While parents and teachers are well aware of addictions like alcohol, drugs, and smoking that affect teenagers, many remain woefully unaware of social media addiction. According to a report by Common Sense Media, the number of teenagers who own smartphones more than doubled from 41 percent in 2012 to about 89 percent in 2018. And while only 34 percent of teenagers were using social media in 2012, the figure again doubled to 70 percent by 2018, mostly thanks to the deep penetration of the smartphones.
Many teenagers are becoming so addicted to using social media that it is starting to negatively affect their daily lives. The report found that about 57 percent of respondents were distracted from their homework because of social media use. And when it came to real-life interactions with other people, many teens reported that such incidents had declined since they were more interested in chatting through social media.
Addicted to social media
In a study conducted by the UCLA Brain Mapping Center, 32 teenagers were kept under observation while they used a social media app. About 140 photos were shown to the participants, with each photo having a certain number of likes, which were believed to have been from their peers. The teenagers were subjected to continuous brain scans while they went through the photos.
The results revealed that certain parts of the brain became very active when the teens saw that their own photos had received a large number of likes. According to the researchers, it is this region of the brain that typically responds when we win money or see a photo of the person we love. And since the region remains highly sensitive during teenage, it helps explain why teens usually get addicted to social media pretty quickly and intensely.
“They were more likely to like photos depicted with many likes than photos with few likes; this finding showed the influence of virtual peer endorsement and held for both neutral photos and photos of risky behaviors (e.g., drinking, smoking). Viewing photos with many (compared with few) likes was associated with greater activity in neural regions implicated in reward processing, social cognition, imitation, and attention,” says the study.
Effects of social media addiction
Among the various negative effects of social media addiction among teenagers, the three biggest concerns are — depression, lack of proper communication, and jealousy.
Various studies have found that teenagers who use social media on a regular basis are two or three times more likely to end up being depressed than those who rarely used social media websites. A teenage girl who has yet to have a boyfriend might view several photos of her friends enjoying parties with their boyfriends. Continuous exposure to such photos while remaining single can easily trigger feelings of isolation and depression.
On the other hand, teenagers can also develop jealousy toward peers. Someone who always sees photos of their classmates at vacation hotspots may end up harboring feelings of intense envy and hatred. Left uncontrolled, such emotions can easily wreck a teenager’s life, distracting them from their studies and resulting in poor performance at school.
Finally, there is the problem with communication. Teenagers addicted to social media are also at risk of avoiding any meaningful communication with people in real life. Instead, they tend to be more comfortable chatting. This can make the teenagers introverted, even affecting future career prospects and “real” social interactions.