Almost half of all British teenagers say they feel addicted to social media, according to a new study conducted by the Millennium Cohort. The finding, which comes amidst numerous lawsuits and United States Congressional hearings with big tech companies, adds to evidence that many people feel they have lost control over their use of digital interactive media.
The research was conducted by Dr. Amy Orben and their team at the University of Cambridge who tracked the lives of about 19,000 people born in 2000-2002 across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. When the cohort were aged 16-18 they were asked, for the first time, about social media use. Of the 7,000 people who responded, 48% said they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I think I am addicted to social media.” A higher proportion of girls (57%) agreed compared to boys (37%), according to the data.
Researchers noted that while respondents claim as though they feel like they have an addiction, it doesn’t mean they are suffering from a clinical condition. However, researchers also noted that expressing a lack of control when it comes to social media use suggests a “problematic relationship.”
“We’re not saying the people who say they feel addicted are addicted,” said Georgia Turner, a graduate student leading the analysis. “Self-perceived social media addiction is not [necessarily] the same as drug addiction. But it’s not a nice feeling to feel you don’t have agency over your own behavior. It’s quite striking that so many people feel like that and it can’t be that good.”
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In recent years, there has been growing concern about the addictive qualities of social media. Last year, the US surgeon general issued a public health advisory on the risks that social media could pose on young people’s mental health. Social media companies, like Instagram and TikTok, use algorithms to decide what appears in a person’s feed. These algorithms are a set of tech rules that decide which posts appear in a person’s feed.
In the earlier days of social media, users were shown specific posts or media based on how many likes or views it had, meaning the posts with more engagement were seen by more people. Over time, these companies implemented algorithms which allowed them to tailor each user’s page.
Using information gathered through monitoring internet activity, these algorithms observe the posts, videos, and advertisements that individuals engage with by liking, sharing, or interacting in any manner. Leveraging this data, the algorithm can anticipate user interests and display relevant content on their feed.
Who Is At Risk For Social Media Addiction?
As previously mentioned, the study conducted by Dr. Orben found that a higher proportion of young girls reported feeling as though they had a social media addiction than young boys. While anyone can struggle with a social media addiction, it’s clear that younger individuals, primarily girls, are most at risk.
There are several leading factors researchers believe puts young girls at such high risk. Experts believe that some of the basic reasoning behind why is: their tendency to be impulsive, their need for a widespread and growing social influence, and finally, their need to reaffirm their group identity.
Children still have developing brains, and are easily influenced by things they see online. Videos or pictures can trigger intense emotional episodes of self-comparison, which experts say can be processed by the developing brain in ways that pose serious threats to a child’s mental and physical well-being.
How To Identify A Social Media Addiction
If you believe that your child is struggling with an addiction to social media, or if you suspect they may be engaging in harmful behavior online, it’s important to understand the effects social media can have on your child’s mental and physical health.
Problematic social media use can look different from person to person, but there are some common signs to look out for:
Excessive amounts of time spent on social media
Lack of time spent with family and friends
Skipping social events or school
Loss of interest in hobbies they once enjoyed
Poor school performance
Strong attachment to their phone
If your child is displaying some or all of these symptoms, it might be time to consider some level of treatment or therapy.
Treating Social Media Addiction
If your child is struggling with social media addiction, don’t wait to get them the help they need. Fortunately, social media addiction is a very treatable condition and many teens have successfully recovered. While reducing screen time is a great way to combat problematic social media use, if the addiction is too severe you may require professional help.
Many parents find that a good place to start is online therapy. Online therapy programs can offer therapeutic support for both parents and children without causing any major disruptions to school or work-life balance. For parents looking to combat social media addiction without the use of technology, many outpatient addiction centers specialize in teen and adolescent care, and many even have programs specifically designed for social media addiction.
Zachary Pottle earned his B.A. in Professional Writing from Saint Leo University and has over three years of journalistic experience. His passion for writing has led him to a career in journalism, where he specializes in writing about stories in the pain management and healthcare industry. His main goal as a writer is to bring readers accurate, trustworthy content that serve as useful resources for bettering their lives or the lives of those around them.
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