Unmasking the influencer | Daily News
Impact of social media on adolescent minds:

Unmasking the influencer

In a thought-provoking talk given by Dr Darshani Hettiarachchi, a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at the Teaching Hospital Karapitiya, she shed light on the profound influence of social media on the minds of children and youth. With a focus on the teenage years, Dr Hettiarachchi emphasised the critical period of adolescence, its unique challenges, and the impact of social media on the development of the adolescent brain.

Dr Hettiarachchi highlighted that the World Health Organization (WHO) defines adolescence as the phase of life between childhood and adulthood, spanning ages 10 to 19. This stage is characterised by rapid physical, cognitive, and psychosocial growth, as adolescents transition from childhood to adulthood. It is a crucial time for laying the foundations of good health and shaping one’s identity.

During the teenage years, the brain undergoes significant changes. Dr Hettiarachchi explained that while physical development is more widely recognised, intellectual growth is equally important. The backside of the brain, responsible for desires and novelty-seeking behaviour, develops rapidly during adolescence. As development progresses to the front side of the brain, crucial cognitive functions such as problem-solving and analytical thinking emerge.

Adolescent tendency

Contrary to the commonly perceived end of adolescence at 19, brain development continues until around the age of 25. The maturation of the frontal lobe of the brain is particularly vital, as it governs decision-making abilities, emotional regulation, and intellectual capacity. Dr Hettiarachchi expressed concern over the tendency for adolescents to be driven by emotions rather than rational thinking, likening it to a brakeless vehicle. This highlights the need for a balanced development of emotional and intellectual capabilities during this stage.

An adolescent’s experiences and activities during the teenage years can significantly impact their personality growth. The prolonged exposure and focus on certain activities or interests influence the corresponding areas of the brain. For instance, if a teenager becomes engrossed in aggressive video games, it can potentially influence the growth of the brain regions associated with aggression and impulsivity, perpetuating such behaviour patterns.

Social media platforms, with their artificial environments and constant connectivity, have a profound impact on adolescent mental health. Dr Hettiarachchi highlighted the prevalence of anxiety among children and the dangers of an insecure online environment. She expressed concern over the presence of groups promoting self-harm, where adolescents are encouraged to harm themselves in order to gain entry or gain recognition within these communities. Such harmful content can have detrimental effects on an individual’s well-being and hinder their personal growth.

One of the most enticing aspects of social media is its ability to connect individuals with a vast audience. However, Dr Hettiarachchi cautioned that this constant connectivity could become problematic as it creates an environment that is active around the clock. Unlike in the past, where playtime and interactions were limited to specific moments, social media keeps adolescents engaged throughout the day, leaving little respite from potential negative experiences.

Harmful content

When individuals share something online, they become vulnerable to the malicious actions of bullies who seek to harm and damage their well-being. The ability for harmful content to spread rapidly and reach a wide audience exacerbates the emotional and psychological damage inflicted upon the victims. Social media has provided a new platform for bullies to exploit and harass their targets, amplifying the negative consequences of their actions.

A significant concern surrounding social media is the creation of an artificial environment where individuals carefully curate and present an idealised version of themselves. Dr Hettiarachchi explained that people tend to select and post only the best versions of their lives, leading to a distorted perception of reality. The incessant need for validation through likes and comments perpetuates this cycle of presenting a facade, further distancing individuals from genuine interactions and fostering a culture of deceit.

Dr Hettiarachchi delved into the disturbing reality of individuals, particularly young girls, falling prey to manipulative and dangerous strangers on social media. She shed light on the distressing trend of fake accounts being used to establish relationships, often with malicious intent. Predators exploit vulnerable individuals, coercing them into engaging in sexual relations or capturing compromising photos. The subsequent blackmail and threats lead to increased anxiety and emotional trauma among victims.

While acknowledging the potential benefits of social media, Dr Hettiarachchi stressed the importance of responsible usage, especially among children and youth. With the pandemic increasing reliance on smartphones and digital devices, parents and guardians must monitor and limit screen time for children under two years old. Additionally, adolescents should be under adult supervision when spending more than two hours on social media to mitigate potential harm and ensure their well-being.

Dr Darshani Hettiarachchi’s talk served as a stark reminder of the dark side of social media and its impact on the mental health of children and youth. Bullying, the illusory nature of online interactions, and the risk of exploitation highlight the urgent need for a collective effort to promote responsible social media usage. By fostering awareness, encouraging authentic interactions, and establishing safeguards against online threats, we can create a safer and healthier digital landscape for the next generation. We must prioritise the well-being of children and empower them to navigate the digital world with resilience and confidence.

Add new comment