Dating back to my middle school years in the early ’90s, my mother dealt with a predicament now relatable to parents navigating their child’s digital landscape, asking, ‘What to Do If Your Child Has a Social Media Addiction?’ Back then, her worry wasn’t social media, but Nintendo. Coming home, I’d drop my backpack and beeline for the living room TV, captivated by Super Mario Brothers until my eyes tired. She didn’t approve of the hours I spent entranced by the screen, and introduced a rule that homework completion and at least one hour of outdoor play were prerequisites for indulging in ‘that pointless game.’
I’m a 2022 mom of a tween, and I really want my mom to have my generation’s tech battle. This is because modern times have given rise to the internet and social media apps, chief among which is TikTok, the undisputed king of mindless scrolling distractions. My husband and I bought our twin son his first smartphone and have set up a set of safeguards for him to use it responsibly. Even then, reports like the one from China on adolescent viewers of TikTok revealing that the app activates brain regions linked to addiction make me nervous.
This kind of research can make parents nervous about the impact of platforms like Instagram and TikTok on their children’s lives. But how much weight should we give to headlines that say things like “TikTok may be addictive”?
Why Do People Get Hooked on Social Media?
Medical practitioners do not use social media addiction as a diagnostic category because it is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V). The reality of social media addiction remains, however. Seventy-seven percent of parents said their teenagers are more interested in their phones than in them, according to a 2016 survey by Common Sense Media. Fifty-nine percent of parents indicated they thought their kid were addicted to their phones, while half of the teens surveyed agreed that they were addicted to their phones.
Addiction to social media is considered a form of behavioral addiction or non-substance addiction by specialists. They attribute most of the issue to the fact that social media stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain also known as the “feel-good” hormone. Dopamine is released in the brain whenever a person partakes in an activity they deem pleasurable. They are now seeking more of that sensation. The dopamine release in the brain can be triggered by a child receiving a social media endorsement, such as a like, share, or nice comment. It’s easy to get hooked on the positive feedback you get from social media. In fact, studies have revealed that heavy social media users have the same impaired decision-making as people with substance abuse disorders.
More young people than ever are logging onto social media. In 2021, an additional 38% of tweens were discovered to be using social media, up from 31% in 2019. Twenty percent more people than did so just two years ago now report using social media on a daily basis. Eighty-four percent of teenagers reported accessing social media, with an average daily usage time of one hour and ten minutes (down from one hour and 20 minutes in 2019). My tween is able to get lost in her phone for hours at a time, scrolling and watching videos, but it doesn’t mean she’s addicted.
The Washington, D.C.-based child and adolescent psychiatrist Clifford Sussman, M.D., who treats people of all ages for problems connected to excessive screen usage, defines addiction as the inability to stop repeated or protracted use despite persistent negative consequences. The dysfunctional nature of the negative repercussions is proportional to their seriousness. So, it’s not the amount of time spent on the phone or the frequency of social media use that matters when defining an addiction.
Using social media has been linked to increased rates of depression among young adults. Addiction to social media, in particular, can have devastating effects. CJ Dawley’s parents, for instance, told CNN that they think their son’s suicide in 2015 was caused by his use of social media. CJ was 17 years old. Apparently, he would stay up until 3 a.m. posting on Instagram, which led to his becoming “sleep-deprived and obsessed with his body image.” They join the growing ranks of parents who are taking legal action against social media corporations over the harm done to their children by using such sites.
Here are five warning indications your child may have a social media addiction, as per Dr. Julia Tartaglia, a digital and behavioral health researcher at Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research.
- Increasingly relying on social media to pass the time.
- Problems with peers, instructors, or parents as a result of excessive social media use.
- Favoring virtual pursuits over socializing with friends, studying, or pursuing other hobbies.
- Attempts to limit or eliminate social media use that failed.
- Avoiding basic care for one’s body, including bathing, sleeping, eating, and exercising.
The Role of Parents in Preventing Addiction to Social Media
Despite its negative reputation, social media has its benefits. Given the widespread feelings of loneliness among children during the pandemic, this connecting tool is especially crucial. But parents may need to intervene if their child is displaying worrying tendencies. The first step in teaching your children how to use social media safely and responsibly is to start a dialogue with them about their interests and concerns.
We don’t have enough information to indicate that setting screen time limitations for children is an effective way to protect them from developing a dependency on social media. The research shows that there isn’t a simple correlation between screen usage and mental health. However, evidence links young children’s excessive screen usage to negative psychological and developmental effects. This provides support for the idea that reducing screen time may be helpful.
Experts recommend teaching children to evaluate the validity of their own claims when using social media. Asking questions like those suggested by Julianna Miner will get your child to really consider the benefits of app use. A common question from parents is, “How long a day is a good amount to spend on TikTok?” Then you may tell them, “Every hour you spend on TikTok is time you’re not spending on something else.” It all adds up over a few months or a year.
As a parent, you should prioritize listening over talking. This will demonstrate to young people that we value their opinions and provide invaluable insight into how they conceptualize the online spaces they frequent.
Addiction to social media is treatable, which is good news for kids who already have problems with it. For some people, cutting back or even stopping their use of social media altogether could be beneficial. Parents may want to seek professional help for their children who exhibit more severe symptoms of social media addiction. Adolescents can benefit from treatment to uncover the roots of their social media addiction and develop strategies for responsible use.
Check out Healthy Children, a great informational site from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Families can use the family media use tool to learn more about making custom plans for using media as a family and handling screen time with kids.
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