8 January 2020

Problematic social media use among young people predicts increase in ADHD symptoms

Many people view the social media use of young people with suspicion and the negative consequences of social media use are highlighted on a fairly frequent basis. For example, earlier research suggests a relationship between social media use and ADHD symptoms. Youth researchers at Utrecht University analysed this relationship and concluded that only problematic social media use is related to ADHD symptoms. Their findings were published in the scientific journal Child Development.

Maartje Boer, one of the authors of the scientific article, makes it clear that a distinction must be made between frequent and problematic social media use: 'Problematic use occurs when it has a negative impact on young people and their environment. For example, they might experience reduced control over social media use, lose interest in hobbies or have conflicts with other people because of their social media use.' To arrive at their conclusions, Boer and her colleagues analysed the data of 543 first and second-year secondary school pupils who participated in the Digital Youth Project.

Attention issues

The Utrecht youth researchers found a connection between the symptoms of problematic social media use and ADHD symptoms. Boer: 'Young people whose symptoms of problematic use had increased also experienced an increase in ADHD symptoms in the following year, particularly an increase in attention-related issues and impulsiveness.' This did not work the other way around. 'Young people whose ADHD symptoms had increased did not report an increase in symptoms of problematic use during the following year.'

Young people whose frequency of social media use had increased did not report an increase in ADHD symptoms.

No relationship

In addition to the relationship between the problematic use of social media and ADHD symptoms, the researchers also examined whether there was a relationship between the frequency of social media use and ADHD symptoms. This relationship appeared not to exist. 'Young people whose frequency of social media use had increased did not report an increase in ADHD symptoms in the following year. In addition, young people whose ADHD symptoms had increased did not report an increase in the frequency of their social media use.'

Concentration issues

Boer argues that the relationship between social media use and ADHD symptoms therefore seems to be driven by symptoms of problematic use rather than by the frequency of use. 'Things such as constantly thinking about social media and experiencing a loss of control over social media use are likely to make young people experience more concentration problems in everyday life.'