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23 Oct 2021

Marsh NP et al. Res Child Adolesc Psychopathol 2021; Epub ahead of print

Adolescents with ADHD may experience high rates of in-person victimisation, and co-occurring internalising symptoms (Wiener & Mak, 2009; Becker et al, 2017), and may be more emotionally connected to their social media, putting them at risk of cybervictimisation. This study examined whether the association between cybervictimisation and internalising symptoms is stronger among adolescents with and without ADHD with a greater emotional connection to their social media.

Participants of this study were adolescents in eighth grade and their parents, recruited from two schools in Southeast and Midwest United States. The study population was comprised of two subsets: adolescents diagnosed with ADHD based on the full Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5th Edition (APA, 2013) criteria and adolescents without ADHD who had endorsed ≤3 symptoms in both the inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity domains. Adolescents reported on social integration and emotional connection (SIEC) to social media, cybervictimisation experiences and internalising symptoms, whilst parents reported on their impression of their adolescent’s SIEC to social media.

In total, 288 adolescents (45.1% female) aged 13‒15 years (mean [standard deviation, SD] age, 14.09 [0.36] years) participated in this study. The ADHD group consisted of 151 participants (mean [SD] age, 14.06 [0.36] years) with a female minority (35.8%) and the non-ADHD group consisted of 137 participants (mean [SD] age, 14.11 [0.35] years) with a female majority (55.5%). Thirteen participants were excluded from further analyses because they did not use social media. Greater cybervictimisation was significantly associated with higher self- and parent-report of adolescents’ SIEC to social media (r=0.28 and 0.16, respectively; both p values <0.01), and greater depressive and anxiety symptoms (r=0.27 and 0.15, respectively; both p values <0.05).

Self‑report of social media emotional investment

The analyses examining the interaction between cybervictimisation and self-reported SIEC to social media indicated significant interaction effects for both depression (R2 change=0.023, b=0.04; p=0.008) and anxiety (R2 change=0.019, b=0.03; p=0.02). Conditional effect analyses revealed that cybervictimisation was associated with significantly higher depressive symptoms at mean levels (t(268)=2.81; p=0.005) and high levels of self-reported SIEC to social media (t(268)=4.97; p<0.0001), and significantly higher anxiety symptoms at high levels of adolescent-reported SIEC to social media (t(268)=3.14; p=0.002).

Parent-report of social media investment

The analyses examining the interaction between cybervictimisation and parent-reported SIEC to social media indicated significant interaction effects for both depression (R2 change=0.047, b=0.04; p<0.0002) and anxiety (R2 change=0.014, b=0.02; p=0.04). Conditional effect analyses indicated that cybervictimisation was associated with significantly higher depressive symptoms at mean levels (t(268)=2.98; p=0.003) and high levels of parent-reported SIEC to social media (t(268)=5.67; p<0.0001), and significantly higher anxiety symptoms at high levels of parent-reported SIEC to social media (t(268)=3.22; p=0.001).

Comparing cybervictimisation in adolescents with and without ADHD

An independent samples t-test indicated that adolescents with ADHD had higher mean (SD) cybervictimisation scores (1.14 [0.29]) than adolescents without ADHD (1.08 [0.25]; t(273)=2.42; p=0.04). With regard to cybervictimisation rates, 38.6% of adolescents with ADHD reported experiencing at least one instance of cybervictimisation in the past month, compared with 28.9% of adolescents without ADHD (Χ2(1)=2.88; p=0.09 (odds ratio [OR] 1.55; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.93–2.56). Almost a quarter (24.3%) of adolescents with ADHD endorsed at least two separate cybervictimisation events occurring in the past month, compared with almost a tenth (9.6%) of adolescents without ADHD (Χ2(1) = 10.42; p=0.001; OR 3.01; 95% CI 1.51–6.00).

The authors highlighted some limitations to be considered in this study. Firstly, the data utilised were in a cross-sectional design and therefore directionality could not be determined. Additionally, study sample was mostly White, and therefore may not be generalisable for a more diverse sample of adolescents. Finally, cybervictimisation was self-rated by the participants; the authors proposed that future research should include alternative methods for assessing cybervictimisation, such as peer ratings or coding of online experiences.

The authors concluded that the findings of this study demonstrate that, in their opinion, adolescents with ADHD experience more frequent cybervictimisation than their peers without ADHD. They also noted that cybervictimisation may be associated with negative outcomes, specifically among adolescents with a strong emotional connection to their social media use.

Read more about adolescents with ADHD and SIEC to social media here

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the views of the author(s) and not those of Takeda.

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

Becker SP, Mehari KR, Langberg JM, et al. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 2017; 26: 201-214.

Marsh NP, Fogleman ND, Langberg JM, et al. Too connected to being connected? Adolescents’ social media emotional investment moderates the association between cybervictimization and internalizing symptoms. Res Child Adolesc Psychopathol 2021; Epub ahead of print.

Wiener J, Mak M. Peer victimization in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Psychol Schs 2009; 46: 116-131.

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