How social media is destroying our teens
SOCIAL networks might be having more harmful effects on teenagers than previously thought, with a new study revealing high use of sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram could be linked to symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.
The University of Southern California research, which studied more than 2500 students over two years, found a "statistically significant" rise in ADHD symptoms among teens using digital media more often, particularly for activities including checking social media sites, liking posts, chatting online, and browsing images.
Cyber safety experts said the new study again proved children could not safely be "on a screen for nine hours a day" without serious repercussions, but medical experts warned more investigation was needed to determine whether greater social media use was causing ADHD symptoms, or whether at-risk teens were seeking them out.
The research, published in Journal of the American Medical Association today, studied 2587 15 and 16-year-olds to determine whether their use of interactive digital media affected their behaviour.
After observing the high school students at six-month intervals between September 2014 and December 2016, the authors found those with a "higher frequency of digital media use" experienced more ADHD symptoms such as an inability to focus, organisational difficulties, restlessness, and impatience.
"Modern media devices immediately notify users when new text messages, social media postings, or video game play invitations arrive. Exposure to such notifications may draw attention away from focal tasks," the study concluded.
"Frequent distractions could disrupt normative development of sustained attention and organisation skills.
"Although alternative explanations are possible, modern digital media use could play a role in the development of ADHD symptoms."
Teenagers in the study reported checking social media sites as their most frequent activity, followed by sending text messages, and browsing videos and photos online.
Monash Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences fellow Dr Hannah Kirk said ADHD could "fluctuate" based on a person's age or environment, but warned that the study did not conclusively prove that digital media had caused symptoms of the disorder.
"Greater research is required to establish the potential long-term negative and positive impacts that digital media has on the way we think and behave," she said.
"Although this study highlights an association between digital media and behavioural symptoms typically associated with ADHD, it is important to note that ADHD has a strong genetic origin, is associated with distinct brain development, and emerges in childhood."
But online safety educator Leonie Smith said the study should act as a warning to parents to ensure their children were not spending too many hours behind screens, and experienced real-world social situations too.
"If you look at all the studies, commonsense says kids need face-to-face time as well as screen time," she said.
"You can't have a child on a screen for nine hours a day and not have them miss out on real-world experiences."
Ms Smith said screen time guidelines for teenagers were open-ended, but warned that parents couldn't expect all older children to "self-moderate" when it came to smartphones.