How Smartphones Are Turning Teens Into Social Media Junkies

how  to combat social media addiction


Mar. 31 2017, Published 4:00 a.m. ET

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My first cellphone was a silver Nokia with a yellowish-green screen, I was fourteen years old. I used it to call my mom or play Snake to pass the time when I got bored. I could not text and Facebook had not taken over the world yet.

By the time I turned 21, I was trading in my Blackberry for an iPhone because I wanted to use Instagram. Teenage use and the effects of dopamine are found in drinking alcohol, using heroin or the craving to check for notifications on smartphones. Each can send teens into a stimulated dopamine-induced loop. Recent research suggests teenagers are growing less likely to smoke a joint or take a shot, but instead post a selfie.

“Today, we have this phenomenon of behavioral addictions where, one tech industry leader told me, people are spending nearly three hours a day tethered to their cellphones. Where teenage boys sometimes spend weeks alone in their rooms playing video games. Where Snapchat will boast that its youthful users open their app more than 18 times a day,” shares social psychologist Adam Alter.

Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that is critical to key brain functions. It helps with overall brain function such as your mood, behavior, moving, sleeping, the process of seeking rewards, and attention. The attention and reward are the essential effects of your brain on dopamine. Dopamine is known as the pleasure system of the brain and has been linked to social media use, as mentioned in The Friend Zone podcast’s Dopamine Loop episode exploring our social media addictions as dopamine loops.

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The Dopamine Loop is the seeking-wanting-reward system of the brain. With the internet, social media, and text messaging together, we have instant gratification at your fingertips. Dopamine influences you to seek, and then be rewarded for the seeking which makes you seek more. Psychology Today explains this is why it becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, stop texting, or stop checking your cell phone. Dopamine loops can be dangerous as with the constant endless looping of checking texts and social media accounts there is a continuous cycle that increases instant gratification that feels good when seeking anticipation for a reward.

A dopamine loop can happen if a young girl notices she received 20 likes on Instagram for wearing shorter shorts. She may believe she should do it more due to the likes and validation from her peers. This learned behavior can indirectly overexpose teenage girls and potentially hypersexualize them as they continue to seek out attention and validation. Whereas in comparison, another girl of the same age can feel less self-worth for only getting five likes on a photo where she is completely clothed.

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This could be dangerous to the self-esteem in young girls since trends are being subconsciously identified. One installment of Dove’s self-esteem project focused on the way girl’s ages 11-16 view social media and what it says about its harmful side effects. Teen girls interacting on social media are indirectly applying a filter to life and representing their viral selves instead of their authentic selves online.

The Huffington Post also shares that excessive online media intake can be harmful to teens overall health due to overindulgence, resulting in a lack of sleep and physical activity. To be productive or healthy, teens have to get off of this dopamine loop.

Girls naturally have a willingness to create friends and socialize more than boys do. Common Sense Media reports social media is an integral part of most teens’ lives, spending 45% of their day engaged on social networks, searching for another hit of dopamine from a retweet or a like on Instagram.

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Teens are spending a lot of time logged on staring at screens and science is only reaching the peak of this tech-infused dopamine iceberg. Common Sense Media also found that teen boys average 56 minutes a day playing video games, compared to girls’ playing only seven minutes. Meanwhile, teen girls spend 40 minutes more a day than boys on social media. This becomes learned behavior, as teenage girls link social media with popularity and seeking attention and validation from their peers. As a teenager you just want to fit in, you want to be well liked, and feel like you matter.

Time Magazine argues that social media is disrupting the lives of teenage girls, by using their online worlds to post more sexualized images or mistreat the use of social media overall. Further research is being conducted on the social media junkie theory as our culture and obsession with social networks have been said to change the way we interact with one another in all ages. This is why teenagers are the most susceptible to falling victim to this drug epidemic and more specifically, why teenage girls should be extremely careful with their online presence.

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