ADHD News & Research

Study: Screen Time, TV Use in Adolescence Linked to Later ADHD Symptoms

Screen time and television use in adolescence are linked to ADHD symptoms in early adulthood, according to a new longitudinal study that is corroborated by previous research linking TV use to subsequent symptoms of ADHD in teens.

March 12, 2021

More frequent television use at 11 years and greater total screen time at 18 years are linked to a higher likelihood of ADHD diagnosis at 22 years of age, according to a general population longitudinal study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders.1

Researchers studied the records of 2,333 participants without diagnosed ADHD who participated in the 1993 Pelotas Birth Cohort Study through age 22. Researchers studied participants’ time spent using television, video games, and computers at ages 11, 15, and 18, and then they assessed for ADHD at 22 years.

Research found that time spent watching television at ages 11 and 18 was positively correlated with the presence of future ADHD symptoms. This finding is corroborated by other, similar research. Children of participants in the 1972 Birth Cohort from Dunedin, New Zealand, who watched 2 hours, and particularly those who watched 3 hours, of television per day between the ages of 5 to 11 years were found to have above-average symptoms of poor attention at 15.2 Similarly, a U.S. study found that 14-year-olds who viewed television for three or more hours per day were more likely to have one or more symptoms of ADHD at age 16, compared to adolescents who watched less than three hours per day.3

The new study also demonstrated positive correlations between later ADHD symptoms and video-game use at age 15, as well as computer use at age 18. It yielded a statistically significant but modest relationship between total screen time and subsequent diagnosis of ADHD in adolescents. Researchers concluded that additional research is necessary to establish whether this association is causal, including information about what was watched on each device and the time spent on different devices.

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1 Soares PSM, de Oliveira PD, Wehrmeister FC, Menezes AMB, Gonçalves H. Is Screen Time Throughout Adolescence Related to ADHD? Findings from 1993 Pelotas (Brazil) Birth Cohort Study. Journal of Attention Disorders. March 2021. doi:10.1177/1087054721997555

2 Landhuis, C. E., Poulton, R., Welch, D., Hancox, R. J. (2007). Does childhood television viewing lead to attention problems in adolescence? Results from a prospective longitudinal study. Pediatrics, 120(3), 532–537.

3 Johnson, J. G., Cohen, P., Kasen, S., Brook, J. S. (2007). Extensive television viewing and the development of attention and learning difficulties during adolescence. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 161(5), 480–486.