Is social media changing or re-wiring our teens’ brains in the Digital Age?

Social media has become an integral part of a teenager’s life. Teens aged between 13 to 18 years old spend 9 hours a day online, and 45 percent of teen users agree that social media is an important part of their lives. These “digital natives” are closely identified with technology and they cannot live without it. Today’s teens are living a hyper-connected life which may lead to online safety issues such as sexting or cyberbullying. These are just some of the risks teenagers are facing while they are online.

Social networking may have negative effects on our teen’s brains, but it is also re-wiring their brains for a digital future. Be it good or bad, here is how social media affects teenagers.

Adolescence and social media

Adolescence is a critical phase in anyone’s life. It is when a person’s identity is formed and building relationships with peers. Adolescents want to pursue autonomy, stand out from the crowd, and fit in with their peers. Since “fitting in” is important for every teen, social networking sites became the new avenues for developing adolescent relationships. It is easier for them express their points of view while receiving immediate feedback from online peers. Joining online groups also helps teenagers develop their identities.

“Likes” affect a teen’s brain

A simple Facebook “Like”, for example, triggers the reward center of a teenager’s brain. This area of their brain becomes more active when they receive more “Likes” or positive comments. Also, teens are most likely to “Like” photos if their peers also “Liked” them. Peer influence is amplified by social media and teens show risky behaviors while online. Since their experiential systems are still developing, their capacity for self-regulation is still incomplete. However, social media helps teens develop their brain through online socialization and mental stimulation.

Connected but disconnected teens

Teens are always connected – from their smartphones to their laptops – which makes them “disconnected” from the real world. This is a cause for concern because teens are missing critical social skills. Vocal reactions, facial expressions, and body language are important in face-to-face communication. Without these, they will have difficulties interacting with others as they reach adulthood.

Aside from missing critical social skills, teens who are always connected learn to live “dual lives”. Some become online bullies while others “steal” another person’s identity. This could be due to pressure from online friends or their innate desire to take risks. These risky behaviors may lead to run-ins with the law.

Raising awareness and honing their digital skills for the future

The impact of social media on teenagers is not all negative; it also has its own merits. Our brain’s plasticity changes when we learn something new. When a teen spends time on social media, it can affect his or her brain. Creating podcasts, writing blogs, or joining online communities are examples of learning something new. Most teenagers also utilize social media to gather information for their school projects and research assignments. It also serves as a platform for online educational collaborations with teachers and classmates.

Since technology changed the world, teenagers need to be technologically adept in keeping up with the times. Social media can help them hone their digital skills for the future.

Social media is the future of networking and communication. We need to prepare our teenagers for a better future. Keep them safe online with MomSecure’s premium cyber services.

Related article: A Parent’s Guide to Social Media

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