Digital Screen Time and Links to ADHD - Nemours Blog


Digital Screen Time and Links to ADHD

Digital Screen Time and Links to ADHD, Powered by Nemours Children's Health System

Too much screen time has long been linked to an increased risk of emotional and behavioral problems, especially when kids engage for long stretches — like watching TV for hours or playing too many video games­.

The long-term health effects of being constantly connected to smart devices isn’t as well understood. But several recent studies show that these screens can have a negative impact on social behavior, sleep quality, and mood. And one study links attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to teen use of digital devices.

Understanding ADHD

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood, affecting 8%‒10% of children and teens.

The causes of ADHD are still unclear. Research does not show a link with eating too much sugar, parenting, or social and environmental factors like poverty. But these factors, and many others, can make symptoms worse.

Many kids and teens with ADHD:

  • are overly active
  • have trouble paying attention and staying focused
  • sometimes act impulsively

ADHD usually is detected in early childhood. Its symptoms often continue into adolescence (the teen years) and adulthood, and can become more obvious as kids grow. As a result, teens might get poor grades, have social and relationship problems, and abuse alcohol or drugs.

Study Finds Screen Time Linked to ADHD Symptoms

Recently, a team of researchers followed more than 2,500 Los Angeles high school students over a 2-year period to see if those who often used digital media developed signs of ADHD. “Digital media” includes watching TV, playing video games, using social media, texting, and watching movies or listening to music on a digital device (mobile phone, tablet, laptop, or computer).

The team monitored the teens by questionnaire every 6 months. They found a “significant but modest association between higher frequency of digital media use and subsequent symptoms of ADHD.”

While the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), raises new concerns about teens’ use of digital media technologies, more research is needed to determine a causal link to ADHD.

Limiting Teens’ Screen Time

The results of this study should be another reminder that limiting our kids’ screen time should continue to be a priority, even in their teen years. Many teens need to use digital media for schoolwork or activities. And moderate use has its benefits, like access to educational information or social support. But overusing digital media could have mental health consequences.

To help your kids spend less time with their digital devices, try these tips:

  1. Keep digital devices out of your teen’s bedrooms.
  2. Request that the whole family turn off devices during dinner.
  3. Have your kids turn all devices off at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
  4. Limit screen time to 2 hours per day or less for everyone in the family (with the exception of schoolwork).
  5. Talk to your kids about how they use their digital devices. Pay attention to the apps they download and use.

Need other ways to help your kids manage their digital activity? Use these 10 tips to limit your kids screen time (including TV and video games), and five ways you can take the wheel when it comes to using mobile devices.

Meghan Tuohy Walls, PsyD

Meghan Tuohy Walls, PsyD, is a psychologist at Nemours Children's Hospital and Nemours Pediatrics, Jessup St. in Wilmington, Del.