Can Smartphones Trigger ADHD in Teens?

Can Smartphones Trigger ADHD in Teens?

If you’re like many parents, you probably have some concerns about your teenager’s smartphone use. Smartphones can be helpful and useful in many situations, but they can also distract your teen from things like schoolwork and family time. And it may be more than a simple distraction. A preliminary study suggests that smartphones may be triggering ADHD in teenagers. Take a look at what you need to know about this potential problem.

The Study 

Girl at a school desk using her smartphone.
Smartphone use can interfere with students’ studies. But is it just simple distraction, or something more?

Researchers at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine surveyed over 2,500 high school students. At the start of the study, none of the students surveyed displayed symptoms of ADHD. Over the course of two years, the students being surveyed checked in to report on their digital media activities like texting and browsing social media websites.

Students also reported the frequency of their experience of 18 different ADHD symptoms over the course of the study. The results of this observation were then analyzed to determine whether or not there was a link between smartphone use and an increase in ADHD symptoms.

The Analysis

Researchers analyzed the results of the study and found a statistically significant link between using digital media and an increase in symptoms of ADHD. In other words, the students who spent more time on their smartphones also reported more ADHD symptoms.

That does not necessarily mean that the smartphone use caused the ADHD symptoms. It’s important to keep in mind that the ADHD symptoms were self-reported by the students being observed, which is not the same as those students receiving an ADHD diagnosis. It also does not necessarily mean that the smartphone use is what caused the ADHD symptoms. Digital media provides stimulations, and smartphones are fast and powerful enough to provide that stimulation quickly and conveniently. Because ADHD is a condition that causes the sufferer to seek more sensation, it may be that people who already have ADHD are more likely to use smartphones more, rather than the smartphones causing the ADHD.

What Parents Can Do 

Teenager using her smartphone.
Your teens need to learn to set healthy boundaries so that smartphone use doesn’t interfere with other activities.

While this preliminary study doesn’t prove that smartphone use definitively causes ADHD, it does show a link between the ADHD symptoms and the use of smartphones and digital media. That means that parents need to be alert to their teenagers’ use of smartphones and to the emergence of ADHD symptoms. An increase in either, or both, should be cause for concern for parents.

Parents should be aware of ADHD symptoms and talk to their kids about possible signs of ADHD so that they can have concerning symptoms checked out by a doctor. Parents should also place limits on their teenagers’ smartphone use, and set a good example by setting reasonable limits on their own smartphone use. It may not be necessary or helpful to ban smartphones entirely, but parents can definitely teach their teenagers to set healthy limits.

Parental monitoring software can help parents enforce limits and boundaries and ensure that their teenagers’ smartphone use is reasonable. It can also help parents identify spikes in activity that may be indicative of a problem. To find out more about how parental monitoring software can benefit your family,  get our free trial.