Wednesday 27 March 2019

Social media 'makes children regress to be like a three-year-old'

'They’re no longer able to go into their own mind, think laterally and have their own thoughts' (Chris Ratcliffe/PA)
'They’re no longer able to go into their own mind, think laterally and have their own thoughts' (Chris Ratcliffe/PA)

Charles Hymas in London

Social media and video games are creating a generation of children with the mental and emotional immaturity of three-year-olds, one of Britain's most eminent brain scientists has warned.

Susan Greenfield, a senior research fellow at Oxford University and former director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, said that she was concerned that children were now losing their ability to think for themselves, to empathise and to be able to communicate with each other.

Instead, they were being bombarded with instant gratification through social media and gaming.

This meant that, like three-year-olds, they would need "something every moment to distract them so they can't have their own inner narrative, their own inner thought process", she said.

"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," said Ms Greenfield, who was one of the first academics to warn four years ago that social media and video gaming were rewiring children's brains.

She cited as evidence a recent study by Harvard and Princeton universities.

It found that students preferred to give themselves an electric shock rather than face 10 minutes alone simply thinking.

"There's a much deeper issue than I wrote about in 2014 in that people are now needing constant stimulation from their environment every single moment as suggested by that (Harvard) result," Ms Greenfield said.

"They're no longer able to go into their own mind, think laterally and have their own thoughts."

Instead, she said that children should do activities with a beginning, middle and an end.

This includes activities such as reading books, playing sport or gardening, where plant-growing could not be rushed, rather than "multi-tasking where everything happens all at once and you can go backward and forward in time in games".

"Give them a box to play with rather than an Xbox so they can use their imagination," she added.

"If you watch a child who is reading stories, you can see it gives them a better attention span," added Ms Greenfield, who was professor of synaptic pharmacology at Oxford University.

"I have started to look at things they don't do. That is promoting physical exercise, eating together and above all telling stories," she said.

Her book, 'Mind Change', four years ago warned that children's brains were being rewired by their engagement with new technology.

The result was that they were likely to become more narcissistic with lower self-esteem and higher depression rates as communication through social media replaced face-to-face conversations.

"I do feel vindicated. I wished I had not been," she said.

She backed regulation to force the social media and gaming firms to do more to protect children from online harms, echoing 'The Daily Telegraph' campaign for a statutory duty of care to be imposed on the companies.

She said that the firms should be made to "fess up" to the addictive designs and techniques that they are using in order to try to keep people online for longer.

"If people were aware of how they were being manipulated, they would rebel against it," she said.

"I want parents to be so aware of the (risks of the technology) that they intervene to stop their children doing it, like with smoking," Ms Greenfield added. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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