Should We Blame Our Devices For The Rise in Teens with ADHD?

A recent op-ed in the New York Times says technology is not to blame for teens’ mental health struggles, but a new University of Michigan study suggests otherwise.

Mallmo/ Getty Images
Mallmo/ Getty Images

In a recent op-ed published in the New York Times, psychology professor Tracy Dennis-Tiwary Ph.D. revealed her skepticism over the supposed ties between technological devices and adolescent mental health struggles. “Although some research does show that excessive and compulsive smartphone use is correlated with anxiety and depression, there is a lack of direct evidence that devices actually cause mental health problems,” Dennis-Tiwary wrote. The op-ed, written in response to Apple’s initiative to help users set boundaries with their devices, emphasizes the importance of devoting resources to address the public health crisis of anxiety, instead of creating smartphones that are somewhat less addictive.

While some question the connection between technology and teen mental health struggles, there seems to be more and more evidence that these ties are quite strong — and their implications should not be ignored. The most recent link was revealed in a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, and analyzed by the University of Michigan School of Medicine in “Digital Media and Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Adolescents.”

The researchers observed 2,587 Los Angeles County high school students without symptoms of ADHD at study entry, and surveyed the students five times within a two-year span. After twenty-four months, the findings showed that the frequent use of digital media may be associated with the development of ADHD among teens, but more research is needed.

Although it is not yet established whether the connection is causational or correlational, it is clear that there is a science-backed link between excessive use of technology and symptoms of ADHD in teens. We have seen time and again that mental health struggles among adolescents is rising each year. The rate of suicide attempts for 10 to 14 year olds rose 135 percent from 2001 to 2014 alone, according to CDC data, and in 2015, one in eight adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode.

We need to take a broader look at the mental health crisis at large – but with all of the evidence pointing toward our devices, it doesn’t hurt to enforce the values of setting boundaries and detaching ourselves from our screens

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