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In 2017 20/20 did a piece about a young California girl who became obsessively addicted to her social media accounts.  At 12 years old this girl got her first smart phone.  Within a year she had multiple hidden accounts, was often up until 4:00am keeping up with postings on her feed, and texting for hours on end.  In the end this girl had to go to residential treatment because no amount of phone restriction would keep her from finding a way to access these accounts.

Whether it’s Snapchat, Instagram, or some other new app, if your teen feels a compulsion to use it, it’s bordering on addiction.  If the compulsion is so strong that they use it despite negative consequences, it is an addiction.

Can your teenager get through a meal without checking their phone?  Does your teen insist on keeping the phone in their room at night?  Does your teenager hardly ever seem to see friends in person, but is always “talking” to someone using a device?  Have your teen’s grades started to slip because of the phone?  Does your teenager struggle to get to bed at a decent hour?  If you answered yes to all these questions, there might be a social media addiction issue.

Studies have begun to emerge detailing a surprising result; people who use excessive social media are actually lonelier.  A study out of the University of Pennsylvania headed by Melissa G. Hunt, Ph.D., had college students in one group limit their time on social media apps to 10 minutes per day per app, and another group continue normal use.  Assessments of depression, anxiety and loneliness done before and after revealed a significant improvement in the group that limited their social media exposure, but no change in the group that used it normally.  There are probably several reasons the group who used less social media ended up feeling better, one of which is getting out of the comparison trap.

If your adolescent is addicted to social media, there is a good chance she (or he) is comparing to others constantly.  There is a comparison of how good your teen’s pictures look compared with friends, how many followers your teen has, and how many likes your teen is getting.  Your teen is constantly exposed to what other kids are doing without her.  Your teenager can end up obsessively checking for responses to her posts in order to feel validated.  It becomes an obsessive-compulsive need for instant gratification and validation.

Social media addiction causes relational challenges, declining grades, and a loss of interest in the real world.  It also can cause physical problems.  Your teen is focusing his eyes on a screen most of the day instead of looking up and out.  Your teenager is also no longer exercising or engaging muscles the way they are meant to be used at a young age.  Your teen is constantly cheating on the amount of sleep needed for healthy development and immunity.  Your teenager is not developing necessary skills to succeed in the world from basic things like doing laundry, to more complex things like dating face to face.

If you feel like your family’s life is run by your teenager’s phone, it’s time to consider whether your teen has a social media addiction.  It’s time to get life back on track.  Your teenager needs help.  Your teenager will honestly feel better after the initial couple weeks of agitated withdrawal from the social media platforms.  Life is meant to be lived through more than just a tiny screen.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Cameron Munholland, MMFT, Associate MFT