Parents, educators, and experts know that social media can harm a young person’s mental health. A recent 60 Minutes report told the stories of students who suffered from depression, disordered eating, and suicidal ideation. All of the cases presented in the report stemmed from social media use. But can social media change the way a teen’s brain works? According to a report in the New York Times, experts have discovered a link between social media and brain changes in teenagers. 

Social Media and Brain Changes in Teenagers

New York Times reporter Ellen Barry discusses a recent study performed by University of North Carolina neuroscientists. The study centered on students experiencing the intense period of brain development between the ages of twelve and fifteen. In the study, researchers captured multiple brain scans of students in their early teens. By comparing scans, researchers were able to determine a difference in brain development between students who did and did not frequently use social media. 

Students who did often check social media showed a “sensitivity to social rewards from peers heightening over time.” In other words, these students became hypersensitive to their peers’ responses, comments, and criticisms. Conversely, students who didn’t use social media as often showed a declining interest in social rewards and in sensitivity. 

Researchers hesitated to definitively name social media as the cause for these changes. However, one of the study’s authors stated that the changes were “pretty dramatic” and “could potentially have long-term consequences well into adulthood.”

How Schools Can Protect Teens 

This study shows that young adults are highly sensitive to interactions on social media. This puts them at risk of cyberbullying, which can lead to depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. Additionally, teenage students are also vulnerable to grooming and predatory behavior on social media. Therefore, schools need to make sure that students are safe online. Installing screen monitoring software like LearnSafe can do just that. LearnSafe detects instances of predatory grooming and cyberbullying. Also, LearnSafe can detect warning signs regarding student mental health, including talk of suicide, anxiety, and depression. LearnSafe offers schools the tools they need to help students struggling with mental health as well. These tools include Vivensity’s imSparked©, a social-emotional learning tool that helps students develop positive coping skills.


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