Doing Life Together

ipad-820272_1280Show me a teen that isn’t on a device and well…is there such a thing? Most teens are on their devices more than they talk to live people. Is this simply annoying behavior to those of us trying to get their attention, or is it creating problems that could be more serious? According to a new study, spending time on digital media platforms could be doing more than grabbing a teen’s attention. It could be creating attention problems.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that there is an association between the development of ADHD symptoms and high frequency digital media use among teens who were followed in a study. Researchers tracked the students for a two year period and found a significant, but modest, association between high frequency digital use (many times a day) and the development of ADHD symptoms. Considering the numerous platforms and devices teens have at their finger tips, and the fact that the nonprofit Common Sense Media group report that  teens spend about one-third of their day — nearly nine hours — using online media, we need to further understand the impact of such use.

To note, the study is based on self-report data, not direct observations. And when two things are associated, it doesn’t mean one causes the other. The study isn’t saying that digital media use causes ADHD, but it sure raises the question if high usage is putting teens at risk. It gives us an idea of how digital media use could be impacting our children and their brains. And if some kids can be triggered with ADHD like symptoms due to high digital media use, that is something researchers need to continue to study.

Whether a teen has a diagnosis or not, having a shorter attention span is a problem. The teen who is constantly seeking something more interesting and not focusing on the here and now will have problems in school and life. Being easily distracted can get you in trouble and contribute to missing information needed to function well in life.

So when studies like this point to potential problems with our kids or teens, parents need to be proactive.The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends guidelines to parents. Children over age 6 should have limits on media use, media free times such as no use during meals should be instituted in the home, and children should be monitored for their use. Parents of teens need to be actively involved discussing appropriate sites, prosocial behavior, misinformation, safety, persuasiveness of messages, and how digital media use impacts their cognitive and social development. Regular discussions about what is viewed and how it shapes thinking are also important.

While it takes time to monitor digital use, it is worth the effort in terms of helping your child become a responsible netizen and develop brain health.



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