Social media has become woven into the fabric of society and is often a necessary part of everyday life.
But communications experts at the University of Missouri explained that increased and constant Internet and social media use can impact adults and adolescents in unhealthy ways.
“We develop a media dependency and we may call that an addiction, and sometimes it may just be some sort of problematic use,” said Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz, an associate professor of communications at MU.
An addiction to social media isn’t just spending more time than usual on the internet, she said, but more about the increased use having a real impact on other components of life.
“That’s when you know you have true addiction or problematic use,” she said. “You’re spending too much time on the Internet and even thinking about the Internet when you’re not on it.”
According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), social media can enhance social interaction in preteens and teens but “because of their limited capacity for self-regulation and susceptibility to peer pressure, children and adolescents are at some risk as they navigate and experiment with social media.”
For teens and adults, the constant use and lure of social media can manifest itself into an addiction that even develops actual physical symptoms of withdrawal if someone stops using it for awhile. Real relationships can also be impacted if social media use becomes an addiction.
“Over time, cumulatively, that can have an affect on relationships such that you are ignoring your real relationships and those that are present with you to focus on this online space,” Behm-Morawitz said.
She said for teens and preteens this is possible but it can also impact their academic performance in school.
Additionally, those who have struggle with depression or loneliness can be influenced tenfold by excess social media use or even the type of content they’re viewing online, which could include the burden of negative news that’s easy to access online.
The American Academy of Pediatrics linked preteen and teen use of social media to a new phenomenon called “Facebook depression.”
“As with offline depression, preadolescents and adolescents who suffer from Facebook depression are at risk for social isolation and sometimes turn to risky internet blogs for ‘help’ that may promote substance abuse, unsafe sexual practices, or aggressive or self-destructive behaviors,” the study said.
Behm-Morawitz said the best way to approach curing or curbing social media addiction is to think of it in the same way as food.
“It’s not something we should remove from our life,” she said. “It has healthy benefits for us but we need to adopt everything in moderation.”
Behm-Morawitz recommends keeping a media diary in the same way people might keep a food or calorie diary. She said recording just how much time you’re actually spending on apps like Facebook or Instagram can be the first step in finding ways to pull back from those spaces.
“In some instances there needs to be absence altogether,” she said.
If need be, Behm-Morawtiz said there may be benefits in seeking help for the whole individual and well-being from a counseling perspective.
AAP guidelines are to encourage parents to talk to their children about their online use, and how that can lead to specific issues like cyberbullying, sexting and difficulty managing their time. That can include parents becoming better educated about the technologies their children are using and discussing a supervised, family online-use plan that emphasizes healthy behavior.