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What Are The Impacts of Social Media on the Teen Brain?

TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, Facebook, Discord, Clubhouse - the list of social media platforms seems endless! According to surveys from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 75% of teenagers use at least one form of social media. With such a high number of daily users, what are the impacts of social media on the teen brain?

Keep reading to understand more about brain development in the teenage years and how it impacts the ways teens use social media.

Understanding The Teenage Brain’s Development

Though the human brain reaches its full size during early adolescence, regions of the brain continue to mature until your mid-20s. This means that, as teenagers physically grow and change, their brains are doing the same.

The prefrontal cortex is the last part of the brain to fully mature. This area of the brain is in charge of attention, impulse control, and flexible thinking. Teenagers are still learning skills in these areas as they develop, and this learning process plays a role in how they interact online.

Social media presents a constant influx of new information from peers and strangers. This information overload can combine with the still-maturing brain and result in risky or impulsive behaviors. Teens may appear to have little regard for consequences, including concern for their own mental wellbeing.

Social Media and Mental Health

A 2021 report from the Education Policy Institute found that adolescent boys and girls report a decreased sense of well-being with increased time on social media.

If you spend time on platforms like TikTok or Instagram, you may see teenagers commenting their own criticisms of growing up with unlimited access to the internet. It is clear that teenagers and young adults feel the mental health implications of consistent social media use in a significant way. Yet, despite these feelings, they still use it - why is that?

Social Media Can Trigger A State of Constant Performance

Social media has undoubtedly blurred the line between celebrities and civilians. Popular apps like TikTok and Instagram give any individual the opportunity to build an audience. However, the pull of fame and expectation to maintain social media accounts across many platforms can feel like a constant need to perform. Did you go out for coffee? Post a photo. Spend the day with a friend? Learn a TikTok dance and record a video.

Social media provides the constant opportunity to create something new. The pressure to create new things can add to the stress of being a teenager.

Teenage brains are more sensitive to stress than developed adult brains. This sensitivity means that their responses to this stress and pressure may be impulsive and result in negative consequences.

Social Media Can Increase Connectivity and Inclusivity

Though there are many known negative implications of social media use on the teen brain, there are positives as well. Social media makes Gen Z a well-connected generation. Teenagers today have more access to information and opportunities to understand those who are different from them. The teen brain is flexible and able to take in and easily adapt to this new information.

This level of mental flexibility and openness can give teenagers a sense of belonging, which in turn may reduce stress. Stress reduction can improve mental health and overall wellbeing.

What Are The Additional Impacts of Social Media on the Teen Brain?

Researchers, parents, and teenagers themselves are asking this question everywhere, from dinner tables to universities to TikTok comment threads. Teenagers and adolescents today grew up in a very different world from the generations before, and many of the impacts are still unknown. Despite these many unknowns, we do know:

  • The teenage brain is more sensitive to stress than the adult brain, and social media presents new and significant stress triggers.

  • Teenagers report worse mental health with increased social media use, but the expectation to show up on social media persists.

  • The expectation to perform daily life on the internet can increase pressure and stress on the teenage brain.

  • Social media can increase a sense of belonging, and in turn, reduce stress for some teens.

Final Thoughts

Social media, whether you love it or hate it, has become an integral part of the way people communicate and teenagers make up a significant percentage of social media users. As a part of Gen Z, teens make up the first generation with lifelong access to social media.

Though there are many known negative impacts of social media on the teen brain, there are positives, too. Understanding the developmental level of the teenage brain can help navigate both the good and bad.

At The Mental Health House, we understand the complications associated with modern society. Social media is a tool- it has both good and bad side effects, and we want to help your loved one understand these risks. Regardless of your circumstances, we are here for you. Contact us today to learn more!

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