Is there such thing as internet and social media addiction? And how does all this impact mental health in teens? These questions and more are defining a connected generation as today’s teenagers have grown up in a world dominated by that device at the end of their wrists.
There is a wonderful physical feeling that happens when we turn off the television and smartphones: our brains, blood, and heart rates settle to normal or calmer levels. Our breathing changes and the stress and anxiety of the time spent on a device starts to go away. The edge of depression rounds off a bit, and we return back to “ourselves.” The stress and anxiety we feel while on the device and the feeling of “missing out” will also level out and dissipate over time.
That is, until we turn it on again and jump back into the fray.
Today’s teens have to deal with so much more than just regular, every-day peer pressure. Today they have to deal with digital judgement, with cameras available at every turn, and with the knowledge that even if you are on your own, others are still watching you. This spurs teenagers and adults alike to overshare and to create a perfect, idealized version of themselves to share to the world. This can cause severe mental health issues, from body image concerns to a difficulty connecting with others.
And it’s just getting worse. A bedroom used to just be a bedroom, full of private time and late-night sleepovers. But now a bedroom is also a “set” for the right lighting, editing, and posting of videos. The walk to school used to be a walk–now it’s time to “check in” with your followers and fellow Snapstreak friends. And conversation used to be actual dialogue with people you wanted to talk with and not with everyone listening or watching.
How to Overcome Social Media Addiction
We must tell – and continue to remind – our children of the following:
You are not a brand
Maintaining device-ready scores for popular apps is hard work, and is one of the main reasons why there are students addicted to social media. Literally, teenagers are “working” all day on their online persona, which could result in oversharing of personal information, or result in extreme low self-esteem and body image issues.
While there is a healthy limit for device or screen time, we know what addiction feels and looks like, and it’s hard to break the connection between children and teenagers and the reward centers in their brains. We must remind our teenagers (even at age 11) that they are not their online personas, as much as people and their peers applaud or dislike them. Like Hollywood’s cameras, the actors almost always return to their natural state when the recording red lights go black. And we all need a break from being recorded, whether it makes or breaks who we are online.
Peer pressure has never been like this in the history of humanity
Since 2007 the world has grown used to increasingly faster internet load times and the increasing ownership of smartphones. According to multiple reports, the link between social media and depression in teens is devastating. There was a time when no one had cell phones and when social media platforms were basic and didn’t involve pictures. Peer pressure came from all the usual suspects: school, celebrities, advertisements and the media, and cultural norms that took years to form and become status quo. Teenagers need to know that peer pressure doesn’t have to keep them up at night or start their mornings – and that private time away from the public means time to reflect, meditate, and not be busy checking into any apps, let alone ones that make us constantly click and post.
Life is better without likes, shares, or streaks
We know that oversharing and constant online “upkeep” damages sleep cycles and can even cause brain shrinkage and hyperarousal in children. Teenagers already have a tough enough time keeping up with their own mental, spiritual, and physical changes without the added weight of what others think across the city or world. We have to continually check in with our kids, students, and patients regarding this and analyzing what “likes” really mean to our lives.
It’s better to keep up with family and close friends than it is to give yourself to the world and its strangers on your device. This will lead to healthier worldviews and may offset natural tendencies that can lead to addiction and improper treatment of mental health issues.
Watching television, updating a fun app, or writing friends can be restful and purposeful. We have, however, willingly entered into a world of binge-watching, over-posting, and hyper- “befriending” that takes its toll on many young adults who will never know what it’s like to not have that device nearby at all times. It’s no wonder that teen depression and social media are so intrinsically linked today.
Addiction to the online world has become a societal norm and is even rewarded by many of the apps that exploit psychological vulnerabilities to influence what users do without realizing. But just like all addiction, we need to treat the cause and not the symptom by keeping our children away from the edge before it overwhelms and consumes them.
How to Solve Social Media Addiction
A quick visit to the NIDA site on Teen Addiction will give you one very fundamental core point for every addiction: It starts with the brain. No matter the substance, or the process, the beginning and end of addiction is located in in the area of the brain that plays on the reward centers – pleasure, pain, impulse, neurons and receptors, nerve centers and the like. Add in development, hormones, relationships, school, identity, peer pressure, and of course the myriad of Teen Mental Health and Addiction Issues facing our youth today.
All that, combined with a developing prefrontal cortex and internet, and social media addiction is bound to develop.
How can I tell if my child has a social media addiction?
- Social media use is a preoccupation that takes up much of their focus, attention, and drive. Simply put, they are thinking about it regularly, above and beyond most other things required of daily life.
