Social Media Addiction
Social media addiction is similar to other types of addiction. Instead of drugs or alcohol, the addict develops a dependence on social networking platforms. The adverse effects of social media overuse are well documented, especially among young people. Children and teenagers are particularly susceptible to developing an addiction to social media. Find out how to spot the signs that your child may be addicted to social media and tips on breaking the addiction.
While it may feel like social media has been around forever, it’s still a relatively new concept. Social media sites only became mainstream in the early 2000s with the advent of platforms such as Friendster, MySpace, YouTube, and Facebook. These sites had age-restricted access and were marketed mainly toward adult users.
More recently, though, social media companies like Meta, Snap Inc., and ByteDance began gearing the phone-friendly apps Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok toward a much younger demographic of users. Even when one of these social media platforms imposes a minimum age requirement to register for an account, children and adolescents can easily bypass them.
As a result, users under 18 access social media accounts more often than any other age group in the United States, putting them at risk for social media addiction.
What is social media addiction?
Social media addiction is the constant desire to access social media accounts, often to the exclusion of enjoying other activities or caring for physical needs. Since the adolescent brain doesn’t fully develop until the mid-to-late 20s, excessive social media use is especially harmful to children, teenagers, and young adults. There’s even evidence that using social media changes the brain over time.
Why is social media addictive?
When a drug user takes their drug of choice, the brain’s reward center releases dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure and motivation. Once the dopamine rush wears off, an addict is motivated to experience it again. Eventually, it takes more and more of the drug to achieve the same effect.
Addictions develop based on a variable reward system. The unpredictability of receiving likes, views, notifications, and comments from other users on social media platforms rewards the teenage brain with social validation, triggering a rush of dopamine. The social media user is highly motivated to remain on the platform, seeking out more likes and views.
To make matters worse, social media companies have designed powerful algorithms to keep kids coming back for more. The profitability of these companies depends on keeping people on their apps, and their algorithms sort posts by how relevant they are to the user. The design creates a dangerous feedback loop that keeps young people clicking for more of the same content, even if it’s harmful.
Negative Effects of Social Media
Social media overuse has many harmful effects, which are more pronounced in adolescent users. Teenagers who habitually view social media apps are more likely to:
- Experience disrupted sleep
- Be exposed to bullying and rumors
- Have an unrealistic view of others’ lives
- Have poor self-image or self-esteem
- Develop an eating or exercise disorder
- Encounter child predators
- Share intimate photos of themselves online
- Experience harassment or blackmail
- Show signs of depression and anxiety
- Engage in self-harming or risky behaviors
- Threaten, attempt, or complete suicide
A teen’s time on social media may be related to negative social and mental health outcomes. One study found that adolescents who spent more than three hours daily on their social media accounts were at increased risk for mental health issues. Adolescent girls are particularly at risk for poor body image, depression, and anxiety.
Recognizing a Social Media Addiction
If you’re concerned that your child is becoming addicted to social media, it may be time to intervene before things worsen.
What are the signs of social media addiction?
Some common signs of social media addiction include:
- Spending an excessive amount of time on social media accounts
- Becoming unusually upset or angry when not allowed to access social media
- Isolating from friends and family
- Losing interest in activities they once enjoyed
- Missing social events
- Sudden changes in academic performance
- Feelings of anxiety when away from a phone or device
- Withdrawing emotionally from others in real life
- A dependence on “online” relationships at the exclusion of real-life connections
- Losing sleep or sneaking onto devices at night to access social media
Teenagers and Addiction to Social Media
Brain development makes teenagers more vulnerable to social media addiction and other harmful effects than adults. Mature adults generally have a fixed sense of self and can more easily regulate their emotions, while adolescent brains are wired to crave attention and approval from peers. Social media offers opportunities for social interactions that are a normal part of adolescent development.
Why are teenagers more prone to becoming addicted?
Social media has taken the awkward peer interactions of adolescence and amplified them, giving them a stage with an audience. Kids used to be able to grow up, make mistakes, and fail at friendships and relationships with privacy. Social media has made this important developmental period very public.
Social media can become addictive when a teenager:
- Feels intense pressure to keep up with posting and interacting with peers online to maintain their social standing
- Experiences a fear of missing out (FOMO) that causes them to check their feed constantly
- Needs to continually view the number of likes, comments, or feedback from other users on their social media posts
Ways to Break a Social Media Addiction
What can you do if you believe your child may be addicted to social media? Here are some tips for combating social media addiction:
If you believe your child is having thoughts of self-harm, may attempt suicide, or has attempted suicide, contact your pediatrician or local mental health provider or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline for help.