Here’s what happens in your teen's brain while they scroll through social media

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Constantly needing validation from friends and strangers on social media have seen teens focusing on their appearance far more than ever before. (Brett Jordan/Unsplash)
Constantly needing validation from friends and strangers on social media have seen teens focusing on their appearance far more than ever before. (Brett Jordan/Unsplash)

Teens today have never known a life without the internet and were introduced to social media early on. It seems as if they have no idea how to live without social media and the distraction it provides.

The question, however, is whether it impacts on their mental health and their body image. The short answer is yes.

A recent study by Common Sense Media found that 51% of American teenagers visit social media sites daily and that 1 in 4 are heavy social media users, using at least two sites per day.

Teen brain responses to social media

In another US study, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles set out to understand teens’ brain responses to content on social media and its impact on their lives.

Participants in the study were shown images on an app, like Instagram, while undergoing a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scan.

It was interesting to see that teens were more likely to 'like' an image if they could see that their peers liked it too, proving that peer influence is still alive and well, even on social media.

Looking at the fMRI it was clear that the same part of the brain’s reward circuitry, that usually reacts when we see pictures of people we love or win money, was especially active when teens saw a large number of likes on their own images on social media.

It’s no surprise then that the average teenager draws comparisons between themselves and the thousands of peers, celebrities, and influencers using these examples as benchmarks for their own appearance and accomplishments.

This often leaves teens feeling inferior to their peers, and at times this develops into depression and anxiety.

"The big problem is that social media feeds generally highlight reels of others’ lives and idealised versions of their appearance," says Despina Senatore, author of Soar!, a guidebook to assist teen girls to navigate the turbulent waters of puberty.

She adds that in truth, "people don’t look as perfect and polished in real life, nor are their day-to-day lives but teens aren’t always aware of it."

The pressure on teens to emulate these images in real life, however, takes its toll.

MUST READ | Teen girls are three times more likely to experience cyberbullying: Tips to help her cope 

Increased feelings of anxiety, depression, loneliness, and poor self-image

An Australian study examined the link between social media and body image in teens and found that teens who spend as little as 30 minutes on social media daily have increased feelings of anxiety, depression, loneliness and poor self-image which could lead to unhealthy eating habits.

Further results showed that eating disorders were reported by 51.7% of girls and 45% of boys.

Constantly needing validation from friends and strangers on social media through likes and positive comments have seen teens focusing on their appearance far more than ever before and one bad picture combined with little likes and a negative comment or two, drives feelings of anxiety, depression and poor self-image.

"Social media is not all bad, however. It’s about guiding your teen on using it as a tool for positivity and motivation and not one of comparison or validation," Senatore says.

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Here Senatore provides her tips for helping your teen navigate social media:

Encourage open dialogue about body image

Talk to your teens about the realities of social media and marketing tactics when it comes to content.

It’s important that they are aware of the hours of editing and filtering that goes into many social media posts and advertising across media channels.

The message should be clear: the people in those pictures don’t look like that in real life and it’s unrealistic to place those expectations on anyone.

Make time for the conversation on unhealthy body image

It’s a tough conversation to have but an important one.

Discuss the realities of the health implications of leading a lifestyle or following harsh diets to be underweight and even overly muscular.

Be a positive force in your teen's life

It’s impossible to block every harmful or overly filtered image your teen sees and that’s why it’s important to be a positive force in their lives.

Feeling comfortable to talk to you about their fears and concerns will help steer them in the right direction.

Submitted to Parent24 by Purposeful Woman


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