The Relationship Between Smartphones and ADHD in Teens

November 21, 2018

It’s estimated that 77% of Americans now own smartphones – a noticeable jump from just 35% in 2011. While these devices, along with tablets and laptops, have helped make our lives easier, they do come with some side effects – particularly for young people.

Earlier this year, a study looked at the effects digital media had on teens. More specifically, the study intended to find if there was a correlation between frequent smartphone use and ADHD symptoms.

Other studies have found a connection between digital media use and depression and anxiety in teens. One Korean-based study compared smartphone-addicted teenagers to non-addicted teens and found the addicted teenagers scored significantly higher than their peers in levels of anxiety, depression, insomnia, and impulsivity.

But this study is one of the first to look at this type of technology and the potential risk of ADHD in teens. It followed 2,587 high school students, aged 15 or 16, for two years. At the start of the study, these teens showed no significant signs of ADHD. At the end of the study, the teens with more digital media use showed more signs of ADHD symptoms.

In fact, the teens who were considered to be high frequency users were more than twice as likely to develop ADHD symptoms than their peers who used digital media less.

Does Smartphone Use Cause ADHD Symptoms in Teens?

While this link is significant, the study’s findings don’t support a causal relationship between digital media use and the development of ADHD. It does, however, raise concern. Smartphone and social media use show no signs of slowing down, so how can we find healthy ways to incorporate screen time for kids and teens?

Here are a few ways to help limit your teen’s screen time:

  1. Lead by Example
    Adults can be just as plugged in (or even more so) than teens. But young, developing brains are particularly susceptible to the harms of screen time. Telling your teen to turn off their phone while you’re on your laptop isn’t likely to be effective. Instead, make a point to spend time reading, going for a walk, or cooking dinner together.
  1. Establish Boundaries
    Many teens respond well to structure, so setting up clearly defined rules regarding screen time is a great way to set them up for healthy habits that will last. Try no TV or phone use during meals, reserve phone use for after chores and homework, and no screens an hour before bed. And remind your teen that screen time is a privilege that can be taken away if it becomes abused.
  1. Talk About Social Media
    Teens are already under a great deal of peer pressure, but with the development of social media, it’s easy for teens to feel like they constantly need to “keep up” with their friends. Talk to your child often about why they feel the need to check in. This can help catch any early developments of anxiety or depression.

While teens are particularly susceptible to the pitfalls of frequent digital media use, it’s important for us all to develop healthy habits. In addition to these at-home tips, Neurocore offers med-free treatment options for improving mental and brain health. Call 800.600.4096 to learn more.

Kamenetz, Anya. (2018, July 12). “Parenting in the Age of Screens: Here’s What the Experts Do.” Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/07/12/625399353/parenting-in-the-age-of-screens-heres-what-the-experts-do
Morin, Amy. (2018, August 27). “10 Strategies to Limit Your Teen’s Screen Time.” https://www.verywellfamily.com/strategies-limit-your-teens-screen-time-2608915
Morning Edition. (2018, July 17). “More Screen Time for Teens Linked to ADHD Symptoms.” Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/07/17/629517464/more-screen-time-for-teens-may-fuel-adhd-symptoms
Pew Research Center. (2018, February 5). “Mobile Fact Sheet.” Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/mobile/