Screens are everywhere. We live in an ever-present digital world that consumes our time and focus and can be problematic for our mental, physical and relational health. None of us can escape the effect social media has on our lives. One researcher reports that on average people unlock their phones 80 times a day and only laugh 15 times a day!
Even though our connected world can provide benefits, screen time can also expose users to violence, sexual content, cyberbullying, predators, negative stereotypes and misinformation. Parents especially are concerned about the time their children spend on electronic devices as well as what they are viewing.
We are fortunate to have the Lindner Center of HOPE in our community offering their expertise on concerns related to social media usage as well as guidance on using it wisely. Clinical Director of Addiction Services at Lindner Center of HOPE, Dr. Chris Tuell points out, “Most kids can utilize social media in a responsible and healthy way, but for some, it can become out of control and problematic.”
He cites research from Johns Hopkins University that found teens (13-17) who spend more than three hours a day on social media are more likely to report levels of loneliness, anxiety, depression, antisocial behaviors and aggressiveness. Teens who spend five hours or more per day on their devices are 70% more likely to have suicidal ideations.
Dr. Tuell shares a few warning signs to be aware of when determining whether social media usage is becoming problematic or even addictive. He tells us the inability to manage or stop usage, obsessing over access and lying about usage are all behavioral signals to watch for. Other concerning behaviors may be neglecting responsibilities and decreased interest and achievement in school and other activities.
“An important concern centers on whether the behavior is continued despite negative consequences,” Dr. Tuell explains. “The youth continues to engage in the behavior knowing it is impacting school and other interests, damaging relationships and hurting the family and yet does it anyway. This is the true essence of addiction.”
Psychological problems can include becoming depressed or anxious when access is limited, increased comparison to others and feeling left out and using social media as a way to cope with stress. Relationally, they may prefer time online over social interaction with friends and family. Physical issues can include sleep difficulties, poor eating and personal hygiene habits and headaches.
“Every time we check our phone, go online, read a text etc., we get a release of the neurochemical dopamine that is related to pleasure and survival,” Dr. Tuell explains. “Whether the brain is triggered by gaming, gambling, shopping, illicit drugs, food, alcohol or social media, a similar neurochemical process is occurring. Unfortunately for some, this process can hijack the brain’s reward system, resulting in an addiction.”
Lindner Center can provide individual and family counseling and therapy to address concerns related to social media usage. A new short-term teen outpatient program is beginning to help participants understand themselves and build skills to improve overall functioning.
In summary, Dr. Tuell reflects, “While social media offers many benefits, excessive use can have adverse effects. Finding a balance that suits individual needs and priorities can lead to a healthier, more fulfilling life.”
Dr. Tuell encourages adults to model healthy social media usage and take inventory of any warning signs and misuse that are impacting the individual and family. He recommends regularly suggesting other activities including physical ones. “As caregivers, we need to be aware of what is out there, what children are being exposed to and educate them about responsible social media and screen usage.”
Screen Use Tips
No screens under age 2.
One supervised hour, ages 3-5.
Supervised use only, ages 5-12
Limit ages 13-18 to two hours.
No device usage in private areas.
Remove screens in kid’s bedrooms.
No screens during mealtimes.
No screens at family outings.
Utilize monitoring software.
Avoid using screens to babysit.