In 2021, Understanding Teen Social Media Addiction
When the COVID-19 pandemic first bolted down schools nationwide last spring, many teenagers were ecstatic. They could sleep in, wear pajamas all day, spend hours on social media. No homework. They could just chill. “At first, it was this cool thing,” kids reported in the beginning, but that coolness did not last for long.
A year later, I hear their feelings of isolation, depression, loneliness, and many feel they are friendless. The novelty of freedom from school has worn off months ago and teenagers are suffering. They are looking towards devices for connection where personal connection should be, and this pseudo-connection can result in detrimental destructive behaviors – or even an addiction.
GRIEF AND LOSS ARE REAL
Every single week in my office, I listen to troubling accounts of adolescents experiencing a profound sense of loss and grief during these times. Kids are turning to, and relying on, technology and social media for what I see as a “constant sedative,” trying to slap a band-aid on something deeper, more serious.
I listen to parents with their concerns regarding failing grades, kids sleeping all day, up all night, gaming most of their waking hours, and neglecting remote learning.
Kids check their social media as if it is their only life line and often times, they feel this is the actual truth. Kids stay on their phones most of the night or are feeding their obsession with gaming.
Kids are more concerned about the latest TicTok as if it too is their life line to survival. I heard kids say they are “addicted” to their technology during the pandemic, as if it is something they need to brag about. “I know it’s bad, but everyone’s doing it.
Kids are struggling with the pandemic —with the fears it brings and the limitations it imposes on their life, and they have no idea how to set boundaries with devices and gaming. I believe this is directly aligned with the stages of grief. They talked so much about loss. They talked about being angry. They talked about in the beginning being in denial. This is grief!
BOUNDARIES ARE GOOD, AND NEEDED
Kids need (and secretly want) boundaries. They are not mature enough to set these boundaries themselves. They need parents and caregivers to be on their butts when they are failing, not turning in assignments, up all night, on their phone all night long, loose interest in everything but gaming, not getting any physical movement, and not interacting with their families. Yes, it is a pain for parents but this is what we have to deal with right now.
Parents and caregivers are troubled, feeling powerless against new COVID-19 school routines that require their children to be on devices for much of the day. I get it! Parents need to be involved! Monitor. Check. It sucks but it must be done.
Kids will do what works for them until it does not work anymore. They will stay in their rooms and justify their hurt, pain, laziness, or sadness if parents allow it. Kids are like cattle (so are we) and they follow their peers…
Behaviors are addictive. Patterns are addictive. Habits are addictive.
- Parents can help kids be more mindful of how long they are on screens but not blame them for it.
- They can set boundaries around using phones and other devices in the hour before bedtime and encourage children to take walks or move their bodies every day.
- Parents may find it useful to help children brainstorm downtime activities that don’t require them to look at a screen. This takes work from the parents and sometimes a lot of attitude, drama, and pain in the ass from the kids.
GET THE WHEELS BACK ON!
Covid hopefully is not permanent. Patterns and habits are. What we are allowing kids to feel is normal sets the foundation for their normal. Many of us have allowed the wheels of the bus to fall off for many reasons. We need to ‘reassemble’ at least a few of the wheels to take the best possible care of our kids through the remainder of this pandemic.
Devices are not addictive. Behaviors and patterns are.
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CRT, CCDC, CACC | Counselor & Life Coach
Empowering individuals, families and communities to grow and heal through advanced approaches in Creative Arts Therapy, setting the standard for treatment, practice and training within the field.