In today’s world, technology is rampant and social media has taken the world by storm.
As Elon Musk once said: “ I think there should be regulations on social media to the degree that it negatively affects the public good.” Many can agree that social media has its boons and banes, but what if social media usage becomes excessive? How can you help your child if he/she might be addicted to social media? This article will address these concerns.
Further addressing the concerns and struggles faced by the majority of parents and how they can overcome this experience, we have invited Dr Peter Chew, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at James Cook University (JCU), who will give an insight to address social media addiction and its relevant problems. Given his experience in research and publications of research articles on the field of addiction, Dr Peter Chew has garnered valuable knowledge in understanding addiction and why it can manifest in individuals.
Debunking social media: Is it all bad?
In today’s digitally-connected society, it is to no parents’ surprise to find their children hooked onto their phones. Most of the time, children are paging through social media, such as Tiktok, Instagram and Facebook, to chat and update friends on their daily activities through posts and comments.
Dr Peter Chew shared that depending on the platforms in question, there could indeed be benefits to interaction on social media. He explains that platforms like Facebook allow individuals to interact and maintain relationships with friends and family members. This could act as a form of social support, reducing loneliness and stress, and improving well-being. In addition, Instagram could have educational material on current affairs, mental awareness, human rights and more. It is undeniable that some social media platforms can be beneficial to an individual to a certain extent.
The Banes of Social Media
Social media and its usage is a double-edged sword. While social media can be advantageous, there can still be insidious effects. According to Dr Chew, he states that with social media, the problem lies in how individuals use the platform.
He elaborates that people tend to portray the most ideal perceptions of themselves and their lives in comparison with other users. What detrimental effects can manifest from these comparisons? Dr Chew clarifies that individuals on social media might find themselves inadequate compared to others in their social network. Overtime, this inadequacy can manifest into a range of negative mental health issues like body dissatisfaction and eating disorders; low self-esteem; depression; anxiety with regards to fear of missing out and lower academic achievement for students. Such manifestations tend to fester more in females, as females tend to be more concerned with their physical appearance.
For example, it could be that an individual enjoys looking at her favourite social media influencer because she is pretty, and compares her physical appearance with the influencer. The comparison can become unhealthy when it starts to trigger negative perceptions of themselves, causing individuals to degrade themselves. The effects of negative comparisons can be intensified when image portrayals online are artificial. This unrealistic image portrayal of others can result in the danger of unhealthy and obsessive comparisons that an individual places their self worth on. Hence, it can be detrimental to an individual if negative thoughts manifest when they scroll through social media.
Moreover, excessive usage of social media simply exacerbates the platform’s humanly-induced negative effects, such as obsessive comparisons and fixations on insidious ideologies.
Henceforth, it is suggested to limit the time spent on social media on a daily basis and focusing on hobbies can help distract these negative thoughts and reduce the frequency of rumination. While it may seem that comparison to others on social media might not necessarily be harmful all the time, Dr Chew emphasises that as individuals get too caught up in the world of social media, their world would revolve around the toxicity and fiction that social media tends to portray. This can increase the susceptibility of individuals to develop mental health issues in the future.
Excessive Social Media Use vs Addiction: Where to Draw the Line
The common misconception is that the excessive usage of social media indicates that an individual has social media addiction, but this is not always the case. Excessive social media use can occur when an individual is enjoying themselves on the platform, and is comfortable with scrolling through social media for long hours. After all, who wouldn’t love to see cute and funny animal videos? As social media usage can be excessive, where do we draw the line of when the use of social media becomes an addiction?
The use of social media becomes an addiction when an individual has over- dependence on social media and lack control in managing their usage. Over-dependence can arise when individuals solely turn to social media to cope with stresses in life, such as friendship difficulties or low self-esteem. Dr Chew mentions that more commonly, individuals who are addicted to social media are seen as outgoing on the platform due to their crave for validation and attention from others online. As social media is an interactive platform that enables “liking” and “commenting” on posts, this stimulates feelings of satisfaction and increased self-worth when others react to the individual’s post. Addiction can also be observed in the inability to withdraw from using social media. This may look like vivid irritation and anxiousness when there is no access to social media.
Predictably, addiction to social media can lead to a few repercussions, some of which include impulsive behaviors and poor emotional regulation. This manifests in showing negative emotions frequently, difficulty in managing stress and frequent complaints.
While social media is very important in our everyday life, it is essential to educate ourselves on ways to prevent us and our loved ones from ruminating and getting influenced by the negative side of social media. In managing our expectations of our children and understanding the experiences that our children have on social media, it can help us to avoid or overcome social media addiction.
Tips for parents
It is understandably difficult for parents to manage their child’s social media usage, especially when social media is such a big part of their lives and all of their friends are using it. Upon addressing these struggles that parents face in helping their children avoid developing an addiction to social media, Dr Chew has shared 4 essential tips with us:
Be aware of signs to determine if your child has social media addiction: As there is no established diagnostic criteria for social media addiction, it is important to be wary of the symptoms of social media addiction given by many websites online, This can be done through examining your child’s behaviour and whether these behaviours lead to negative outcomes like negative moods and lower academic achievement from their use of social media.
Seek help from professionals if you believe your child might have social media addiction: You can seek help from Thrive Psychology Clinic or the National Addictions Management Service (https://www.nams.sg/Pages/default.aspx) for more advice on how to overcome this issue.
Restricting the usage of your child’s social media: While quitting from social media could increase positive emotions and life satisfaction, it may result in further conflict. As such, it would be optimal to help your child see the consequences and agree to this restriction of usage.
Most importantly, taking care of yourself: Placing high importance on your own mental health can help you and your child overcome this problem of social media addiction. If it takes a toll on your health, do seek professional help from the National Addictions Management Service.