On Wednesday, April 10, Mark Crowe from Summit Counseling spoke to middle school parents about how social media affects the teenage brain and behavior. Mr. Crowe also took questions from those in attendance about the issues related to cell phone use and offered suggestions on what parents can do to help.
According to the Pew Research Center, 45% of teenagers feel like they are online constantly. This is troubling because the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that manages impulse control and regulates mood is still developing. Students are exposed to a flood of news and stories all the time, but because their brains are not fully developed, they cannot process information in a healthy manner.
Social Media provides instant gratification through “likes” and “follows,” and releases dopamine, the pleasure response in the brain. This creates an addictive behavior, as teenagers seek the positive feelings associated with social media. Additionally, apps that have vibrations, a flashing light, or notification with a small blurb, create a lure that entices users to pick up their phone to get more information. Teenagers in particular, do not have the ability to think, “I’ll wait to read that later.” Because the pre-frontal cortex is still developing impulse control, they are more inclined to respond to their phone immediately.
Social media has been linked with lower self-esteem, a decline in social skills, anxiety over social situations, and depression. Lower self-esteem is attributed to the perceived pressure to live up to unrealistic expectations. Social media creates an image of perfection and positivity that many strive to live up to but cannot attain, thereby lowering self-esteem. Teenagers who are glued to their phones, are increasingly struggling in social situations and some have even developed social anxiety in gatherings with their personal friends. Social media can foster depression over a teenager’s perceived lack of worth as they compare themselves to others.
What is the parent’s role in teenage social media use? Some of the tips Crowe listed include:
- Maintain a healthy relationship with your teenager, built on trust and open communication.
- Check-in on your child’s cell phone use, ask questions, and facilitate discussion. As a parent, you have the right to check your child’s phone. Having a cell phone is a privilege, not a right.
- Work with your teenager to create a technology “contract” or agreement about the parameters and expectations around cell phone use, games, and other electronics.
- Be consistent and follow through with consequences when your teenager violates the contract.
- Model healthy cell phone behavior by putting your phone away during dinner or when you are spending time with the family.
For a list of parental control apps, click here.