While studies linking social media to mental health issues like ADHD are nothing new, the emerging patterns in research are certainly raising questions. Inevitably, people (and parents, in particular) are wondering why the two topics keep appearing so closely linked. Is technology contributing to the growing number of mental illnesses in America? Should we be worried about children and adolescents having access to these apps? Before you jump to conclusions, though, be sure you know all the facts.
The Most Recent Study
In July, the Journal of the American Medical Association released new research monitoring ADHD symptoms in American teenagers. With results from almost 2,600 participants, they found that individuals who used social media multiple times throughout the day were twice as likely to identify with common symptoms of this mental health disorder. Apparently, this study considered multiple types of this technology without focusing on one in particular. So, users of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. were all factored in.
The interesting thing about this particular study is that it aimed to track symptoms in the long term—specifically over a period of more than two years. Furthermore, it filtered out individuals who were already exhibiting signs of ADHD at the beginning. Meaning, the participants were all newly diagnosed with the disorder, throughout the course of the research. For more information on the data collected, you can access the study here(link to: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2687861).
However, it didn’t say that social media causes new cases of ADHD. Merely that teens who frequently use such outlets are more likely to struggle with impulse control, patience, and attention spans. While all of these are often associated with ADHD, they’re also traits that come with maturity. So, it’s possible that the internet is just distracting adolescents from developing as quickly as we believe they should.
What Does This Mean for Today’s Teens?
Well, no surprises here. It means teenagers are growing up in a completely different environment and we’re not totally sure what effect it will have on them. But you have to keep in mind that the study we’re referencing only considered social media use. It didn’t look at other known contributors of mental health issues like family life, socioeconomic status, or stress levels. So, you can’t limit your understanding of this developing topic to this research.
It’s entirely possible, after all, that our understanding of this situation is completely backward. Perhaps teenagers who develop ADHD are looking for an outlet, or a distraction, which they find in social media. Or that mental health issues are preventing them from interacting with their peers any other way. The simple fact of that matter is, we don’t have enough information at this point to fully comprehend this complex situation.
Therefore, jumping to conclusions and tracking your teenager’s “screen time” or forbidding it outright aren’t recommended approached. Rather, try talking to your children. Would you present your teen with a car before discussing the dangers and responsibilities of driving? Hopefully not. So why would you hand over a smartphone (with unlimited internet access) without a similar conversation? When you have open lines of communication, you’re more likely to know how much time they’re spending on social media and how it’s affecting their mental wellbeing. Then, you can be prepared to address it together, should you notice any adverse effects.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by this topic—as either a teenager or a parent—feel free to reach out to us! Technology isn’t the enemy. In fact, we use it as part of practice all the time! The key is to find the balance between its beneficial features and your concerns. Fortunately, at Focal Points Therapy, we believe in helping you find the individual solution that’s right for you.