Social Media Impacts Teens’ and Kids’ Brain Reward System and Feeds Depression, Anxiety, and Aggression





People looking at smartphones

Canadian researchers have revealed more data that indicates too much social media and screen time is unhealthy for kids and teens.

While screen time has fallen from the early months of the COVID19 pandemic, Emma Duerden, the Canada Research Chair in neuroscience and learning disorders at Western University, told the CBC that children are still reporting high levels of depression, anxiety, and aggression.

Duerden uses non-invasive brain imaging technology to study the impact of social media on children’s brains. During studies, she noticed that the prefrontal cortex was activated when teens watch a short Disney Pixar film without dialogue and a character experienced physical pain. This part of the brain that helps kids learn in school and undergoes “massive changes” during adolescence.

Our digital society has seen social media use and mental health become intertwined. Social media platform algorithms are quick to learn what you like and deliver it to you. This is designed to keep users engaged with the app. Research has already shown that hearing the “ding” of a notification can trigger a dopamine response in our brains, which drives us to check our apps more.

In October, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, was sued by 42 attorneys general for allegedly designing Facebook and Instagram to be addictive.

“They can’t focus during exams because they’re so used to scrolling on TikTok or looking through their phone. They’re so used to having that constant stimulation that when it comes to focus, they really struggle,” Michaela Kent, a PhD student in Duerden’s lab, told the CBC.

The connection between too much social media or screen time and poor mental health isn’t new, but at the beginning of the pandemic lockdowns, Canadian parents reported six- to 12-year-olds spending upwards of 13 hours a day in front of a screen.

Dr. Rachel Mitchell, a child and youth psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, told the CBC that more top-down regulation and parent involvement is needed to help kids.

Apps and devices have started incorporating tools that monitor screentime and remind users to take a break or start winding down for bed. Regulations and legislation are being proposed across the U.S. as well. In April, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a federal bill that would ban kids under 13 years of age from creating a social media account.

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