Social Media Addiction in Teens

When it comes to social media addiction in teens, the problem has been described as both a preoccupation and an obsession. According to California based Paradigm Treatment, social media addiction is a behavioural disorder in which teens or young adults become enthralled by social media and are unable to reduce or cease their consumption of it...

When it comes to social media addiction in teens, the problem has been described as both a preoccupation and an obsession. According to California based Paradigm Treatment, social media addiction is a behavioural disorder in which teens or young adults become enthralled by social media and are unable to reduce or cease their consumption of online media despite clear negative consequences and severe drawbacks.

What teen social media addiction looks like

There are two distinct characteristics to the addiction: the extensive amount of time spent on social media and the underlying reasons why they’re so engaged online.

A teen with a social media addiction has an overwhelming desire to participate in the virtual world. The teen will feel internal pressure to check their updates, add new statuses, post a photo, or engage in other online activity. A teen addicted to social media will prefer the virtual connections and relationships to those in real life. As the teenage years are a pivotal time for social growth in teens, this desire can be harmful as the teen may not develop healthy or appropriate social skills.

The perils of being on social media

A report of the perils of being on social media was published by CNN Health in an article whose highlights reveal that that some 13-year-olds check their social media 100 times a day. “I’d rather not eat for a week than get my phone taken away. It’s really bad”, reports 13-year-old Gia. “I literally feel like I‘m going to die” says Kyla, another 13-year-old, “When I get my phone taken away, I feel kind of naked. I do feel kind of empty without my phone.”

Social media’s addictive business model

Here’s a blog I wrote that explains in detail how social media’s addictive business model works.

How to stop the worst of social media

The CNN Health study referenced above discovered a disconnect between what parents think about their children’s’ posts and how their children are really feeling. 60% of parents underestimated how lonely, worried, and depressed their children were and 94% underestimated the amount of fighting that happens on social media.

Also, it seems most parents don’t realise the number of small hurts that can pile up on their children from social media use. For example, young people might post a group photo and intentionally not tag someone included in the picture, or they might share a photo from a party or outing with the goal of hurting those who weren’t invited.

In the days before social media, we never heard about the parties we weren’t invited to nor saw any pictures every time good friends got together having not invited us. Now we see it all in real time.

So if you’re a parent you may be wondering how to stop the worst of social media.

Children and parents: statistics on media use and attitudes

According to an 80 page report published in March 2022 by the UK government-approved regulatory and competition authority Ofcom, it reveals (along with much else besides) that:

• 99% of children went online in 2021. The majority used a phone mobile phone (72%) or a tablet (69%)
• Most children under 13 had their own profile on at least one social media app or site; 33% of parents of 5-7s said their child had a profile, and 60% of 8-11s said they had one
• More than six in ten children aged 8-17 said they had more than one profile on some online apps and sites (62%); the most common reason, overall was having one profile just for their parents, family or friends to see
• Just four in ten parents of 3-17s knew the minimum age requirement for using most social media; 42% correctly said 13. Four in ten parents of 8-11-year-olds said they would allow their child to use social media (38%)
• More than a fifth of 12-17s were unable to detect a fake online social media profile (22%); a quarter of these thought that the posted profile picture and photos proved that it was real

Social media addiction statistics are quite scary. In May 2022 Truelist estimated that 210 million people worldwide suffer from addiction to social media and the internet. The editor of Truelist also selected the following addiction statistics:

Symptoms of depression are twice as likely to appear in teens who spend five to seven hours a day on their smartphones. (NPR)
Not being on social media causes the fear of missing out (FOMO) in 34% of young adults. (CBS)
55% of drivers admit checking social media while driving (Shop Owner Mag)
• A massive 43% of teenagers feel bad if no one likes their post. (Statista)
71% of all Americans log in to check their Facebook on a daily basis. (Pew Research Center)

Why teens get addicted to social media

The short answer is because social media as a product is very addictive.

In fact, social media platforms are cleverly designed to be as addictive as possible. The companies that run today’s most successful social networking apps and websites work hard on improving and growing the amount of people they can bring onto their platform, alongside maximising the amount of time a person spends there. The more time a person spends, the more ads they can run, and the more they’re likely to make a profit off their product. In the end, it’s a matter of business, and any great online platform is built for brutal efficiency when it comes to getting people to stay.

The reward centres of the brain are most active when people are talking about themselves. Because of the effect it has on the brain, social media is addictive both physically and psychologically. According to a new study by Harvard University, the act of disclosing information about oneself on social networking sites lights up the same part of the brain that also ignites when taking an addictive substance, eating or engaging in sexual activity.

When someone experiences something rewarding or uses an addictive substance, neurons in the principal dopamine-producing areas in the brain are activated and dopamine levels rise. Therefore, the brain receives a “reward” and associates the drug or activity with positive reinforcement. The positive feelings experienced during social media use are only temporary. The way your brain engages in this positive reinforcement is also seen in other addictions. Thus, as the feel-good dopamine wears off, you’ll go back to the source (in this case, social media) for more.

Teenagers can become social media addicts for many reasons. A teen may feel overwhelmed, lonely, bored, stressed, depressed, anxious, disconnected or shy. Please click this link for how to help a teenager addicted to social media.

You could also suggest they attend one of my Public Workshops where they can learn how to re-evaluate their relationship with social media or to understand a friend who seems to be disappearing down a rabbit hole. Or if you’re a parent with children you’re worried about, you could also attend. I also run workshops for Schools and Universities.

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