Finding the right balance with Social Media
Since its arrival in the mid-to-late noughties, social media has skyrocketed in popularity. Nowadays, it’salmost a shock when you meet someone who’s not on it in some form. While the platform may vary based on generations (Facebook is now seen as old school, while the likes of TikTok and Snapchat take the reins), one thing is for certain – social media is here to stay.
In some ways, that’s great news. Who can deny the benefits of connection to family and friends? More broadly, social media also provides a platform for free speech, a better understanding across borders and cultures, and a powerful tool for charitable causes. However, it doesn’t come without its problems…
The downside of social media
There is a growing body of research showing various detrimental effects of social media on mental health. Whether it’s the ability of ‘trolls’ to say whatever they want without consequence or the bombardment of the ‘perfect life’ and ‘perfect body’ which makes most people feel inadequate – social media has various aspects contributing to low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.
Unfortunately, that’s not something users can simply nip in the bud. As explored in Netflix’s The Great Hack, social media companies knowingly make their apps more addictive, signalling dopamine reward pathways much like gambling. That’s not even mentioning the exploitation of users’ data and manipulation of the way they think, discussed in the same documentary.
Of course, there are numerous side effects of this addictive technology. Lack of sleep, poor attention span, diminished memories. It can even be detrimental to face-to-face communication, whether that’s because of a lack of necessity (why go out when you can speak to people online?) or directly down to its addictive nature. It’s not uncommon for users to check their social media accounts – or even stare at them constantly – while in physical company.
Social media for young people
While all of the above is tough for adults, the greatest concern has to be for young developing brains. Many adults dealing with the addictive nature of social media today have enjoyed a childhood and adolescence free from the distraction, pressures and constant connection of social media.
In that time, they have been free to explore and appreciate the other stimulating experiences in life. Reading a book, learning a new skill or building something like a go kart for a race in a few months’ time. What do these things have in common? They are delayed gratification exercises. They’re an essential part of becoming a self-dependant adult – learning that you need to do something now to benefit in the long term.
Social media vs. delayed gratification
Social media makes it harder to focus on these exercises, meaning fewer and fewer young people are doing them. Over time, that could lead to them simply not understanding the point of them.
Why read a long book to get satisfaction? Why work hard at building a go kart for a race in 5 months? In other words, why would we undertake these when we can be so easily satisfied by mindless scrolling and dopamine release from likes and memes?
In a 2017 article in Medium, for example, a 17-year old who had deleted social media calculates that they had wasted almost 5,000 hours on social media in their teenage years alone. “I don’t even want to get into what I could’ve accomplished in those 4927 hours,” they note.
As those children become adolescents and adults, this mindset becomes more detrimental. Why study for that test? Why learn to code and programme to build an app? Why train to keep healthy?
To be clear, this is by no means the case for all young people using social media. Parents can stillincentivise and lead children to grow and develop this understanding, becoming self-dependant adults who can manage their own relationship with social media.
Managing social media use
Whether it’s kids being stuck to devices or the parents themselves who then fail to lead children in the right direction, we have been seeing something of a trend for years. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that the number of self-dependant adults could fall in the future.
The question is – how do we stop that trend? Social media isn’t something that can be cut out. Nor does it seem to be something that’s going to radically change its ways for the better. Sites and apps are designed precisely to keep users online, thereby raising their advertising revenue.
As the Medium article highlights, the benefits of removal far outweigh the positives of having it in your life. The author found themselves feeling more creative, less inferior and even in better shape physically. But in a society where social media is basically the norm, it’s not realistic to expect everyone to remove themselves from the problem – especially when it’s addictive by design.
One idea is to add an age restriction to these sites. While this may have seemed absurd just a few years ago, it’s now becoming clearer that social media is indeed addictive. If it’s acknowledged to be in the same category as gambling and drinking, with the same risk of detrimental effects, perhaps users should have to be 18 before using social media.
That’s certainly backed by research which shows a link between increased screen exposure and symptoms of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). Along with more screen exposure in their first 18 months, the lack of parent-child play, potentially as a result of adult social media use, has been associated with more ASD-like symptoms.
How we can help
Social media is just one of the factors that can impact a child’s development. Fortunately, it’ssomething that can be controlled and regulated, at least in part. At the Child Development Centre, we aim to assist with the factors that are less controllable as a parent.
Our team specialises in treating Retained Reflex Syndrome, believed to be at the root of many childhood disorders like ASD, ADHD and bedwetting. If you’re concerned about your child’s behaviour, whether it’s related to social media or not, don’t hesitate to arrange a consultation with our specialists.
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