There is a growing body of evidence that suggests extended periods of time spent on the internet and social network sites will ultimately affect how a young person’s developing brain works.

UK neurologist and Oxford University scientist, Baroness Susan Greenfield has coined the term ‘mind change’ to explain these changes.

She told the National Press Club “The brain is shaped by the environment. If the environment is changing in an unprecedented way, it is a given the brain will change in an unprecedented way. Whether it is good or bad is a completely separate issue.”

Her concerns are with the fact that teenagers who spend hours chatting on Facebook, instead of face to face with their friends, are losing the ability to read the emotions and reactions of other people. There is no eye contact, body language or physical closeness.

This could have a very real and dramatic impact on how the young people of today communicate and interact with the world around them.

If teenagers cannot ‘read’ a real life situation or respond with the appropriate emotions, it will make dealing with life’s challenges when they get out into the world.

She said research carried out in China recently found that adolescents with long-term “internet addiction” were likely to suffer “brain structural alterations”, which probably contributed to chronic dysfunction.

Baroness Greenfield explained “Things like touching someone, eye contact, voice tone are hugely important … in establishing empathy with someone, understanding with someone. None of those things are available on Facebook.”

“So, if you are spending six hours a day or more, and your primary social vehicle is through a screen, well all you have is vision and hearing, and you don’t learn how to hug someone, or when to look them in the eye.”

Social networking is central to how young people stay in touch today and yet this addiction to the internet is also creating mental health issues for its young users.

Clinical psychologist Darryl Cross said that the anxiety caused by technology is a growing concern. “Modern day technologies and social networking sites are contributing significantly to child and adolescent anxiety. It is an international phenomenon.”

What is said about them on Facebook shapes how they see themselves and how they perceive what others think about them.

“I know many children are rushing home to see what people are saying about them on their Facebook wall,” Dr Cross said.

“So that creates a trigger for these anxieties of how am I connecting, how am I relating, and do they like me, am I getting on with others, do they think I am silly or stupid.”

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: Sydney Morning Herald.