Social media is having an adverse effect on the mental and emotional maturity of children, a leading neuroscientist has warned, leaving them with the behavioural habits of three-year-olds.
Baroness Susan Greenfield, former director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, told The Daily Telegraph that social media and video games have left children unable to communicate with one another and think for themselves, as they are constantly looking for something to distract them.
“What I predict is that people are going to be like three-year-olds: emotional, risk-taking, poor social skills, weak self-identity and short attention spans,” she said.
Greenfield, who is also a senior research fellow at the University of Oxford, supported her claims by citing a study from 2014 conducted by psychologists at Virginia and Harvard Universities which found that students would prefer to give themselves a mild electric shock than to be left alone to think without distractions for 10 minutes.
She said that the study suggests people need “constant stimulation from their environment every single moment” and implies that they are no longer able to be left to contemplate their own thoughts.
This can be particularly detrimental for children, with Greenfield suggesting that parents promote activities such as gardening, sports and reading as a way to reduce screen time and stimulate their imaginations.
Digital detox expert and author of Stop Staring at Screens Tanya Goodin also claims that reducing use of digital devices could offer significant benefits to children. “I couldn’t agree more with Baroness Greenfield,” she tells The Independent.
“A study from UCLA found that children who had all digital devices removed from them for a week were better able to read non-verbal communication in others than a group of children who carried on using screens.
“When you think about what an important skill reading body language is for life, work, school and relationships, then alarm bells do start to ring on some of the long-term implications of screen over-use.”
Greenfield’s comments come four years after she claimed that new advancements in digital technology were rewiring children’s brains in her book, Mind Change.
In the book, she claims that children who used social media and played on digital tablets were more likely to suffer from depression and low self-esteem in addition to becoming more narcissistic.
Such concerns were recently echoed by a group of US child welfare experts, who wrote a letter in January to Mark Zuckerberg, urging the Facebook founder to remove Messenger Kids – a communications app aimed specifically at children.
The letter lambasted the app as “harmful” and “irresponsible”, citing studies which have linked social media use amongst children and teenagers to poor mental wellbeing.