ADHD - Definition and Prevalence
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic condition characterized by persistent problems with maintaining attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. ADHD affects millions of children - between 5% and 7% in the US - with reports suggesting that the prevalence is increasing. The exact cause of ADHD is unclear. In most cases, there is a strong genetic basis. Environmental factors also seem to play an important role in the the development of the condition.
Teenagers and Social Media
Media use has been burgeoning in the last few decades. The majority of adolescents in most developed countries now have 2 or more media/technology devices in their bedrooms. Additionally, most of these adolescents use technology and media for several hours a day. Adolescence is the second developmental phase where rapid, intense neural circuitry development is taking place. The prefrontal cortex of the brain, the part of the brain that has been implicated in inhibition of impulses, organization and attention, undergoes significant developmental changes during this period.
ADHD and Social Media
A recent study, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), suggests that teenagers who frequently use digital social media may be at greater risk of developing ADHD1. Research has shown that individuals with ADHD are more likely to be high users of video games. This study explored the likelihood of the reverse trend - whether high video game use is linked with increased propensity of ADHD symptoms.
The research team examined adolescents’ ADHD symptoms following use of ‘modern media’, as compared to previous studies on this subject that have looked at ‘traditional media’. Modern media use is characterized by its significantly faster rate/frequency and ‘high intensity’ stimulation’. Modern media is also distinct in terms of offering extensive social connectivity, thereby making it more appealing to adolescents. The team measured adolescents’ ADHD symptoms at baseline and then every 6 months, over a 2-year follow-up period.
The authors reported an association between media use and the development of ADHD symptoms in these adolescents over a 24-month period. Although this finding suggests that media use could potentially be implicated in the development of ADHD symptoms, the association as reported does not prove a causal link.
Frequent notifications, high stimulation, ‘rapid feedback’, immediate accessibility, may all be factors underlying this link, given that these promote the frequent attention paid to media devices rather than to other tasks that adolescents may be engaged in. The authors also describe several, alternate mechanisms by which this association could be explained. Further research is needed to fully understand and establish this association.
ADHD - Recommendations for Lifestyle and Social Media Use
Previous reports have also shown that media devices usage increases the likelihood of shorter sleep duration and poor sleep quality in children and adolescents. We know that inadequate and unrestful sleep can affect attention. This is another area that needs further exploration.
We live in a world where technology and how we use it is changing daily. Social media is a fact of our lives, and it inevitably affects how we pay attention. Some types of media use can have certain benefits for children and adolescents. For developing brains, however, it is important to consider how families might use social media as safely as possible. To this end, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has released policy statements 2,3,4 that include the following recommendations:
- In children older than 2 years, limit media to 1 hour or less per day of high-quality programming
- Avoid fast-paced programs, apps with lots of distracting content
- No screens 1 hour before bedtime, and remove devices from bedrooms before bed
- For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health
- Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms
About Richa Bhatia, MD
Richa Bhatia, MD, is a dual board-certified Child, Adolescent and Adult psychiatrist. She has served as a faculty member in the departments of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. She is the author of the book: ‘Demystifying Psychiatric Conditions and Treatments, and Answers to Your Commonly Asked Questions’, which spreads awareness and education about psychiatric disorders and treatments. In addition, she has authored several peer-reviewed publications. She serves as an Associate Editor for Current Psychiatry and is on the editorial boards of several other psychiatry journals. She is a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, and is the recipient of the Marian Butterfield award from the Association of Women Psychiatrists. She has extensive clinical experience in treating patients suffering from various psychiatric conditions in various settings.
- Chaelin K, Junhan Cho, Matthew D. Stone, et al. Association of Digital Media Use With Subsequent Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Among Adolescents. JAMA. 2018;320(3):255-263
- AAP COUNCIL ON COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA. Media and Young Minds. Pediatrics. 2016;138(5): e20162591 http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/5/e20162591 Accessed September 13, 2018
- AAP COUNCIL ON COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA. Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics. 2016;138(5): e20162592 http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/10/19/peds.2016-2592 Accessed September 13, 2018
- Reid Chassiakos Y, Radesky J, Christakis D, et al. AAP COUNCIL ON COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA. Children and Adolescents and Digital Media. Pediatrics. 2016;138(5): e20162593 http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/5/e20162593 Accessed September 13, 2018