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The impact of online time, particularly on social media, on children and youth is a growing concern. Social media’s design encourages constant app checking, shaping behaviors and dominating daily life.

Growing social media use among teens a concern

In Canada, over 30 million social media accounts are registered, with teenagers being prominent users. The COVID-19 pandemic intensified the impact on youth, increasing screen time due to digital shifts and school closures. Research indicates connections between screen time and mental health issues, exacerbated during lockdowns, leaving adolescents more susceptible to social media’s adverse effects.

In the aftermath of pandemic lockdowns, it is crucial to investigate the impact of excessive screen time on developing brains. Social media, particularly engaging reward and punishment systems, may jeopardize children’s brain development during crucial periods.

Children’s active reward systems are vulnerable to constant high-level rewards from social media, potentially leading to addictive behaviors. The underdeveloped prefrontal cortex in children and teens may hinder their ability to control scrolling and monitor emotional triggers, emphasizing the need for understanding and addressing these concerns.

Excessive screen time impacts brain development

Excessive screen time, influenced by brain chemistry changes, may affect individuals differently based on the development of the prefrontal cortex. Adults may be less susceptible to negative social media effects. Research links high screen time in children to altered brain activation, structure, and delayed development in areas related to social connectedness and empathy.

Contrary to some research, a comprehensive study involving 12,000 children found no link between screen time and brain development. Discrepancies with smaller studies could be attributed to self-selection bias, as heavy screen users may participate more in focused studies. The impact of social media on youth varies, with those with pre-existing anxiety possibly more susceptible, using it for validation or as a maladaptive coping mechanism.

In the evolving digital era, precise directives are imperative to address the detrimental impacts of screen time on children’s development. Research must focus on discerning the effects on the brains and behaviors of children and adolescents, aligning with the urgency to comprehend long-term outcomes and factors influencing resilience and risk.