Mental health experts have some good ideas about why and how teens become addicted to social media, but they say there are ways to prevent it.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 90 percent of teens have used social media, and 75 percent have at least one active profile. Teens are online nearly nine hours a day, on average.
Levi Keeler, owner of the consulting and consulting firm for Community Change, said parents need to address the issue at hand when it comes to teens and social media.
“That’s the main thing: We’re not going to leave our phone behind, and it’s important that we lead by example, and that’s always key,” Keeler said. “We are subject to the same principles that affect children; we are just so focused on children.”
While there are many benefits to social media, Keehler said it also allows access to a more sinister side of the online world.
“I don’t think it is a good or a bad thing; I think it exists, and you have to come up with strategies, good or bad, to reduce the bad and maximize the good,” he said.
Heather Wayne, a family and consumer sciences teacher with the Cherokee County Cooperative Extension Service, said it’s important for parents to set rules for their teens when it comes to social media use.
“Establishing rules about what is and is not acceptable is a good first step. Setting acceptable time limits and social platforms for our families is a great idea,” Wayne said.
Keeler said social media can cause behavioral problems in teens, but everything else happens as well.
“Behaviour is shaped by all different types of interactions and the interaction of emotions and reinforcements, both positive and negative. We try to process the data and respond to it in the best possible way.”
Keeler explained how and why social media is an additive not just for teens, but for everyone else. Young children are taught positive reinforcement, and so they will continue to show good behavior when they are told, ‘Good job’.
“Take that ‘good job’ idea and take it to the phone, imagine you have partial control over how this happens, and now we’re looking for positive reinforcements from ‘likes’ and followers,” he said.
Teens may become obsessed with getting validated through social media platforms, and it’s a way to make them feel connected and important, said Laurie Freymouth, a guidance counselor at Tahlequah Public School.
“It is sometimes difficult for them to identify their authenticity when they are constantly trying to portray a picture of how they would like others to see them. They often struggle to compare themselves to others, or to judge others based on their posts,” Freymuth said.
Data from the Youth At-Risk Behavior Monitoring System found a 25 percent increase in adolescent suicidal behavior between 2009 and 2017. This behavior was associated with increased digital media use.
“We can’t make any reason, there’s only the time frame – we get to know it, and it’s related to the use of social media apps,” Keehler said.
Keehler, Winn, and Freymuth agree that solving the problem between teens and their phones should start with parents.
“Part of the frustration I hear from teens is that their parents are trying to limit their phone time, and the student doesn’t always feel like they’re spending a lot of time on their phones, but their parents are constantly using their phones and they feel like hypocrisy,” Freymuth said.
She said teens want to feel valued and important, and they often turn to social media as a way to earn that.
“As a family and consumer sciences educator, I recommend parents to monitor where children are going, with whom and what they are doing. It is not an invasion of privacy; it is a parent’s responsibility for us to help our children learn what is safe and healthy, both physically and mentally,” Wayne said.