Studying technology and teen mental health

UNC-Chapel Hill and the Winston Family Foundation launch national center to study effects of technology and social media on child brain development

Hands using a touchscreen phone
(Photo by Jeyhoun Allebaugh/UNC-Chapel Hill)

UNC-Chapel Hill and the Winston Family Foundation launch national center to study effects of technology and social media on child brain development

A new research center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will examine the long-term effects of technology and social media use on teen social and emotional development, thanks to a $10 million gift from the Winston Family Foundation. The Winston National Center on Technology Use, Brain and Psychological Development will create more tools for parents, caregivers, and teens to make better informed choices about how they interact with technology and social media.

James Winston, Jr., Ph.D. and a director of the Winston Family Foundation, has decades of experience in the field of addiction. He has seen powerful and alarming correlates between increased device use and addiction and was driven to jumpstart the original educational initiative, the Winston FamilyOpens in new window Initiative in TechnologyOpens in new window and Adolescent Brain DevelopmentOpens in new window – or WiFi – in partnership with UNC-Chapel Hill in 2018. As the original seed grew and the national narrative coalesced around increasing concern for adolescent mental health, it became clear that more needed to be done not only to educate parents but to establish the neurobiological science behind the trends. The Winston National Center is the next step in that effort.

“It is clear we need to know more about the influence of social media experiences and device use on mental health,” said UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “Carolina-based researchers are leading the way in this emerging field, and this gift from Dr. Winston and the Winston Family Foundation will fuel more of the scientific discovery we need. We can grow our knowledge in a way that better equips our children and our society to navigate an evolving, but often times dangerous, landscape of tech and social media.”

The center will pursue a five-pronged mission focused on education, outreach, research, public health, and adolescent involvement.

“The goal of the center is to help families and educators understand how the increased use of technology shapes children. We have discovered that high levels of device use and social media consumption alters neurobiological development in ways that can be detrimental to well-being,” Winston said. “The significant rise in reports of mental health issues, shorter attention spans, lack of empathy and critical thinking, all indicate that parents, educators and caregivers urgently need more information about how to support children and teens as they engage with highly-stimulating devices and social platforms.”

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