- Without the use of Social Media or their phones, they are depressed, anxious, or otherwise negatively impacted.
- Their social media or phone use impedes regular functioning
Social media use is not all bad. A good amount of education now takes place in a digital world. Social media can be an awesome tool for activism and connection, but you need to take a close look at all the variables before determining if there is a detriment. Suffice it to say, however, that if your teen is struggling to accomplish basic tasks expected of them, and are acting in ways that are not physically or mentally healthy for them, chances are they are facing an internet and social media addiction.
How to convey to your child you think they have a problem
The most important points to convey are:
- We are concerned, and here are some of the reasons as to why.
- We want to work WITH you and have you participate in a plan instead of us simply taking matters into our own hands.
- You are important enough to us that we will do whatever it takes to make sure that you are safe and out of harm’s way. Even if this means doing things that you or we do not like.
This puts the ball in their court and opens the door for collaboration instead of a more controlling or punitive process.
How can I stop my teen from developing a social media addiction?
When it comes to prevention, there are a multiple steps involved in the process, known as CLEAR. Let’s break it down, shall we?
– Communicate –
– Limit –
– Engage –
– Award –
– Repeat –
Communication is key.
I will repeat that again: Communication is KEY when it comes to helping your child stop a student addicted to social media. Communication is the bedrock for relationships and communication is critical to conveying both the issues at hand, and the process through which one can address them. When it comes to internet and social media addiction and teens, communication means exactly what you would imagine it does, namely letting your teen know that the impact of their social media or that their social media use is excessive and potentially damaging and that you need to implement a plan to prevent further issues.
Limits are also key to many other things in life as is the idea of “knowing your limits.” Teens often lack insight into what drives them and what drives them off a cliff. Therefore, the first step on how to overcome social media addiction is setting limits after identifying their addiction.
To know how much you should limit their use, you need to know how they use their phones:
- How many notifications do they get?
- How soon do they respond after getting a notification?
- How many hours do they spend on social media?
- What obligations do they have and how long do those take?
The iPhone of today has a build in monitoring system that can help you track your child’s use and create realistic limitations on their social media use. You can enforce this limit by:
- Using phone locks and filters like Offtime, Moment, AppDetox and more
- Limit usage by changing your router settings
- Check your phone bill or limit data usage on their account
- Don’t make exceptions, be a team and enforce your rules
- Engage your teen, so they know not everything positive in their life is social media
- Enroll them in extracurricular activities
- Stay consistent and committed
- Remember to award your child for staying off social media or the internet
What if my teen is already addicted?
Sometimes it is not as simple as putting in a prevention plan to help combat a social media addiction in teens. Often by the time you realize there is an issue, the issue has gotten out of hand and you are facing a full-blown addiction.
In an article on social media addiction reviewing recent Nielsen Research Survey, they found that “70 percent of the U.S. population that’s glued to their televisions, some of whom are also on social media at the same time. Combined, Americans are spending over 15 years of the average lifespan watching TV or engaging social media.” It’s mind-blowing.
According to a published study on social media users, they found that “using Facebook was associated with lower life satisfaction, whereas having real-life friends and interacting with them was associated with higher life satisfaction.”
While this may seem obvious, the underlying message is that people are still engaging in excessive social media use despite the negative side effects.
Symptoms to look out for when your teen has a social media addiction include:
Are they on task at home? On schedule? Are they able to maintain decorum within the home? Follow directions? Participate in family time? Engage in the home environment and not just in their room? Be present for conversation? It is never about one particular red flag, rather how they add up so it is important to be mindful of this.
Is your teen participating in school? Are their grades being maintained? Are they meeting the requirements of school such as homework or study? Is the use of social media being noted by the school as an issue? Often schools don’t report things until they are out of hand, so it is important to check in on this. Remember that teens spend more than half of their lives and waking hours in school.
Is the media pulling them away from their regular social scene? Are they part of a scene you don’t know anything about? Are they withdrawing as a result of the use? Is there increased social conflict or obsession as a result of the use? Is the social media causing pain or damage to their social lives? It is important to look at social factors and be involved, especially with and social media as for teens. There is a whole world that they are connected to, around which they base their lives, aspirations, love interests, and ideologies that you may know nothing about.
Health is often something that goes overlooked, but don’t let it take you by surprise. Obsessive and addictive behaviors that one becomes attached to often lead to damage in other areas. Things like overeating, or starving, going hours without sleep, remaining hyper-stimulated by games, chats, energy drinks or the combination of all of them, lack of sufficient exercise, eye damage, headaches, twitches, stomach aches, lethargy and more can all be tied to excessive social media use and abuse.
