Social Media and Brain Development in Children

Rodmehr Filizadeh ’25


With the boom of social media platforms in recent years, it would be difficult to find people who have not heard of applications such as Instagram and TikTok. These applications have allowed for a new level of interaction, primarily when in-person contact is not possible.

Unfortunately, these popular platforms impact brain development and the cognitive functioning of children. Social media platforms are designed to keep the user engaged for prolonged periods of time by showing videos around thirty seconds long. TikTok, and spinoffs like Instagram Reels, selects these videos using an algorithm which pools past user actions to tailor following videos to the user’s tastes. The algorithm endlessly supplies new videos for the user, trapping them in a hypnotic state eager to see each novel clip. This results in uninterrupted, long periods of time spent on the app.

The number of children on these platforms is constantly rising and watching hours of these short videos could have devastating impacts on their attention span and cognitive ability.

These apps cause children to have a weaker ability to concentrate and negatively impact their capability to work effectively and efficiently. Both skills are of paramount importance through the years of education young children have ahead of them and work beyond that in their adult life.

These platforms can also be very harmful since they share the same addictive qualities as gambling, which is why children’s exposure to these apps is particularly concerning. The ability of an adult to manage time and resources is simply stronger than that of a child, leaving children vulnerable to prolonged periods of exposure to the underlying dangers of social media platforms.

Despite considerable downsides, it is not all bad news. Social media platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok can be key to helping people stay in touch and maintain relationships which are essential to brain development.

Social media became an asset during the pandemic, helping younger people stay in contact in times of great worry, a time when physical contact was simply unattainable.

The real question when it comes to social media is: how can we incorporate social media into our lives in a healthy manner?

The answer is to track time spent using social media and to use them moderately. Instagram and TikTok both have built-in mechanisms that allow you to set a time limit notification, and both iOS and Android allow users to set time limits for apps. These are easy and healthy practices that limit the time spent on social media and promote productivity and safety.

With increasing user numbers, including more children, it is of the utmost importance to prioritize the health of youth in the face of a great threat to cognitive function and development.

Photo credit: Robert Nickels-berg/Getty Images

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