Teens and social media: is generation Z addicted?

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A tool for communication may have become something more damaging

The post-millennial generation Z, recently dubbed the “Founders,” has never known a world without smartphones. Many parents of teens can attest to the fact that their children are constantly tethered to their phones, or more specifically, to the social media outlets within them. The word “addiction” comes to mind, but are teens actually addicted to social media?

The term “social media addiction” is tossed around frequently, but Mark Fabbri, Director of the Psychology degree program at South University, cautions against using the term “addiction.”

“Addiction is a word that should not be used lightly to describe a set of behaviors,” he said, adding that the word should only be used in relation to a compulsion to consume something or engage in a set of behaviors to the point that it significantly interferes with the person’s life.

Does it exist?

In contrast, however, are those who believe social media addiction does exist. Neil Vidyarthi, managing editor of Social Times, says he personally believes social media can be addictive, using Facebook as an example.

“There’s a voyeuristic tendency none of us realized would be so high,” says Vidyarthi. “That’s why there are 500 million users spying on one another. We’re all interested in what others are doing.”

And the ability to “spy” seems to be of particularly high value to the Founders generation. This is the first generation that has been able to assuage their teenage insecurities and gain validation through the use of social media.

Peer affirmation

Clinical psychologist Marion Underwood believes teens are addicted to the peer connection and affirmation they’re able to get through social media.

“To know what each other are doing, where they stand, to know how many people like what they posted, to know how many people followed them today and unfollowed them,” said Underwood, “That I think is highly addictive.”

In the CNN Special Report, “#Being 13,” a group of teens offers up glimpses into their social media-addled minds. Thirteen-year old Gia said, "I would rather not eat for a week than get my phone taken away. It's really bad. I literally feel like I'm going to die.”

Quotes like these certainly lend credence to the assertion that social media addiction is becoming — as the kids say — “a thing.”

Addiction vs. Overuse

Still, Fabbri cautions that there is a big difference between addiction and overuse of social media. “Any action can become addictive if it has a negative, significant impact on a person’s life, but I would caution using the term addiction outside its intended definition," says Fabbri. "A person can spend too much time in social networks but still are able to function adequately in life.”

Adam Singer, social media practice director for LEWIS PR points out that it may just be that social media channels are becoming the predominant form of communication, especially amongst younger generations.

“When the phone was the predominant form of communication, did we say that teens had phone addiction? Probably not,” he says. “This is just the normal mode of communication for them.”

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