Mood is a fairly powerful indicator of issues in teens in general. Irritation, Depression, Self-Esteem Issues, Feelings of powerlessness, hatred, anger, aggression… These are all mood dynamics that can be heavily impacted by excessive social media use. Especially in teens. In addition to the mood factors, there are other teen mental health issues closely associated with digital media use, abuse, and addiction.
In a recent article from CNN on teen mental health, they found that the more that teens check on their phones, stream videos and check in on the social media, the more likely it is that they will develop or increase signs of ADHD. “The study, published in the medical journal JAMA on Tuesday, sheds light on how more research is needed to determine whether symptoms of the disorder, commonly called ADHD, are possibly caused by digital media use.”
Simply put: The behaviors associated with social media addiction closely mimic those of ADHD, and now there are potential causal links between the two. ADHD, in turn, has an impact on the prevalence of addiction in teens, causing a potentially negative “loop” as well as potential increase in addictive behaviors and addictions to other things such as teen drug and alcohol addiction.
How do I help my addicted teen with their social media and internet addiction?
If after looking at all the factors you feel that your teen is indeed addicted to social media, it is important to take steps to address the issue. Rest assured, these issues do not typically go away on their own, so a timely and thought out response is always advised.
Aside from following the steps above in regards to developing a plan and implementing it, if your teen is struggling with addiction or mental health issues tied to social media, there are a variety of methods by which you can address it utilizing the help of professionals.
Individual Therapy for Teens
As a first resort, individual therapy can be a wonderful intervention for your teen. In therapy, your teen can work through issues, potentially open up about things they don’t feel comfortable talking about at home, address additional mental health or social conditions that may be tied to the addiction, and develop and implement a plan of action. Additionally, having your teen engage in a therapeutic process will teach them a lot about themselves and about how serious you view this issue to be.
Group Therapy For Teens
Sometimes, in addition to individual therapy, group therapy for teens can be an effective resource. In a group setting, your teen can work through issues together with other teens and professionals, enabling them to feel connected to others struggling with the same issues. Group therapy for teens is engaging in a way that is different than the individual therapy work, and the process can often feel more supportive with a peer group.
Often, parent and family support groups are offered in conjunction with teen support groups. Addiction support groups like Alateen and Al-anon can be very helpful. Though these groups are geared toward chemical addictions, the concepts and the supports are very similar. To find more specific groups within your area, simply hit google or check out the SAMHSA, NAMI, or NIDA websites.
Intensive Outpatient Treatment for teens (IOP)
If the situation is more intense, you can look for an Intensive Outpatient Program For Teens. These programs, often covered by insurance, provide a more intensive mix of individual, family, and group therapy often incorporating life skills and education into the mix. These programs are typically three hours a day, three to five days a week.
Partial Hospitalization Program for teens (PHP)
A teen partial hospitalization program is similar to the IOP program for teens, however, the duration of the program is longer. The PHP program is typically a full day program, five days a week. This program provides a more intense and supervised setting and often takes the place of a regular school day. This kind of program is ideal for a teen who is struggling to hold the necessary boundaries at home and at school.
Residential Treatment for Teens (RTC)
If all else fails, and sometimes as an area of first resort if a teen is at risk, there is residential treatment for teens. Residential treatment takes place in a location, typically a home, where teens live with 24 hour supervision and a full schedule of therapy, education, life skills, mentoring and more. The residential treatment setting is ideal for teens who struggle to maintain safe boundaries and the family is unable to keep them safe in the home environment. It is also ideal because it gives the teen a chance to get away from the potentially negative effects of their situation, peer group, and the comfort of their home setting.
It is not easy raising a teen in today’s world. The advent of technology makes everything, good and bad, that much easier to reach. The width and breadth of the internet is as unimaginable today as it was fifty years ago. The tools we use today to communicate are a billion times more powerful than those that we grew up with, and they are upgrading on a daily basis.
At a time like this, it is more critical than ever to remain connected to your teen and the world in which they live. Know what your teen is doing and when. Know who they know, and make yourself known to them in turn. Build bridges with folks in all aspects of your teens life. This doesn’t mean be a helicopter parent, but certainly don’t be a blind one. Be watchful, mindful, and cognizant of the baseline behaviors of your teen so that if issues like or social Media addiction in teens begins to impact your loved ones, you are aware and prepared.
It is also important to build an infrastructure around your teen. It takes a village to raise a kid, and a few villages to raise a teen — preferably ones with good Wi-Fi.