While some of us are busy taking selfies or watching pictures of cute animals on Instagram, there is a serious ongoing discussion whether social media and constant phone usage has a negative effect on our psychological well-being, particularly on the younger ones.
Smartphones and social media have arrived in our life a mere 11 years ago and has quick become interwoven throughout every aspect of our lives. Whatever your opinion on the multitude of platforms, it’s hard to deny that social media has created a lot of positive change. Although it can be an amazing tool, an increasing concern of late is the direct impact social media is having on individuals, particularly kids and teenagers.
Multiple studies have shown one same common ground: heavy social media use and constant exposure to phones affects well-being, particularly in teenagers. Because this technology is new and constantly changing, there have not yet been long-term studies, therefore the full effect remains to be seen.
A report released in January 2018 by the American Psychological Association, found that “psychological well-being suddenly decreased after 2012”, which also was the year of the rise of smartphones. “Adolescents who spent more time on electronic communication and screens, and less time on non-screen activities, had lower psychological well-being”. The study also concluded that adolescents who spent more time outdoors were the happiest.
Although Mark Zuckerberg insists Facebook is a platform for “bringing the world closer together”, studies show that social media is contributing to psychological problems in teens, such as anxiety, depression, body shame, eating disorders and sleep deprivation.
It appears that Apple and its associated companies are moving towards taking action on smartphone addiction. In an open letter, JANA Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System – two of the biggest investors in Apple – requested the company tackle the problem of smartphone addiction among kids and teens. The letter cites research that shows negative psychological effects from phone and social media use. The investors ask for more tools that can help parents to have more control of their kids` phones. Such tools include a way to enter the age of the user, to limit screen time, to restrict usage to certain hours per day, and to reduce the available number of social media sites.
They also ask Apple for long term research, creating a committee of experts including child development specialists, adding that this is a growing issue that the parents shouldn’t face alone.
Scientists have noticed a few changes in our brain when interacting with social media.
Psychological addiction: Social media triggers a release of dopamine. Brain scans of people has shown a similar impairment of regions that those with drug dependence have. Specifically, there is a clear degradation of white matter in the regions that control emotional processing, attention and decision making. Social media provides immediate rewards with very little effort, so the brain begins to crave this neurological excitement after each interaction
Phantom Vibration Syndrome: Relatively new psychological phenomenon where you think your phone has vibrate or ring but it actually hasn’t.
Attention Problems: studies have also shown that the more exposed to screens in general reduce the power of attention.
The Bright side
The internet and social media can be a scary place, but it’s not all so terrible. Some studies have shown positive effects of social media.
Introverted teens who struggle with face-to-face socialising, and even teens who struggle with mental health can benefit from social media as it makes it easier to communicate and allows them to connect with other teens who they can relate to.
From this we can see that it’s not social media itself that has the problem, but rather the usage of it. Just as a balanced diet, we need to control the amount of usage, the way it is used and create a harmony between the virtual world and the real world.
Technology is a significant part of our everyday life, taking control over the phones rather than letting the phones control us would be a good start.