Social media is a daily part of life. For instance, 51 percent of teens visit social networking sites on a daily basis, while 11 percent send or receive tweets at least once every day. Moreover, more than a third of teens visit their main social networking site several times a day, while one in four teens is a “heavy” social media user, which means they use at least two different types of social media every day, according to the report.
During the study, researchers used an fMRI scanner to image the brains of 32 teenagers as they used a fictitious social media app resembling Instagram. The teenagers were shown more than 140 images where “likes” were believed to be from their peers. However, the likes were actually assigned by the research team.
As a result, the brain scans revealed that in addition to a number of regions, the nucleus accumbens, part of the brain’s reward circuitry, was especially active when they saw a large number of likes on their own photos. According to researchers, this area of the brain is the same region that responds when we see pictures of people we love or when we win money. What’s more, researchers say that this reward region of the brain is particularly sensitive during the teen years, which could explain why teens are so drawn to social media.
In another part of the study, researchers could see a correlation between social media and peer influence. Participants in the study were shown both neutral photos and risky photos. What they found is that the type of image had no impact of the number of likes given by teens in the study. Instead, they were likely to hit “like” on the popular photos regardless of what they showed. Researchers believe this behavior shows that peers can have both a positive and negative influence on others while using social media.
Undoubtedly, social networking plays a vital role in broadening teen social connections and helping them learn valuable technical skills. But what impact is all of this social networking having on young teen minds? Most reports indicate that the impact can be significant.
Not only are teens’ developing brains vulnerable to so much time online, but because they often have difficulty self-regulating their screen time, their risks can increase. Additionally, they are more susceptible to peer pressure, cyberbullying and sexting—all activities involving digital communication—making navigating the online social world treacherous at times.
All in all, there are a number of health issues that develop as a result of too much time online. Here is an overview of the most common mental health-related issues teens can experience from too much social media use.
Researchers are just beginning to establish a link between depression and social media. While they have not actually discovered a cause and effect relationship between social media and depression, they have discovered that social media use can be associated with an intensification of the symptoms of depression, including a decrease in social activity and an increase in loneliness.
For instance, a study published in Computers in Human Behavior found that the use of multiple social media sites is more strongly associated with depression than the amount of time spent online. According to the study, people who used more than seven social media platforms had more than three times the risk of depression than people who used two or fewer sites.
What’s more, several additional studies have shown that the prolonged use of social media may be related to the signs and symptoms of depression as well as low self-esteem, especially in children.
In addition to reporting feeling tired all the time, they also reported being less happy on average than teens whose sleep was not disturbed by social media. What’s more, teens need more sleep than adults do, so logging into social media in the middle of the night can be detrimental to their physical health as well. For instance, aside from feeling tired and irritable, lack of sleep can lower the immune system and make it more likely for a teen to get sick.