‘I must check everything, I must be updated’

Lifeline: The average internet user spends over two hours on social media every day.

How serious is social media addiction? With reports of teens dangerously hooked on sites like Instagram and Snapchat, researchers are racing to discover how addictive social media really is.

For 15-year-old Brooke, her smartphone was more than just a device: “It was my heart. It felt like a part of me.”

Why? Because her phone was the gateway to the world of social media: “FaceTime, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter”, Brooke used them all — even creating multiple accounts (she had six different Instagram profiles).

Eventually, her online life became all-consuming: “It was always about refreshing my feed and I’d stay up until like 4:30 in the morning.”

While she cultivated online connections, real-life bonds disintegrated. “There was no relationship”, her father recalls: “We were just a means to provide her with food and shelter and money... and a phone.”

Brooke’s story may sound extreme, but some worry that increasing numbers of teenagers are becoming addicted to social media — with potentially disastrous effects on their mental health.

One study claims that the continuous rewards social media gives its users (such as “likes”) could makes some users addicted. Scientists also claim that those spending more than two hours a day on social media are more likely to report mental health problems.

But the case against social media is not decisive. A Unicef report states that it can be “beneficial” for some children because it enhances existing relationships.

How worried should we be about social media addiction?

Face-hooked

Very worried, some argue. We must be less obsessed with studies and listen to sufferers themselves. Their message is clear: social media can be addictive, and the effects are disastrous for mental health.

We need a balanced response, others respond. Social media has a positive influence on many lives, and harsh crackdowns will unfairly impinge on the silent majority. Scientists don’t know how harmful social media is, so we should avoid overreacting.

You Decide

  1. Does social media make people more antisocial?

Activities

  1. In small groups write down what you think are the three most popular social media platforms among people your age. For each one write down three positive and three negative effects of using them. Overall, would you say social media is good or bad?

Some People Say...

“The internet has been a boon and a curse for teenagers.”

J.K. Rowling

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Social media addiction is not an official mental health disorder, with such a classification requiring more research.
What do we not know?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that social media may contribute to mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, however there is currently no consensus that social media directly causes these conditions.

Word Watch

Brooke
Read about Brooke’s story by following the link under Become An Expert.
Addicted
Evidence of social media addiction is largely anecdotal, and it has not yet been designated an official mental health disorder.
Study
“Social Networking Addiction: An Overview of Preliminary Findings”, by Mark D. Griffiths.
Scientists
Research based on a survey of 753 students, lead by H. Sampasa-Kanyinga in 2015.

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