmitz/CNN

Prioritize activities that promote adolescent executive functioning and well-being. Examples are sleep, physical activity, distraction-free homework, and positive interactions with family and friends.

Dr. Jenny Radesky, Pediatrician, Allie Schmitz / CNN