The Mental Health Toll of Social Media

Written by PTC | Published January 12, 2023

The rate of change in the area of communications and information technology has been sudden and explosive. In one generation, the world has experienced seismic shifts in the way we communicate and relate to one another. But recent studies show that these changes are coming at a high cost, and we may not fully realize the social and mental toll for years to come.

Most teenagers (97%) report being online every day, and nearly half (46%) say they are online “almost constantly,” but recent research from scientists at the University of North Carolina shows that all of this time on social media actually changes the teen brain.

By looking at brain scans of middle schoolers between the ages of 12 and 15, neuroscientists at UNC found that frequent social media users at age 12 showed heightened sensitivity to social rewards from peers over time. Teenagers who were less engaged with social media at age 12 showed less interest in social rewards over time.

Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and author of iGen, has also sounded the alarm on the link between social media use and anxiety and depression in teen. “There is a substantial link to depression, and that link tends to be stronger among girls… The more time the teen, particularly a teen girl, spends using social media, the more likely it is that she will be depressed,” according to Twenge.

Any new habit or learned behavior leaves its imprint on the brain. The fact that the brain is imprinted by social media use should not come as a surprise. But most parents who let their children create social media accounts are probably unaware of the extent to which those social media accounts are training their children to seek peer approval or what the long-term consequences might be. Fear of rejection, fear of missing out, not getting enough likes on a social post can all feed social anxiety and lead to depression. These problems are only exacerbated by the addictive nature of social media.

That’s why several states are considering legislation to reduce the impact of social media on teens. Even President Biden has called on tech leaders to ensure children are protected from online content ‘that threatens their mental health and safety.’ With a mental health crisis among youth, coupled with growing evidence of social media’s harm on children, it is time for Big Tech to act to better protect our children.”

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