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Original Investigation
July 17, 2018

Association of Digital Media Use With Subsequent Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Among Adolescents

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Preventive Medicine, University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles
  • 2Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine
  • 3Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles
  • 4Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles
JAMA. 2018;320(3):255-263. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.8931
Key Points

Question  Is frequent use of modern digital media platforms, such as social media, associated with occurrence of ADHD symptoms during adolescence?

Findings  In this longitudinal cohort survey study of adolescents aged 15 and 16 years at baseline and without symptoms of ADHD, there was a significant association between higher frequency of modern digital media use and subsequent symptoms of ADHD over a 24-month follow-up (odds ratio, 1.11 per additional digital media activity).

Meaning  More frequent use of digital media may be associated with development of ADHD symptoms; further research is needed to assess whether this association is causal.

Abstract

Importance  Modern digital platforms are easily accessible and intensely stimulating; it is unknown whether frequent use of digital media may be associated with symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Objective  To determine whether the frequency of using digital media among 15- and 16-year-olds without significant ADHD symptoms is associated with subsequent occurrence of ADHD symptoms during a 24-month follow-up.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Longitudinal cohort of students in 10 Los Angeles County, California, high schools recruited through convenience sampling. Baseline and 6-, 12-, 18-, and 24-month follow-up surveys were administered from September 2014 (10th grade) to December 2016 (12th grade). Of 4100 eligible students, 3051 10th-graders (74%) were surveyed at the baseline assessment.

Exposures  Self-reported use of 14 different modern digital media activities at a high-frequency rate over the preceding week was defined as many times a day (yes/no) and was summed in a cumulative index (range, 0-14).

Main Outcomes and Measures  Self-rated frequency of 18 ADHD symptoms (never/rare, sometimes, often, very often) in the 6 months preceding the survey. The total numbers of 9 inattentive symptoms (range, 0-9) and 9 hyperactive-impulsive symptoms (range, 0-9) that students rated as experiencing often or very often were calculated. Students who had reported experiencing often or very often 6 or more symptoms in either category were classified as being ADHD symptom-positive.

Results  Among the 2587 adolescents (63% eligible students; 54.4% girls; mean [SD] age 15.5 years [0.5 years]) who did not have significant symptoms of ADHD at baseline, the median follow-up was 22.6 months (interquartile range [IQR], 21.8-23.0, months). The mean (SD) number of baseline digital media activities used at a high-frequency rate was 3.62 (3.30); 1398 students (54.1%) indicated high frequency of checking social media (95% CI, 52.1%-56.0%), which was the most common media activity. High-frequency engagement in each additional digital media activity at baseline was associated with a significantly higher odds of having symptoms of ADHD across follow-ups (OR, 1.11; 95% CI, 1.06-1.16). This association persisted after covariate adjustment (OR, 1.10; 95% CI, 1.05-1.15). The 495 students who reported no high-frequency media use at baseline had a 4.6% mean rate of having ADHD symptoms across follow-ups vs 9.5% among the 114 who reported 7 high-frequency activities (difference; 4.9%; 95% CI, 2.5%-7.3%) and vs 10.5% among the 51 students who reported 14 high-frequency activities (difference, 5.9%; 95% CI, 2.6%-9.2%).

Conclusions and Relevance  Among adolescents followed up over 2 years, there was a statistically significant but modest association between higher frequency of digital media use and subsequent symptoms of ADHD. Further research is needed to determine whether this association is causal.

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