Social Media Addiction in Teens and Young Adults: What is it?
Social media addiction is a behavioural disorder in which teens or young adults become so engaged and consumed by social media, that they are unable to reduce or cease their consumption of content 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, Snapchat, YouTube, TikTok, 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 behaviour despite suffering losses in friendship, decreased physical social engagement, and a negative impact at school.
There are currently 5.1 billion social media users worldwide, with the average person spending almost two hours a day on their phone. It is estimated that of that 5.1 billion, 310 million people suffer from internet or social media addiction. This form of addiction is relatively new, as social media has only existed for the last few decades. Research suggests that intense social media use is linked to:
Increased mental health difficulties
Decreased school performance
Having a negative impact upon the social well-being of adolescents
Additional research shows that spending lots of time online looking at pictures of celebrity idols, tweeting the latest fad diet or pinning new workout routines can be detrimental to a young person’s self-esteem (Andreassen, Pallesen, & Griffiths, 2016; Burrow & Rainone, 2016; Woods & Scott, 2016).
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 the 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 Does Teen Social Media Addiction Look Like? Knowing what signs to look for when it comes to social media use can be difficult. We know it’s normal for young people to spend time on their devices and to be engaging with their social media profiles. Here are some things to look out for:
Is the young person spending more time than usual on social media?
Have you noticed any behavioural or emotional changes which you think might be due to using social media?
Does the young person appear anxious when they cannot access their social media?
Do you feel they are preoccupied with social media, for example, thinking about what to post etc.
Have they been neglecting hobbies or activities which they once enjoyed in favour of using social media?
Why do so many young people use social media?
A study in 2019 showed that nearly 60 percent of teenagers in the United Kingdom use social media to avoid missing out. In addition to that, nearly half of the respondents admitted that social media use helped them to feel included and less lonely, while 40 percent claimed that social media made them feel good about themselves. As an ever-increasing number of young people are using social media to stay connected, it is clear that the fear of feeling left out among their peers continues to be a factor in social media addiction among teens.
It has also become popular that young people feel there is a career to be made in using social media, and aspirations to become a YouTuber is now likely more common amongst young people than wanting to be a singer, actress, or professional footballer.
To maintain a level fairness in the discussion there are also plenty of positives of why young people choose to use social media, and some of these are noted in the section below on the guidance for parents and carers.
Guidance for parents and carers
Seeing the young person you are caring for constantly glued to their phone can be a difficult challenge to overcome. Offering guidance can often be received in the wrong way, and what may have been intended as a piece of advice to help them see the risks of too much social media use, can be perceived by the young person as an attack to their way of being. It is important not to view social media use solely in a negative way, there are many positives to its use and recognising these and discussing them with the young person can be beneficial. For instance, knowing that using social media in the right way can help people stay connected, decrease stress, increase self-esteem, and is also good for managing social anxiety, are all useful talking points to discuss with the young person and can let them know you aren’t standing in complete opposition.
We can look to help manage their use by implementing clear structures and boundaries that are in line with both age and societal expectations. We can ourselves model good social media use, which might include not using devices during eating times, turning the device off after a certain time, and talking to them about how we feel when using social media. Other things which might help include disabling notifications, setting timeouts, logging out of apps during busy or stressful periods, having a general sense of the dangers and risks associated with intense social media use, and recognising the positives which can come from controlled use.
Seeking Professional Support
bMindful Psychology have professionals who are trained in being able to support young people who present with social, behavioural, and emotional difficulties. Intense social media use might be something you feel that your child, or a young person you are caring for, might need support with. If you would like to receive additional support and guidance please visit our website bMindful psychology – a specialist psychology service with particular expertise in children and young people or contact one of our professionals on 0161 510 0111.
Boer, M., van den Eijnden, R. J. J. M., Boniel-Nissim, M., Wong, S. L., Inchley, J. C., Badura, P., Craig, W. M., Gobina, I., Kleszczewska, D., Klanšček, H. J., & Stevens, G. W. J. M. (2020). Adolescents’ Intense and Problematic Social Media Use and Their Well-Being in 29 Countries. Journal of Adolescent Health, 66(6), S89–S99. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.JADOHEALTH.2020.02.014
Primack, B., Adolescent, C. E.-V.-C. and, & 2017, undefined. (n.d.). Social media as it interfaces with psychosocial development and mental illness in transitional age youth. Childpsych.Theclinics.Com. Retrieved November 17, 2022, from https://www.childpsych.theclinics.com/article/S1056-4993(16)30120-1/abstract
Studies, J. A.-M.-I. J. of P., & 2015, undefined. (2015). Social media use, engagement and addiction as predictors of academic performance. Researchgate.Net, 7(4). https://doi.org/10.5539/ijps.v7n4p86
Underwood, M., Psychologist, S. E.-A., & 2017, undefined. (n.d.). The power and the pain of adolescents’ digital communication: Cyber victimization and the perils of lurking. Psycnet.Apa.Org. Retrieved November 17, 2022, from https://psycnet.apa.org/journals/amp/72/2/144/