Helping Teens With Social Media Addiction: A Guide for Parents 

When the internet came into existence in 1983, the concept of virtual social interactions was largely unknown. Even email became widely popular in the 1990s. Then came a breakthrough in the form of the first-ever social media platform – Six Degrees. 

Released in 1997, this platform allowed its users to list interests, create personal profiles, and connect with like-minded people. It was just a fledgling compared to the explosive Facebook, created in 2004 by Mark Zuckerburg and four other Harvard students. 

It was started as a virtual hub for college students to interact with each other and share information. In the years that followed, Facebook grew in popularity while other social media platforms joined the mix. These included Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. 

Today, it seems like a new platform crops up each day. Sadly, they are fueling a severe mental health crisis and addiction among teenagers. This article will guide parents in helping their teens overcome social media addiction. 

Social Media is Addictive And a Threat to Mental Health 

Ever since social media gained popularity in the 2000s, addiction to these platforms has been a problem. Parents have had to watch their children glued to smartphone screens. The debate on the ideal age to allow teens a smartphone has been ongoing. 

The Child Mind Institute reveals that children may begin pressurizing their parents for a phone from the age of 12. By 14, at least 91% of teens have a smartphone. Experts believe that parents must wait at least until their child reaches middle school before handing them a personal phone. 

The main purpose is to leverage the positives of a smartphone, including emergency calling, location tracking, etc. However, without parental control, teens slip into addictive behaviors. 

While many use their smartphone for gaming and surfing the internet, the main addiction involves social media. Harvard University found that self-disclosure on these platforms activates the same part of the brain that is triggered by consuming drugs. 

Of these, Instagram is considered to be the most addictive. This platform mainly affects teenagers and young adults who are sucked into a cycle of social validation and visual stimulation. TorHoerman Law states that it is believed Instagram is deliberately designed to be addictive. 

Parents of affected teens have filed an Instagram lawsuit showcasing their lack of trust in the platform’s developers. They believe that the algorithms are designed to keep the user hooked – endless scrolling, variable reward system, and personalized content. Besides addiction, teens are suffering from a mental health crisis involving anxiety, insomnia, and depression. 

Signs Your Teenager is Addicted to Social Media 

To help your teenager properly, you need to be on the lookout for signs of social media addiction. Listed below are common symptoms of such a problem. 

  • Spending excessive amounts of time scrolling through social platforms 
  • Willingness to skip social events just to spend time on the phone 
  • Loss of interest in former hobbies 
  • Getting anxious when the phone is not around 
  • Reduction in outdoor activities
  • Poor academic performance 
  • Mood swings or insomnia 
  • Agitation if unable to go online 
  • Anger on being confronted about social media use 
  • Caring more about one’s online image than the people around them 

3 Ways Parents Can Intervene 

If you believe that your teenager may have a social media addiction, we understand that you could feel lonely or burnt out. There are some ways you can help them, albeit with some resistance. In any case, avoid shaming your teen for their addictive behaviors. Kickstart this conversation lovingly and encourage them to make better choices through the following ways.

Establish a Daily Routine for Your Teen 

In many cases, teens with social media addiction do not have a fixed daily schedule. Their day begins with scrolling through their phones and may even end that way. Some stay online for late hours into the night. 

Invite your teen to prepare a daily routine that makes room for every activity, including moderate social media use. You can also have a rewards system that incentivizes your teen to stick to their schedule. For instance – they can enjoy their favorite snack during mid-day if they successfully followed their routine up until that point. 

Try to make the schedule seem less boring and more fun. For this, mix up their routine to try new activities, places, foods, etc. 

Do Not Allow Phones at Night 

Social media addiction displays its true colors at night as the teen is tossing on their beds, unable to fall asleep. Despite no new exciting content, the algorithms and a desperate search for dopamine can keep them refreshing the pages. 

Make it a rule to take away their phones during bedtime. You can charge the phone in your room and return it in the mornings. You may meet some resistance at first but stay strong. Remember that as their parent, you have the authority to decide what’s best for them. 

Model Healthy Social Media Usage 

The last thing your teenager needs to see is their parents hooked onto social media platforms. If you fail to model healthy social media usage, it is unlikely that your teen will take their problem seriously. Participate in more real-life activities and encourage your teen to join. 

This could include a cooking class, art workshop, or waterpark games. Each day, try to fill the hours with analog activities that stimulate the mind in positive ways. You can also make it a rule that nobody is allowed to peek into their phones while the session goes on. When the family comes together to set an example, your teen will feel supported and motivated. 

In case you observe signs of major depressive disorder or chronic insomnia, your teenager will first require professional help. This is true even when they display aggressiveness or violent behaviors upon being confronted. 

Discuss with trusted friends and family and get the help you need. Connect with other parents who may share your plight. Remember that you are not alone and your teen can overcome their social media addiction. 

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