It seems we finally have scientific, empirical evidence of what many people have believed for years – that social media can have a very detrimental effect on children and young teens and can even alter their brains. Neuroscientists from the University of North Carolina suggested in a recently published study that constantly checking social media as a young teenager leads to hypersensitivity to peer feedback and can potentially lead to lasting changes in the brain’s reward and motivation centers.
In the study, the neuroscientists worked with a group of 169 teenagers between the ages of 12 and 15 and observed their brain development and compared it to their self-reported use of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
The neuroscientists discovered that children and adolescents who habitually used or checked any of the above platforms more than 15 times a day became increasingly sensitive to feedback, not only from their peers on social media but also in real life.
The brain scans of these subjects showed increased activity in areas associated with reward processing, focus, regulation and control, and the researchers observed that these appeared to contribute to positive feedback loops, further increasing their sensitivity to peer approval.
In comparison, the teens who reported checking their social media apps only once a day showed a decrease in activity in those areas. This indicated that they cared less about peer feedback or had more self-control over compulsive behaviors.
“Teens who regularly check their social media are showing these quite dramatic changes in the way their brains respond, which could potentially have long-term consequences well into adulthood, sort of setting the stage for brain development over time ‘ according to the study. Author Eva Telzer told the New York Times.
We also spoke to a few doctors, Dr. Sudipto Chatterjee, a neurosurgeon at one of Kolkata’s largest hospitals, and Dr. Mukesh Dwivedi, another neuro specialist from Gurgaon, who shared some amazing insights on how social media is detrimental to the minds and brains of children and adolescents.
“We’ve all heard cases where social media has tricked young users into especially young girls to depression and severe body dysmorphism. There have been many instances where people have gotten in well Her teens have died by suicide because of social media and how it made her see herself. Although such drastic cases are rare, there are studies showing that abnormal exposure to social media, particularly social media consumption, can actually slow down the analytical part of the brain,” says Dr. Chatterjee.
“The way social media platforms have designed their algorithms seems to have a negative impact on how we process information and deal with memories. It has also led to an alarming reduction in attention span, not only in children and adolescents but also in young adults,” says Dr. Dwivedi.
Is social media consumption slowing down users, especially young teens and children? “The evidence seems to be exactly that,” says Dr. Dwivedi. “Studies show that children and young teens appear to take longer to understand some complex concepts in math, science and reasoning, although there has been no noticeable decrease in IQ. It’s like social media has replaced TV as the new idiot box,” he adds.
However, it may not be the use of social media itself, but the way it is consumed. dr Chatterjee says, “While consuming social media beyond a certain limit is certainly harmful, the real problem is how we use social media. Most of the time, people checked their Instagram or Facebook within half an hour of waking up, sometimes right after waking up. We’ve also seen people go to bed early but just lay there, eyes glued to their phones, scrolling through their feeds, waiting to fall asleep. The blue light from the display changes and confuses your sleep cycle. Eventually, prolonged exposure to blue light before bedtime will lead to some physiological changes as well,” he added.
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