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Social Media Addiction - the signs

Addiction to social media is on the rise. According to the Pew Research Center, 35 percent of teenagers now describe their use of social media platforms, such as Instagram and TikTok, as “almost constant.” 

Unfortunately, chronic social media use goes hand-in-hand with mental health concerns among children and teens because they’re still developing socially and neurologically. The more teens become immersed in social media, the more impact social media use has on mental health and overall well-being.

What is social media addiction?

Social media addiction is the compulsive urge to access and engage with social media platforms at the expense of attending to other areas of your life. While adults are not immune to the urges of social media use, kids and teens are more susceptible because their neurological development is still progressing, particularly executive functioning and decision-making abilities. As a result, your child may find it more difficult to walk away from social media, even if they realize it isn’t good for them.

Teenagers who are addicted to social media often report:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Body dysmorphia

  • Eating disorders

  • Loneliness

  • The fear of missing out (FOMO)

  • Isolation

  • Low self-esteem

  • Jealousy

  • Worthlessness

  • Difficulty with personal relationships

  • Suicidal thoughts

Why is social media addictive?

Social media addiction is behavioral, but there are also psychological and physical responses involved. Just like with drug and alcohol use, social media use is fueled by the dopamine rush that it provides. Dopamine is a chemical produced by the brain in response to pleasurable events.

The brain’s pleasure center, the amygdala, responds positively to mentions, likes, comments, and other interactions on social media posts. When the brain is rewarded with pleasure, it drives the user to seek that reward repeatedly. 

Since your child’s brain is still developing, changes in the brain eventually cause them to begin craving interactions and reactions from others. Your child may crave increasing amounts of social media to experience the same amount of pleasure. The reaction social media addiction produces follows a pattern similar to that of drug addiction.

How do algorithms encourage social media addiction?

The companies hosting these sites have designed their products to foster addictive behavior. Social media platforms personalize a user’s experience by targeting ads and content based on past browsing preferences. Algorithms send similar types of content to the user’s feed to keep them engaged. Companies like Meta, Inc., which owns Facebook and Instagram, rely on this response to keep users on their sites as much as possible so they can generate revenue and make a profit. The downside is that these algorithms expose children and teenagers to the same harmful content over and over again.

For example, when an adolescent girl clicks on an ad or content that promotes weight loss, an algorithm sends more content related to weight loss to her feed. This continual feedback loop makes it difficult to escape from the constant barrage of harmful content promoting exploitable subjects, such as anorexia, drug use, suicide, and pornography.

Perhaps not coincidentally, rates of bullying and teenage suicide have increased in the age of social media. In fact, between 2007 and 2015, the rate of suicide among teenage boys increased by 31 percent, according to The CDC.

Learn more about Meta Platform lawsuits, including the company’s liability in exposing children, teens and young adults to harmful content, as well as compensation for which you may be entitled. 

What are the signs that your child is addicted to social media?

To best protect your child, watch out for some warning signs indicating social media addiction. Does your child need to be on their phone constantly? Do they become inappropriately upset when they can’t check their phone or social media accounts?

If this sounds familiar, you may be dealing with social media addiction. Some of the signs include:

  • An increase in planning and thinking about using social media

  • Mood changes based on social media access

  • A need for more and more social media time

  • Difficulty cutting back on social media, even when they try

  • Social anxiety

  • Withdrawal or isolation from others

  • Avoidance of activities they once enjoyed

  • Poor body image or self-esteem

  • Signs of an eating disorder

  • Depression   

  • The use of social media to escape problems

  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

What are the effects of social media addiction?

Data from the Center for Public Education found that social media use is related to negative mental health outcomes in adolescents, including:

  1. Feelings of depression and isolation. Social media content tends to only portray the “highlight reel” of others’ lives instead of the reality. There is a heavy focus on material goods and a particular standard of lifestyle. Teenagers may experience intense pressure to live exciting and flawlessly portrayed lives and feel let down if their own life doesn’t seem to compare to what they see online. A study out of Indiana University found that people with social media accounts believed that others were happier and more successful than they were after spending time looking at social media.

  2. Stunted social skills. Kids and teens are still developing social skills during this time in their lives. Social media creates added pressure to share and keep up with others’ posts. Users may devote so much of their time to posting and replying on social media that they have little time to devote to activities they once enjoyed. Some teenagers develop social anxiety disorder, causing them to withdraw from interactions with the world outside of social media. The younger a person is when habitual social media use begins, the more likely they are to experience problems with social interactions, such as only having online friendships.

  3. Cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is more prevalent than ever, thanks to social media platforms. Online name-calling, rumors, harassment, and sharing explicit photos without another’s permission have become common parts of the teenage experience. Social media’s anonymity and lack of consequences has emboldened bullies and led to young people attempting to end or take their own lives

  4. Eating disorders. There is a correlation between adolescent girls’ time on social media and negative body image. Content on Instagram is often edited and filtered to project idealistic images of the female body. Instagram’s own internal research found that 32 percent of teenage girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, looking at Instagram made them feel worse.

  5. Suicidal thoughts. Social media overuse is especially dangerous for children and adolescents who use it to escape from existing feelings of stress, loneliness, and sadness. They often begin to disengage from in-person relationships entirely and may refuse to attend school or spend time with others. This escape from reality can lead to thoughts of self-harm and suicide.

This article has originally been published on the Lanier Law firm site and has been published here with permission.


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