More than nine out of ten teens go online daily, mostly with their smartphones. A quarter of teens say they are online “almost constantly.” When it comes to time spent online, what are they doing? Most are on social media, ranging from Facebook and Instagram to Snapchat and Tumblr. You might think that this is harmless; after all, what types of bad effects could come from looking at a friend’s selfies or watching funny cat videos posted by an acquaintance? Plenty, say experts. Read on to find out whether your teen has a social media addiction, what the consequences might be, and what to do if you suspect a problem.
Why Are Teens Drawn to Social Media?
As an adult, chances are good that you use social media. You might use it for harmless endeavors like posting photos of your kids and pets, arguing with a stranger for a few minutes about politics, or catching up on what’s going on in the world. You also might use it constructively by asking for advice on which dentist is the best in the area or looking for recipes for your next holiday gathering.
It’s likely that your teen uses it differently, however.
Teens with social anxiety or who don’t have a lot of friends may use it as their mode of interacting with their peers. Teens who tend to be a bit insecure might use it to garner likes: How many can they get with different types of posts, and who is liking or commenting on them? Some teens feel disconnected from their friends and family members, so communicating with strangers or acquaintances is preferable to being bored and lonely. Of course, many people, teens included, use social media as entertainment when they’re bored. This becomes a problem when that’s the only thing teens can think of to do to ward off their boredom.
What are the Signs of Social Media Addiction?
Most teens do use social media, and many teens spend what their parents feel is an excessive amount of time online. It can be hard to determine whether there’s a problem or whether it’s just teens being teens. Here are some potential danger signs to watch for:
- Your teen has no friends or does not seem interested in getting together with the ones he or she has in person.
- He or she tends to panic or get angry if they can’t access their social media for some reason (servers are down, phone battery is dead, you go somewhere without a good signal).
- Your teen reacts strongly to a perceived sense of being ignored or if someone doesn’t react positively to something they’ve shared.
- He or she seems obsessed with outdoing what others are posting about on social media.
- They’re lying about how much time is being spent on social media.
- They leave events early or refuse invitations to do things with friends or family members because they’d rather spend time on social media.
These are all signs that your teen might be spending too much time and energy on social media and might be heading toward or in the throes of a social media addiction.
What are the Negative Effects of Too Much Social Media?
While social media can be just another way for teens to communicate (much as you probably did on your landline telephone as a teen, stretching the spiral phone cord down the hall and around the corner to the privacy of your bedroom), it also has the potential to create negative effects when there’s an addiction or simply too much use. Here’s a few examples of the potential negative effects of a teen social media addiction:
- Your teen might begin to avoid his or her responsibilities in the home or at school because interacting online is much easier. This can lead to poor grades and strained relationships.
- He or she might get involved in cyberbullying, either as a bully or as a victim. Because social media is not a face-to-face interaction, sometimes teens will say and type things that they normally would not.
- Some teens get into trouble by sending or distributing photos depicting nudity. While it might seem harmless to your daughter or son to send a nude image to a boyfriend or girlfriend, screenshots can be made and these sensitive photos can be distributed within seconds. This can even lead to legal woes including a sex offender status.
How to Set Reasonable Boundaries With Social Media
One way that you can help ward off social media misuse is to set reasonable boundaries. It’s difficult to control what teens are doing on social media unless you physically take their phones and other devices, and for many families, that’s not a good option unless there is already a major problem. You can have quiet hours, however; insist that your teen charge his or her phone in a public area of the home overnight or during the time that they are supposed to be doing homework.
You can also talk to your teen about which platforms and services they’re using. Do some research on the different sites and apps, and decide if any should be off-limits for your teen. Some parents install an app that tracks what their teenager is doing; be aware that this can impact the trusting relationship that you have with your teen.
How to Help Your Teen
If you feel that your teen might have a social media addiction, start by opening up a dialogue. Some questions you could ask your teen include:
- How do you feel about the way you use social media?
- Do you often feel jealous or bothered when others post photos of themselves doing things that you’re not?
- How do you feel when no one likes a post that you make?
Help your teen understand that what they see on social media is not all-encompassing of someone’s life. Find out if your teen has ever witnessed cyberbullying or participated in it.
You can also check with his or her primary care doctor to find out what the next step would be in identifying and treating a social media addiction. With proper care and support, your teen can learn to modify his or her behavior and get back to enjoying real life again.