by EBSCO Medical Review Board

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavior problem that causes children to be hyperactive, impulsive, or inattentive. There are genetic, psychosocial, and early life factors that raise the risk of ADHD. Now, digital media may play a role as well. Digital media is content that is sent over the internet or computer networks, such as text, audio, video, and graphics.

Researchers wanted determine whether the frequency of using digital media among 15- and 16-year-olds without ADHD symptoms is associated with ADHD symptoms during a 24-month follow-up. The study, published in JAMA, indicates that there was a statistically significant but modest association between higher frequency of digital media use and subsequent symptoms of ADHD.

About the study

The prospective cohort study pooled 2,587 participants (aged 15-16 years) attending high school in Los Angeles County, California.

The study followed them for 24 months. The participants self-reported the frequency of their use of 14 modern digital media activities at 6, 12, 18, and 24 months. They also self-rated their frequency of ADHD symptoms.

The most common digital media activities used were:

  • Browsing social media sites
  • Texting
  • Viewing images or videos
  • Downloading music
  • Liking or commenting on posts
  • Chatting online
  • Watching TV or movies
  • Playing single player games

At baseline, all participants were classified as not having ADHD symptoms. At follow up, the mean rate of ADHD symptoms was:

  • 10.5% with 14 high frequency activities
  • 9.5% with 7 high frequency activities
  • 4.6% with no high frequency activities

How Does This Affect You?

Cohort studies are observational studies. These studies simply observe events as they unfold, but do not interfere or introduce factors that can affect the outcome. It can show potential connections but not direct cause and effect. Participants in this study also self-reported their symptoms and use of digital media. Self report can be unreliable as it depends on individuals to keep accurate records. Participants may have felt the need to over or under report their symptoms and use of digital media.

This study does not suggest that digital media use is a cause of ADHD. It does suggest an association between high media usage and ADHD symptoms. More studies will be needed to better understand the connection. Digital media activities let teens communicate with one another, learn, and play. However, you may need to limit your child's use of digital media if it gets in the way of daily tasks, such as homework or sleep. If your child shows signs of ADHD, talk to his or her doctor. Treatment may involve lifestyle changes and medications.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics 


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: . Updated September 12, 2018. Accessed October 2, 2018.

Ra CK, Cho, J, et al. Association of digital media use with subsequent symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder among adolescents. JAMA. 2018 Jul 17;320(3):255-263.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board
  • Review Date: 09/2018