Understanding Social Media in the Context of Executive Functioning

Emotional modulation, self-awareness, working memory, and many other important functions related to Executive Functions are highly relevant to success on social media.  For most kids, decision-making gets tested every single day on Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and other digital forms of communication.  Many kids have trouble with impulse control and inhibition when socializing with friends online. Knowing what and what it is not appropriate to post on social media, send in a text, or share in a Snapchat picture, can be difficult for tweens and teens to intuit.  It is apparent that some skills need to be cultivated and developed.  The team at The Meeting House found this Executive Function Primer developed by Stephen Rudin, MD, Founder of both INDIVIDUAL U, PEAK YEAR, and EFCNY™ (The Executive Function Center of NY), to be a helpful framework for parents to think about these challenges and others. 


Executive Functions, as the plural name implies, are not really one thing. They are a collection of skills and abilities that depend on an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. Executive Functions (EF) are essential for mindful, attentional, goal-directed behavior.  Oftentimes parents request EF coaching for younger students when they lose or forget things (books, lunch money sneakers, tennis racquets), are generally disorganized (war zone desks or back-packs), habitually late, or seem to procrastinate in beginning their work. 

If EF issues—either by themselves or in concert with other learning challenges—rise to the level of having a child or young adult formally evaluated, the information that follows here may be very helpful to you in that regard.

Cognitive neuroscientists have identified three core executive functions: Inhibitory Control is all about resisting things—resisting temptations, resisting the impulse not to continue what you started, and resisting distractions. Working Memory involves holding information in your mind and being able to creatively play with ideas to see how they relate, to see connections between seemingly unconnected things, to do mental math, to hold multiple-step instructions in mind, and to hold something in mind while you’re temporarily doing something else. 


Cognitive Flexibility involves being able to think outside the box so you can conceive of a problem in a new way from a different perspective, come up with a different way of addressing it, or creatively find an alternative solution. Another aspect of cognitive flexibility is the flexibility to take advantage of sudden opportunities, to quickly adapt to change, to adjust to changing demands or priorities, and to admit you were wrong when you receive new information. Participating in social media while multi-tasking uses all of these functions. These three Core Executive Functions serve as the foundation for Higher Order Executive Functions, which include: Problem Solving, Reasoning and Planning.

Inhibition: the ability to control impulses appropriately so one can stop behavior at the appropriate time. Students with inhibition problems have difficulty “putting on the brakes.” They act without thinking and react in ways that interfere with their work.
Emotional modulation: the ability to control emotional responses. A student who struggles with emotional control may become overly frustrated and angry while doing work. They also may become anxious, overwhelmed and “shut down.”
Initiation: the ability to start a task or activity, as well as generate ideas, responses and problem solving strategies. Students with initiation problems may have difficulty starting a task or generating ideas even when they sincerely want to.
Shifting: the ability to move freely from one activity or cognitive set to another. This requires the ability to make transitions, switch attention, and change focus or direction as needed. Students with shifting problems get stuck on one task or topic.
Working memory: the ability to hold information in mind for the purpose of completing a task. Students need working memory to carry out multi-step activities, do mental arithmetic, or follow directions.
Planning: includes many critical components, such as anticipating events, setting goals, and envisioning the overall framework of a task.
Organizing: includes breaking goals down into steps that represent the most effective method of accomplishing that end. This involves reviewing prior experiences in completing similar tasks.
Managing materials: the ability to organize workspaces, materials, and possessions so that they are “functional” for task needs.
Time management: allotting time efficiently and flexibly for task completion.
Self-checking: involves checking work for mistakes, editing and being sure one is on task. Effective self-checking means being able to check back to see if the work is accomplishing the goal, or if one needs to shift approaches.
Self-awareness: involves monitoring one’s own reactions and the impact of one’s behavior on others.
Self-advocacy: involves identifying your own needs, identifying support resources, and communicating your needs to these resources

Click the name for more information on IndividualU (IU), Peak Year Experience or the Executive Functioning Center of NY (EFCNY)