Screen Time and OCD in Children


Teenagers’ screen time doubled during the pandemic, and it was found to be associated with worse mental health and more stress. Screen time has also been linked to disruptive behavioral disorders and binge eating. According to a recent study, specific types of screen time are associated with an increased risk for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Research into Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by the Journal of Adolescent Health

According to this study, approximately 9,200 children between the ages of 9 and 10 provided data on how much time per day they spend doing various screen-related activities. Texting, using social media, browsing YouTube, playing video games, watching TV or movies, and making video calls were some of these. The average daily screen time for study participants was 3.9 hours.

Two years later, the researchers followed up with the parents of the preteens to learn more about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder symptoms and diagnoses. OCD in children is characterized by uncontrollable, repetitive thoughts or behaviors that a person feels the need to repeat repeatedly, according to the National Institutes of Health.

According to this study, for additional hours spent playing video games, OCD in children increased by 15%. Additionally, for every additional hour spent watching videos, OCD in children increased by 11%. By the two-year mark, compared to their baseline, 4.4% of the preteens had newly diagnosed Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Children who play video games for extended periods of time allegedly feel the need to play more and more despite their efforts to cut back, according to Jason Nagata, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, who specializes in studying mental health issues such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

The authors also highlight how watching videos on platforms like YouTube can lead to other mental health issues, such as the compulsive viewing of similar content that has been suggested by algorithms.

Repetition of exposure to the same or similar material, according to the authors, “may lead to overestimation of threats, which may contribute to obsessions arising from intrusions inciting fear.”¬†Watching television or movies did not increase OCD in children.

Other forms of screen time, like social media, video calls, or texting, did not appear to be associated with OCD in children, but the research team does note that the preteens in this study may not have participated in these activities to the same degree. The situation might be different with older teens or other groups.

According to the researchers, families can make a “media plan” that specifies rules and limitations in order to lessen the risks related to screen time.

In the press release, Nagata stated that “even though screen time can have important benefits like education and increased socialization,” parents should be aware of the potential risks, especially to mental health. Families can develop a strategy for using media that may include times without screens, like right before bed.

This research was a part of the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, which will check in with participants yearly for ten years.

“My overall goal is to understand how digital technology use impacts adolescent health,” Nagata wrote in an email to Changing America.

What the Future Holds

Future studies will look at whether certain ages of adolescents are more vulnerable to the effects of screens and whether too much screen time negatively impacts mental health. Nagata asserts that there may be problems or the opposite.

Advantage Mental Health Center in Clearwater, FL, offers specialized treatment for OCD in children. Their team of experienced therapists and psychologists utilize evidence-based therapies to help children overcome their obsessions and compulsions. With a child-centered approach, they create a safe and supportive environment where children can learn effective coping strategies and develop the skills needed to manage their Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder symptoms.

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