ROANOKE, Va. – This study looked at how frequent checking of social media in children might be related to brain development. It included 169 6th and 7th grade students. The kids reported how often they checked social media (specifically Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat).
- The researchers found that adolescents who checked social media more often showed brain responses suggesting that they were more responsive to social rewards.
- The researchers found that the teenagers who checked social media most frequently showed a pattern of increased brain responses to social rewards every year, while the teenagers who did not check social media frequently showed a pattern of decreased responses to social rewards every year.
- Yet, we don’t know if social media causes these changes over time.
The bottom line is that correlation does not mean causation! Just because social media checking is linked to brain differences doesn’t mean it causes these differences. It would be very possible that adolescents who were more social also engaged in more social media checking and that these adolescents, due to more social experiences, became more responsive to social rewards over time.
In addition - and perhaps the good news - is that the researchers don’t have any evidence that the brain being more responsive to social rewards is a bad thing, such as causing increased social anxiety or being more susceptible to peer pressure.
Parents should continue to use caution and set limits with children and teens for social media. We don’t have evidence that social media changes the brains of children in any negative way yet, but almost half of teenagers report they are checking social media “almost constantly.” this nearly constant checking can get in the way of important things for teenagers such as sleep, homework, and real life social interactions. Research has found that social media use is associated with increased mental health concerns such as depression and body image issues so parents want to be careful to set
consistent limits and make sure it is not getting in the way of other important activities.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that families develop a Family Media use plan for children aged 6 and older. These plans help parents to set consistent limits around social media and make sure it isn’t getting in the way of other important activities such as sleep and homework. You can create a plan for free on their website (AAP.org)
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