Social Media Addiction in Teens and Young Adults

Social media addiction is a behavioral 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. While many teenagers engage in some form of online media on a daily basis (including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Vine, Snapchat, and video games), teen social media addiction is characterized by the combination of an excessive media consumption, an increasing reliance on social media as a way to feel good, and an inability to stop or curb this behavior despite suffering losses in friendship, decreased physical social engagement, and a negative impact at school.

What Does Teen Social Media Addiction Look Like?

  • It’s known that teens and adults alike check their phones upwards of 150 times a day, and it’s been well-documented that our excessive access to social media and our obsession with our online appearance has had a significant impact on teens, including severe self-esteem issues and feelings of anxiety.
  • Social media not only promotes the decline in mental health for many teens, but it also becomes an easy outlet for online aggression and cyberbullying, further impacting a child emotionally.
  • An addiction to online media may lead a child to struggle to engage with others on a normal level, as well as affect their academic performance and chances for a future.
  • Addiction-levels of social media use can also negatively impact existing relationships, leading many teens to struggle to maintain a commitment to their partner or friends due to constant distractions and lack of attention.

What Causes Social Media Addiction?

Addictiveness – yes, social media – and online media in general – is addictive in a certain sense of the word. 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 maximizing the amount of time a person spends on their platform. 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.

Stress & Self-Esteem – Social media can be a great tool for good, allowing people to stay in touch despite thousands of miles of distance, communicating at near-instant speeds. It can also be a great tool to engage with communities, receive customer feedback, organize groups and meetups, and more. However, due to the way social media incentivizes an almost voyeuristic look into everyone’s life while incentivizing maximum curation and reputation editing, online media often makes a person’s life look much more exciting and alluring than yours – as well as making it look much more exciting and alluring than it really is. This can severely take advantage of people’s sense of social competitiveness and belonging, often making them feel outclassed, or less attractive.

Social Anxiety – for people who struggle to maintain a relationship or communicate in person, online media provides the perfect environment to communicate and self-express. While this is a positive thing, it isn’t generally healthy to avoid addressing major issues of social anxiety, especially due to all the negative emotional and physical effects of excessive screen time and online consumption.

How Can I Help My Teen with Social Media Addiction?

Help them with effective coping mechanisms – when used as a way to cope with sadness, social media can quickly negatively affect a teen and leave them feeling even more empty, or envious, or frustrated. Effective coping mechanisms should help a teen overcome or adapt to their troubles, rather than providing escapism. Hobbies that help a teen improve themselves mentally or physically, meditation and spiritual activities, long walks alone or time spent with a therapist – these are methods that help a person effectively cope with issues by becoming outlets for stress and helping them find a healthy perspective with which to tackle their problems.

Manage their screen time – the internet should be used as a tool, with online media as a source of entertainment or information. But when online media becomes what your teen preoccupies themselves with at almost every hour of the day, they become simply unable to think about, or focus, on anything else. How is a person expected to do anything in the real world when their hands and thoughts are on screens and online? As intertwined as our lives have become with the internet, many teens struggle to balance that with the responsibilities and challenges of living. Managing a teen’s screen time and encouraging them to do so on their own, for their own health and future, is critical.

Encourage continued treatment after recovery – treatment options for social media addiction may help a teen in the short-term, but it’s important to follow up and encourage them to continue seeking help for their problems, or encourage them to seek out help the next time they feel that they’re slipping, or struggling with certain emotional problems.

How Teen Social Media Addiction Is Treated

Social media addiction treatment requires time spent away from social media – and online media in general – as well as a focus on helping teens deal with the repercussions of their addiction, face the potential causes for their addictive behavior, and identify methods that might help them better limit their social media use, and continue a healthier relationship with online media.

Talk Therapy – One-on-one psychotherapy with a professional may help teens dissociate from their behavior and realize the damage it has been doing to them and others. There’s an argument to be made that teens live with different concepts of communication and interaction thanks to the internet, but research has shown that excessive online media use leads to severe negative mental health impacts. By understanding the damage that has been done – and why it was done in the first place – teens can move on to find ways to balance their online media with life.

Family Therapy – Sometimes, it helps to work not only with a teen, but with their family as well. A group therapy session can help the rest of the family better understand what the teen is going through, as well as identify methods to help them.

Implementing changes throughout the whole family can also help the teen better deal with their problem and encourage healthier use of online media throughout the household.

Other Treatment – While talk therapy is a powerful tool, psychiatrists and therapists use a large repertoire to help teens deal with their social media addiction, including different forms of therapy to help introduce a teen to certain coping mechanisms, and alternative treatments such as meditation, yoga, and more.

If a teen is diagnosed with a different problem, or if a teen shows symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, a psychiatrist may also employ treatment methods for these disorders, potentially including medication if needed.

Helping Teens with Social Media Addiction at Paradigm

Here at Paradigm Treatment, the first and most primary function of teen social media addiction treatment is to reduce the amount of time that teens spend on social media. By restricting the amount of time teens spend interacting online, we help them prioritize real social interaction with their peers. Not only is this healthier, but this way, they’re more likely to develop a better sense of self. On top of this, we believe that it is important for teens who struggle with social media addiction to spend more time out in the fresh air. Our locations are all built near beautiful nature spots, from beaches to parks and hiking routes.

Getting Used to An Offline World – At Paradigm, therapists simultaneously begin working with teens to evaluate and address the underlying reasons, triggers, and beliefs connected to their overuse of social media. As teens begin to make the connection between their overuse of social media and things like strained relationships, trouble at school, and a constant feeling of being distracted and anxious, our therapists can help teens cope with the potential causes of their addiction.

Social Media Misuse and Other Problems – Teen social media addiction treatment may help uncover potential other disorders or difficulties, including mood disorders, anxiety issues, or substance abuse struggles.  Gradually, therapists want to help teens gain an awareness over the effects of excessive social media use on their lives. In a sense, social media addiction can often be seen as a symptom of a greater problem. While the feedback loop from using online media can be addictive, it isn’t quite the same thing as a physical addiction. Oftentimes, the incentive to truly begin using social media as a coping mechanism is something more insidious and problematic.

Frequently Asked Questions About Teen Social Media Addiction

How can I keep my teen from developing unhealthy habits of social media?

It’s important to remember that, while you’re fighting an uphill battle, you can have an influence on how your teen sees the effects of social media use. Rather than force your teen to do anything, you need to leave it up to them to make the right decisions – but help nudge them towards those decisions. It all begins with structure. If your teen is young enough that you’re still in control of their privileges, work on limiting their screen time and monitoring their phone usage.

Don’t invade your child’s privacy but remind them to balance their time spent online with chores, homework, and encourage them to spend time with their friends outside rather than cooped up. Teens today are digital natives and have grown up in a world that is intertwined with the Internet and its social networks. Their idea of friendship and communication is far different from that of their parents – but there is a difference between social media use and social media abuse.

If my child spends time on social media every day, are they addicted?

The term addiction can often be used a little too liberally, and it’s important to differentiate addicted behavior from usage. Not only are the overwhelming majority of teenagers on some form of social network online, but more than half spend nearly all of their time somehow connected to the internet. It’s not realistic to condemn them all as addicts.

However, any behavior that they cannot control, signs that their use of social media, other forms of online media and computers is compulsive and affects them deeply, as well as irritability and a sense of sadness after being separated from online media can imply an unhealthy connection to social media. Teens have a hard time balancing pleasure and life’s other aspects and need structure.

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