Constantly Connected: Managing Social Media Addiction
This program examines managing social media — the world of Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites to help kids understand why it’s so easy to get addicted to all-day, all-night social media and online gaming. This behavior causes anxiety, sleep disorders, depression, the loss of real time friendships and activities, and interferes with school. Video models skills to better balance kids’ social media time. If kids can’t kick the habit themselves, the program tells them how to get help.
The program begins with a group of teens (Yukie, Emelyn, Marissa, Nick, Dara, and Nina) discussing just how embedded digital media is in their lives. The use of websites and apps like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram have become second nature to these teenagers, who are constantly plugged into the digital world for most of their waking hours. They discuss how many hours they spend in front of a screen every day, some of them spending more time on their devices than sleeping in a 24-hour period.
We are then introduced to Dr. Joanna Robin PhD, a psychologist who works with anxious and depressed teenagers that are addicted to their devices. She tells us that teenagers today are constantly connected. They are never without their phones, which have become almost like a part of their bodies.
Another expert, Courtney You, a psychologist, discusses how it is not just the device, but the excessive amount of screen time that is the issue. The overuse of screen time is being linked to attention problems, sleep difficulties, and school problems, as well as symptoms of anxiety and depression. Applications (apps) such as Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube are designed to be addictive. The creators of these apps use psychology to make them as addictive as possible. Push notifications are utilized to distract users and make them return to their phones over and over again. And it’s not just apps—there are video games and streaming services, like Netflix, whose episodes just blend into one another. In fact, Dr. Robin tells us, the CEO of Netflix says his biggest competitor is sleep.
Sleep Deprivation Due to Technology
Dr. Marc Childs, a pediatrician, picks up on this point about sleep deprivation due to technology overuse. We learn that sleep deprivation is a risk factor for poor school performance, anxiety, depression, poor social function, decreased focus, impaired self-esteem, and obesity. Teens need 8-10 hours of sleep per night, but most teens get less than 7 hours per night. Dr. Childs explains how artificial blue light from screens can disrupt the natural process of producing melatonin in the brain. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the central nervous system that helps to initiate and maintain sleep. Screen time decreases melatonin. This affects your ability to fall asleep and remain asleep. When you disrupt this process, you stay awake longer and you get BACK onto the screen because you don’t feel tired. The cycle continues.
Dr. Childs then touches on our declining ability to sustain attention. He explains how fragmented attention is different from multi-tasking. Fragmented attention is when you are doing multiple things at once but not focusing on any one thing completely. Kids are taking longer to do their homework because of distraction; and, they are less likely to engage in outside activities and exercise. Dr. Robin urges teens to put their phones in a different room when doing homework. Research shows if your phone is more than 15 seconds away, you’re less likely to use it. You should also turn off push-notifications, so you’re not disrupted while completing a specific task.
Use of technology can cause stress when parents and teens argue about appropriate use or content, or about late night use that interferes with sleep.
The program then goes on to discuss social media and the use of apps such as Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. We are introduced to the theory of the “slot machine effect.” This is how certain apps like Instagram keep us engaged. These apps hoard “likes” so teens are encouraged to recheck their devices over and over again until all of a sudden, teens will receive 20-30 likes at once—like winning on a slot machine. Kids discuss how getting “likes” makes them feel good. Dr. Childs explains that with each “like” we have a rush of dopamine and we want more. Dopamine is released when we eat something delicious, exercise, or have a great social connection. When you get “likes,” you release dopamine and crave more social media.
Being constantly connected to social media also presents the illusion that other people are happier and more successful than you are. Our teenage hosts talk about seeing their friends’ lives on social media, comparing their lives to others, and the anxiety that comparisons can cause. There has been a rise in anxiety and depression in individuals entering college. One in five college students presents with symptoms consistent with anxiety and depression. Social media is making this worse. It is a platform in which we are constantly judging ourselves and judging other people. Excessive social media use is linked with higher levels of anxiety, depression, body image issues, feelings of isolation, loneliness, and unhappiness. Experts reiterate that what we see on social media is simply what someone WANTS us to see—not a true reflection of how that person is doing or their mental status or whether they’re happy or unhappy. We are reminded that when we see posts of new sneakers, new clothes, other people’s successes, winning a big game, scoring an A on test, or getting into college—this has NO bearing on whether or not we have succeeded or failed. Other people’s posts are NOT a testament to our own success or failure.
Body Image Issues
The program continues with a discussion of social media’s huge emphasis on body image. Dr. Childs discusses body shaming, and how a lot of overweight kids feel badly about themselves after browsing the Internet. Body image is how we conceive our body, how we feel about our weight or size. Teens should not be comparing themselves to others—this comparison process is very unhealthy.
Kids feel more powerful hiding behind a keyboard or phone. Cyberbullying can be done anonymously which makes it easier because bullies often don’t face any immediate repercussions. For the targets of bullying, this can cause a lack of social contact with other people, feelings of isolation, and depression. Our teenage hosts talk about their experiences with cyberbullying and how it affected them.
The next section discusses video games. Although video games can have some positive effects on kids, for example, building hand/eye coordination, they turn into a problem when the amount of time spent on them becomes excessive. There are more and more opportunities to play on our phones, computers, and many other devices. Video games also present more interaction with other players than in the past. Dr. Robin tells us that in 2018 the World Health Organization recognized gaming as a problem and included it as a mental health disorder. Video games are designed to be addictive, so we want to play more. Gaming until exhaustion is not uncommon among teens. Again, we see a release of dopamine, which keeps teens coming back for more.
Bursts of dopamine light up the reward pathway in the brain. Over time, constant gaming can lead to a sedentary lifestyle. Sitting around avoiding activity and exercise can contribute to an increased risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and anxiety. Dr. Childs reminds us that one hour a day of vigorous exercise is so important for mental and physical health.
Technology Addiction & Ways to Combat It
The program finishes by discussing when to be concerned that you may have an addiction problem. Are your grades are falling? Are you arguing with your parents frequently regarding screen time? Is your homework taking an excessive amount of time because you keep turning to technology? Do you feel more depressed, anxious, lonely, and isolated? If you have answered yes to these questions you may need to disconnect from technology. The program suggests keeping your phone in your locker during school hours, turning your phone off when spending time with friends and family, stopping all screen time 30 minutes before bed, charging your phone in the kitchen at night, turning off push notifications, and warning your friends that you’re going to disconnect at night time. Get sleep! And implement blocks of time to do your homework or go outside without keeping your phone on you.