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The Teen Brain And Social Media Addiction

As technology use continues to increase among adolescents, scientists are beginning to understand the biological and chemical processes that occur in the brain as a result of social media addiction. Research has found that overuse of technology, including social media, creates a stimulation pattern similar to other addictive behaviors. In fact, receiving “likes” on social media activates the same circuits in the teenage brain that are activated by eating chocolate or winning money, releasing dopamine and creating feelings of pleasure and reward.

According to experts, a mental health expert, positive reinforcement occurs when a teen posts something online and receives likes, shares, and positive comments from their peers. This rush of dopamine can create a cycle where teens feel the need to recreate that feeling with more posts and more time spent on social media. Nicholas Kardaras, author of Glow Kids, warns that this constant overstimulation can shift the nervous system into fight-or-flight mode, worsening disorders such as ADHD, depression, oppositional defiant disorder, and anxiety. Frequent use of social media can also rewire the developing teen brain to constantly seek out immediate gratification, leading to other addictive behaviors.

There is also something called “flow state.” The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi used the term to describe a state of complete absorption in an activity, during which brain waves shift to the alpha waves associated with rest and relaxation. Research has found that teens benefit greatly from flow activities, however social media often takes them out of this beneficial state.

To help parents recognize when their teen is overusing social media, look out for signs such as spending increasing amounts of time scrolling through social media, preoccupation with thoughts of getting back online, difficulty cutting back on social media use, lying about the amount of time spent online, and showing signs of anxiety or depression after spending time online. By recognizing these signs and taking action to limit social media use, parents can help prevent the negative effects of social media addiction on their teen’s developing brain.