Addicted to Social Media Much?

There is no denying that social media has taken over the lives of many teenagers. In many cases, it is clear that social media has not only become part of a teenager's life, but what their lives seem to revolve around. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat are some of the most popular social media outlets and to fully understand why teenagers are so addicted to these forums, we have to take into consideration a couple of points. First of all, the accessibility of these medias to teenagers, and second, the social status that comes with social media. Additionally, if social media becomes the main source for teens to socialize, how will this affect their ability to communicate with others in the future?

Cell phones, tablets, and computers are quite popular among our youth nowadays. With phones, such as Apple's iPhone or Samsung's Galaxy, social media apps are available at the touch of a screen. According to a study done in 2013 by The Pew Research Center, it is estimated that in America, 80% of teens (ages 12 to 17) have a cell phone. The study also found that 25% of teens log on to social media accounts on average up to ten times or more per day. Antonio Guillen, a former middle school teacher in Los Angeles, believes that cell phones pose a huge problem in our public school systems. "Cell phones are a huge distraction in the classroom," he stated, "When the majority of the students have cell phones, it is almost impossible to control."

Yes, cell phones are very reliable for parents to keep tabs on their children if they are involved in extracurricular activities. But shouldn’t there be a limit as to how much time they spend on these devices? The Pew Research Center cites that: "About 10 hours and 45 minutes are spent online between the ages of 8-18." It is safe to say that teenagers are spending the majority of their time on these websites were they could be doing something more productive. Because adolescence is such an important time of development, and social media has become an essential part of their life, experts worry that such intense relationship with technology is promoting anxiety and lowering self-esteem in young peoples’ lives. 

So what is causing our youth to be so engrossed in social media and technology? As previously mentioned, a lot of it has to do with the "social status" that comes with it. Being accepted by peers is huge for teenagers. Usually teens want to fit in one of the many social cliques that occur in their world. These days, a teenager's online social status is just as important to them as a reputation is to a politician. They care about how they are perceived on their social media accounts and how many "likes" they can get on a picture is significant. It’s as if they are competing with one another for popularity.

A study done by Harvard University in 2012, found that small amounts of dopamine are released when we share our thoughts and experiences on social media. This is equivalent to the dose of dopamine one would get from food, exercise or experiencing something exciting. The more their thoughts and experiences are accepted by their peers (likes and comments), the more dopamine is released, which is what makes social media so addicting. 

Some teenagers compare themselves to one another in terms of what they own, where they go, and what they look like. This is when cyber bullying can begin to occur. "Kids text all sorts of things that you would never in a million years contemplate saying to anyone's face," says Dr. Donna Wick, a clinical and developmental psychologist who runs Mind to Mind Parent, a program out of New York that helps parents focus on the quality of their relationships with their children. She added, "Social media is making it a lot easier for teens to be cruel to one another." This is in part because they don’t have to deal with the other person’s reaction, in person. According to The Pew Research Center, 51% of children and teens admit to having been bullied at one point or another via the internet. 

It is also important to note how social media is changing the way youth communicate with others. Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair is a clinical psychologist and author of The Big Disconnect. In her book, Dr. Steiner-Adair focuses on the digital world we live in and the harmful effects it is having on the upbringing of American families. "There's no question kids are missing out on very critical social skills. In a way, texting and online communicating—it's not like it creates a nonverbal learning disability, but it puts everybody in a nonverbal disabled context, where body language, facial expression, and even the smallest kinds of vocal reactions are rendered invisible."

So, what do we do and how do we monitor teenagers who spend too much time on social media? Researchers suggest that parents must first tailor their own social media addictions and set a good example for their kids. When a child observes his parents on Facebook as much as they are, it may lead them to believe this is the social norm. They should be accustomed to speaking to our face, not to our face behind a screen. "It is the mini-moments of disconnection, when parents are too focused on their own devices and screens, that dilute the parent-child relationship,” Dr. Steiner-Adair warns. 

Limiting the amount of time that is spent on their social media accounts is a healthy counterpoint to our tech-obsessed world. If a child is spending more than half of their time on social media, the parents should encourage and promote healthier forms of communication, not only to strengthen that parent-child bond, but to gear them towards more personal interactions with other humans. This will benefit the effectiveness of their communication skills which is essential for their future.

After all, ten years from now, will anyone really remember a status update that was posted or a tweet that was sent? Not necessarily; they will, however, remember us for the way we treated them and the profound contributions we made towards society. As a culture we need to be more proactive and involved in how our youth spends the majority of their time and remember that they truly are the future.

Summer 2015
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