Smartphones, Social Media and Teens: Benefits, Risks and Radiation?

Teens, across the nation and around the world, will be heading back to school soon. While teens were “relaxing” over the summer, researchers were doing their due diligence by continuing to explore the impact smartphones and social media have on teens.  Let’s take a look at what we know and explore some new information that might be helpful to teens, parents and educators.

What we’ve known for a while is that smartphones and social media have been linked to anxiety, depression, stress, lack of sleep, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts found in teens.  Teen anxiety and depression treatment centers have risen up in large numbers.  Longer hours on social media have been found to increase a teen’s risk of cyberbullying, lower self-esteem and may cause loss of valuable friend, family, and personal time.

While social media has benefits such as instant and often meaningful communication with family and peers, being constantly on has become a social media trap for many teens.  By increasing the time spent on measuring and managing their social media success on sites like Instagram and Snapchat, experts fear overuse may be adding risks to teen’s mental health.  Being constantly on, plugged in 24/7 – many teens never get a break.

Statistically, girls who spend several hours on their smartphones and social media each day tend to develop more social and emotional problems than boys.  Teen girls spend more time cultivating their online identity, comparing themselves to their peers and paying more attention to “likes.”  Teen boys tend to spend more time gaming and less time worrying about online identity.

Recently it was noted that 95% of teens have access to a smartphone.  We know that teens who are constantly on, keeping up with the latest apps, gaming, spending longer hours on social media, and wondering and worrying about how they measure up to their peers run the risk of higher than normal academic challenges and mental health issues.

Adult awareness to the many tactics used to get teens (and others) hooked to social media is the first step toward understanding and breaking the “constantly on” cycle.  Adults have, at their fingertips, bundles of research and studies as to the “why and how” teenagers get hooked, become addicted to social networking, and, as a consequence, have difficulty putting their smartphone and other devices aside.

The Latest…When it comes to smartphones, social media and teens, it now appears there is more to consider.  In a recent article entitled, “Smartphones are killing teenagers’ memories, study says” by Chris Ciaccia, it was suggested and supported by the study referred to in the title, that radiation from smartphones is negatively impacting teenagers’ memories, leaving them with short-term memory loss. Perhaps now that more people are incorporating more organic living into so many aspects of their lives, they might also consider putting down their technology.

Reference:

https://www.swisstph.ch/en/news/news-detail/news/mobile-phone-radiation-may-affect-memory-performance-in-adolescents/

Knowing Why Teens Value Social Media

Knowing why teens value social media is just as important as understanding why teens are taking breaks from social media.  Behind teens and social media is purpose driven social media marketing.  Not unlike adults, teens desire to be relevant, be a part of a group or community and have value.  Unlike when their parents were growing up and had personal friend connections but often limited transportation or restrictions on time to be with those friends, teens today can hang out with their friends, all the time, 24/7, wherever they are! Social media has created a feeling of connectedness never experienced in human history.

Teens talk about their desires, personal issues, fears, and thoughts on social media.  But there is a downside to all of this connectedness ~ social media is also where cyberbullying and sexual exploitation of young people occur.  Sadly, many teens and younger children, who are being victimized, seldom tell their parents until it is too late.

Parents need to be present in their teen’s social media world while educators need to be vigilant in recognizing signs of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, poor sleep habits, eating disorders or body image issues in their students, which all may be related to the affects of social media.

Teens, Brain Matters And Social Media

There have been several articles written about how social media affects the brain. CNN reported recently that researchers at UCLA’s Brain Mapping Center found that when teenagers’ photos get lots of “likes” on social media apps, such as Instagram, their brains respond in a similar way to seeing loved ones or winning money.

Dr. Lisa Strohman, Founder and CEO of Digital Citizen Academy, in her frequent presentations to parents and teachers, stresses the fact that regions of the brain in teens become “activated” by “likes”, with the brain’s reward center becoming especially active.  She compares face-to-face interactions with online interactions and the obvious fact that, when you go online, there is no way to “read” someone’s facial expressions. Often interactions are misinterpreted and messages ineffective.

Teens spend an average of 9 hours a day on social media, which now researchers say is affecting the brain’s neuroplasticity – the way the brain grows and changes after experiencing different things.  What does this mean for future generations?  As teens grow up, will they, for example, be able to read subtle expressions on faces?   How will they adapt differently to their environment?