Can Digital Devices Cause ADHD?

A recent article in Smart Kids explored why teens with ADHD are at increased risk for overusing digital devices and the negative consequences that may follow. Now, according to an NPR report,  new research has found that “high-frequency” use of digital devices may “increase the odds of developing symptoms of ADHD.”

While previous studies have looked at the impact of video games and TV watching on ADHD behaviors, the new findings published in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) are based on one of the few studies that has explored the impact of computers, smartphones, and tablets on behaviors associated with ADHD.

The study followed 2,587 10th graders in schools in Los Angeles county over two years. The teens showed no symptoms of ADHD at the beginning of the study. By the end, teens with more frequent digital media use were more likely to have symptoms of ADHD.

During the study, researchers surveyed the teens every six months. They were questioned about how frequently they participated in 14 digital activities such as texting, sharing on social media, and streaming videos or music.

Troubling Results

Anyone who spends time around teens will not be surprised by the results, which showed that the participants were on digital devices many times a day. How did that impact their behavior? Study author Adam Leventhal, associate professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California explained:

Teens who were high-frequency users of seven or 14 digital media platforms were more than twice as likely to develop ADHD symptoms than teens who did not use any media platform at a high-frequency rate.

Leventhal is quick to point out that the study does not prove that frequent use of digital devices causes ADHD.

The study doesn’t prove causation — it finds an association. Still, because the study involved students who did not show symptoms in the beginning, the results give some cause for concern, Leventhal says. “To have 10-ish percent [of the high-frequency media users] have the occurrence of new symptoms is fairly high,” he says.

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