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Social Media: Is It Hurting Our Kids?

By Tamara Johnson, MD

Social media is EVERYWHERE. It has become a part of our daily life. Let’s face it—we cannot do anything without checking our phones first, and neither can our children. From Instagram and Twitter to Facebook,Snapchat,TikTok and everything in between, our kids are constantly connected. Social media has completely transformed our world. We can comment on events in real time, and with geographic barriers removed, we can connect on a level that we never thought possible. But for all its perks, this constant connection is not without risk and we have to ask—is all this constant connection harming our children?

A recent study in JAMA Pediatrics sought to answer this very question as there is very little information about brain development and social media use. Over a period of three years, 169 sixth and seventh grade students between the ages of 11 and 15 from three public schools in rural North Carolina were studied. Each student was asked about their social media use and every year they would be evaluated by a brain MRI. While in the scanner, they would be asked to respond to a task, and feedback in the form of adolescent faces was given in response. By repeating the MRI every year, researchers were able to see if there were changes in the brain over time. Results showed that the students who checked their social media more frequently were more sensitive to feedback from other adolescents and this sensitivity increased over time compared to those who checked less frequently. This can have implications with how adolescents respond to rewards and punishment.

Although more research is needed to fully understand the impact of social media on brain development, these recent findings should give us pause on just how much time our children are spending on these platforms.

Look out for Dr. Johnson's follow-up blog for more information on the social media use of children and adolescents!


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