According to the study, teens who are heavy users of digital devices are twice as likely as infrequent users to show symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The links are stable as researchers tracked nearly 2,600 teenagers in two years.
The researchers examined the mental consequences of a new generation of digital diversions, including social media, streaming video, text messaging, music downloads and online chatrooms, rather than mere use of TV or video games in previous research.
“New, mobile technologies can provide fast, high-intensity stimulation accessible all day, which has increased digital media exposure far beyond what’s been studied before,” said Adam Leventhal, professor of preventive medicine and psychology at the University of Southern California.
According to Leventhal, the researchers focused on teens because adolescence marked a moment for ADHD onset and unfettered access to digital media.
They found 9.5 percent of the 114 children who used half the digital media platforms frequently and 10.5 percent of the 51 kids who used all 14 platforms frequently showed new ADHD symptoms.
By contrast, 4.6 percent of the 495 students who were not frequent users of any digital activity showed ADHD symptoms, approximate to background rates of the disorder in the general population.
“We can’t confirm causation from the study, but this was a statistically significant association,” Leventhal said.
“We can say with confidence that teens who were exposed to higher levels of digital media were significantly more likely to develop ADHD symptoms in the future.”