Teens’ Excessive Screen Time Linked to ADHD and Spiritual Problems

Group of teenage boys and girls ignoring each other while using their cell phones at school

Teens who report high-frequency digital media use are twice as likely to develop attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports. Christian mental health practitioners say excessive screen time can damage the soul as well.

“Screens today are the modern-day Baal,” said Joshua Straub, a marriage and family strategist for LifeWay Christian Resources, “the socially acceptable thing that keeps us from a deepening relationship with Jesus.”

The study, published July 17, “supports ongoing research that too much screen time is detrimental to our hearts, minds and souls,” Straub, a child psychologist, told Baptist Press in written comments. “Yet, for some reason we, as a society, seem to be ignoring the data.”

Researchers at three California universities — the University of Southern California; the University of California, San Diego; and UCLA — examined a pool of 4,100 15- and 16-year-olds in the Los Angeles area for the JAMA study. They pared the pool down to 2,587 teens with no preexisting ADHD symptoms, then asked how frequently those teens used 14 digital media platforms. Participants subsequently were monitored for digital media use and ADHD symptoms over a two-year period.

Among the digital platforms studied were social media, texting, internet browsing, streaming or downloading music, chatting online and streaming television or movies.

The National Institute of Mental Health defines ADHD as “a brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.”

Youth in the JAMA study who said they used at least half the platforms “many” times per day were more than twice as likely as low- or medium-frequency users to develop ADHD symptoms.

While 4.6 percent of teens who reported no use or moderate use of the digital platforms developed ADHD symptoms, 10.5 percent who used all 14 platforms many times per day exhibited symptoms, as did 9.5 percent who used half the platforms many times per day.

Adam Leventhal, a USC professor who coauthored the study, said it “raises concern whether the proliferation of high-performance digital media technologies may be putting a new generation of youth at risk for ADHD,” according to a USC news release. He noted the study “can’t confirm causation” but does show “a statistically significant association.”

Leventhal added, “What’s new is that previous studies on this topic were done many years ago, when social media, mobile phones, tablets and mobile apps didn’t exist. 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.”

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SOURCE: Baptist Press, David Roach