The Effects of Social Media on Teens and Young Adults

The average age at which most children get their first smartphone is now 10. An age when the brain is still developing. Simon Sinek states in an Inside Quest interview that using social media (or your smartphone) releases the chemical dopamine in the brain. Social media addiction thus lurks.

Dopamine and social media addiction

Dopamine triggers a feeling of pleasure and thus rewards certain behaviors. It makes you feel happy when you exercise, eat or fall in love, as well as when you smoke, drink or gamble.

Las Vegas in your pocket

Not surprisingly, social media is addictive. In fact, many apps use the same addictive methods or mechanisms we know from slot machines. A slot machine is addictive because you are occasionally rewarded with the lucky substance dopamine. This unpredictable nature gives the player a thrill. Social media has the same effect. Suddenly you get a text message (unexpectedly) from someone you like, or you see that someone has liked your photo on Instagram. You get a dose of dopamine and that makes you feel good. Social media changes your brain’s bio-chemistry.

Because of this, many young people are (unconsciously) searching all day long for the feeling of happiness that the substance dopamine produces, and all they have to do to do so is reach into their pockets. The act of dragging the screen down to refresh is the same as pulling the lever on a slot machine. People hope to see something exciting and wait for a “reward” if they keep scrolling down, but that reward is unpredictable, causing the person to come back for more.

Studies have even shown that the constant stream of retweets, likes and shares from Social Media affect the brain’s reward area to cause the same kind of chemical reaction as other drugs, such as cocaine. Social media addiction can thus be compared to drug addiction.

Brain development

Studies have linked social media addiction to sleep deprivation, loneliness, anxiety and depression, especially in teenagers. The earlier a child faces addiction, the more impact it has on brain development. As a result, the child becomes more impulsive and develops poorer judgment. This in turn increases the risk of addiction later in life.

Peer pressure and bullying

Smartphones are not only addictive, but also cause a lot of stress for young people. According to a study by National Academy of Media & Society (2012), adolescents are under great pressure to constantly have to read all the messages that come in via smartphone. More than half of young people suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) to varying degrees. Young people feel a certain obligation to respond immediately to incoming messages or comments. This causes a lot of stress in young people, up to burnout(like) symptoms.

The constant barrage of perfectly filtered photos appearing on social networking sites can lead to low self-esteem and the development of an eating disorder in young adults. Although many teens know that their peers share only their best photos and moments on social media, it is very difficult to avoid comparisons.

Also, the danger of bullying is increasing. Social media are around 24/7. With bullying taking place online, bullying continues at home. The consequences in online bullying are often greater than in “regular” bullying. It’s harder to defend yourself as a child, everyone can read it, and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to remove something from the Internet. Thus, an innocent cell phone becomes a portable bullying machine.

Parents are sidelined

Interestingly, the advent of Social Media has left educators sidelined. Social media offers young people a sense of privacy within a closed group of “friends. Thus, educators are no longer given the opportunity to watch along and properly monitor and/or guide their child. It is paradoxical that the means that should ensure that your child is more accessible at the same time ensures that you as an educator are excluded.

It is paradoxical that the means that should ensure that your child is more accessible at the same time ensures that you as an educator are excluded.

Schools and government

Parents are really not indifferent or lax about their child’s well-being. Most parents just want their child to be easily accessible. There is simply too little information available about the addictive aspect of such a smartphone. Here, then, lies a challenge for schools and government. Currently, smartphone use is even encouraged by schools (whatsapp group with a mentor, track schedule changes). As a society, we need to take a critical look at the low age standard we have apparently come to think is normal. We should certainly not look away.

Parents will not take their child of 12 to Holland Casino, or a
giving a bottle of wine as a birthday gift. Not only because it is forbidden
is, but mostly because we all understand the impact it has on
a child’s mental and physical health. Now we have yet to recognize the impact of Social Media on a child’s mental health. Not tomorrow, but today.

How do we address social media addiction?

You can imagine that children who are now used to and addicted to their smartphones will not give them up without a fight. Young people should learn how to use social media in moderation, such as by limiting the time and number of hours they check their social media accounts. Teach them to put their smartphone away for a while when they are with friends and family.
But this class does not have to start at an age under 10. If you want to tutor your child digitally start with a tablet, and that tablet stays at home.

There is an important task for education and our government to educate young people about social media addiction and online privacy. Schools certainly do not encourage smartphone use under 15. This English-language site has more information on Social Media Addiction. Also read our article: 8 tips to prevent phone addiction in children

Update March 2021

Meta (Facebook) was developing an Instagram for children under 13. If children face social media addiction so early, these children will be more susceptible to social media addiction and other mental health issues later in life. Meanwhile, Instagram has also shelved this plan again due to a flood of criticism.