Children who spend hours on their phones scrolling through social media show more aggression, depression and anxiety, Canadian researchers say.
Emma Duerden holds the Canada Research Chair in Neuroscience and Learning Disorders at Western University, where she uses brain imaging to study the impact of social media use on children’s brains.
She and others found that screen time has dropped slightly from the record 13 hours a day that some Canadian parents reported for children aged six to 12 in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re seeing a lot of these effects. Kids are reporting high levels of depression and anxiety or aggression. It really exists.”
When parents said that their children spend more time in front of screens and adults are stressed, then anxiety and depression Children’s scores also increase.
“Absolutely, I think this is a public health issue,” Duerden said when asked about his and others’ findings.
Just as serotonin decreases when we are hungry (hunger and angry at the same time) screen time It can also strongly influence the brain’s reward system, which is key to decision making.
“It could be that there is an actual depletion of serotonin,” Duerden explained. “There is this imbalance and this is how the aggression could be mediating. In children.” Levels of other neurotransmitters such as dopamine are also important.
struggle to concentrate
But the average person doesn’t see social media, gaming or television as bad because screens are everywhere, he said.
Duerden said that when teenagers watch a Disney Pixar short film without dialogue, they see central regions of the brain involved in social processing light up in functional near-infrared spectroscopy, a type of non-invasive brain scan that shows changes in levels of oxygenation or activation in different regions.
The prefrontal cortex is activated when watching a movie character experience physical pain.
The same brain region also undergoes massive changes during adolescence, which is why his lab is interested in what happens with screen use. In children, the prefrontal cortex is important for mastering school material.
SEE | Brain activity changes when scrolling through social networks:
Michaela Kent, a doctoral student in Duerden’s lab, said she is surprised when she talks to concerned undergraduates.
“They can’t concentrate during exams because they’re so used to scrolling through TikTok or looking on their phone,” Kent said. “They’re so used to having that constant stimulation that when it comes to concentrating, they really struggle.”
That’s why Kent said it’s important to better understand how people of all ages can better interact with their social networks.
Olivia Miller, 22, from Baden, Ontario, west of Waterloo, struggled with Doom Scrolling, depression and anxiety as a teenager.
“Being on my phone for too long but not absorbing anything was very common for me,” Miller said.
Miller learned how social media apps are designed to capture attention.
On a practical level, Miller removed Instagram from his phone’s home screen. Miller said the additional time it takes to find the app offers time to reconsider.
Miller now offers mental health leadership talks to students.
“Even if you put a two-hour time limit on an app, the minute it’s over, you get a flood of notifications and you’re back in,” Miller said.
Mood changes when looking
Dr. Rachel Mitchell, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, treats and studies how social media use affects mental health.
Mitchell said some children and teens will be more predisposed in the long term to violent behavior such as fighting, arguing and breaking rules about respecting the rights of others when they use more social media than others over time.
Artificial intelligence algorithms on social media platforms are designed to attract and retain people to expose them to more advertising.
“We need more top-down regulation and we need more parental involvement in what kids do,” Mitchell said. “We need both.”
Professor of Psychiatry Patricia Conrod holds the Canada Research Chair in Preventive Mental Health at Sainte-Justine Hospital in Montreal.
Conrod worries that the default devices we use for social media tend to be set for adults. However, they are also an integral part of the lives of most young people. She says the features that keep young people scrolling through their feeds also cause them to lose some self-control and time.
“Just because something makes you feel good doesn’t mean it’s good for you,” Conrod said.
Conrod encourages children and teens to pay attention to how their mood changes when they watch content.
Conrod found that social media use among 3,800 adolescents in Montreal followed each year from grade 7 to grade 11 was associated with a duration aggressiveness in relationships of more than a year.
On the contrary, watching television and playing videogames were associated with being more hostile or aggressive in the short term, such as a single outburst.
Last month, Conrod published a study suggesting that increased social media use was also linked to impulsiveness in almost 4,000 Canadian high school students.
“We have these two studies that were uniquely able to show that social media use affected long-term behavior,” said Mitchell, who was not involved in the Montreal research.
An unregulated experiment was launched
Last week, Jay Olson, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, published findings on smartphone addiction patterns among adults in Canada and 40 other countries.
On average, women scored higher than men in showing signs of addiction. The older a person is, the less likely they are to have problematic smartphone use.
For example, in Canada, among women ages 18 to 22, 56 percent of them “would consider themselves clinically addicted to their phones.” This is when its use alters sleep, learning or relationships. The same was true for a third of men of the same age.
“I think in the future we will see this moment as the beginning of this unregulated experiment,” Olson said. “We know that smartphones reduce well-being. The big question is to what extent, for which groups, and what we can do about it.”
Olson said in his research that the most effective strategies for reducing problematic use were simple:
- Reduce notifications to essential ones, such as phone calls or text messages.
- Keep the phone out of the bedroom.
- Disable color by turning on grayscale mode to discourage its use.
- Keep the phone face down and out of reach.
Canada seeks legislation to protect children
While those steps people can take will help, doctors and scientists say they don’t go far enough to protect children and teens. The Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy, called on social media “an important driver“of the youth mental health crisis.
In the United States, 33 states are suing Meta, owner of Facebook and Instagram, stating that they did social media addictive for children.
Health Canada and Heritage Canada plan to introduce legislation following roundtable discussions, where participants concluded that children are most vulnerable to online harms, such as a cost to mental health and the risk of sexual exploitation.
“The bill is expected to be introduced as soon as possible to ensure that online service providers are held accountable for harmful content on their online platforms and promote a safer and more inclusive online environment,” Health Canada said in a statement. . Breaking:.
Instead of feeling overstimulated by social media, Miller now starts his day playing the piano. He also goes out into nature more often, listens to birdsong and sucks on ice cubes or sour candy to stay alert, adding that what works will vary from person to person.
“Be patient with yourself because it could be a process…building new restrictions with your use.”