Since its inception, social media has been about connecting people. Meta was founded in 2004 for just that reason, yet twenty years later, we have seen the unintended consequences of these platforms play out worldwide. Many new terms have been coined to describe the situation these platforms have created: screen addiction, tech addiction, social media addiction, and internet addiction, to name a few. At first glance, it almost sounds trivial, yet this is no laughing matter when we look at the statistics and clinical studies. We as a society are still attempting to understand how this could happen and, ultimately, what can be done about it.

Social media is much different than a book or feature film; now, that may seem obvious, but let's look beyond the surface differences. For the first time in human history, the most famous mediums in the world are looking back. Artificial intelligence learns about us when we engage in any internet activity, especially social media. To create the most individualized user experience on these platforms, AI studies which content we watch, websites we visit, profiles we see, and much more. These artificial intelligence are designed to keep us engaged on the platform, learn our demographics, and collect data on our internet behavior.

Now, let's look at the statistics surrounding social media. Here are some eye-opening statistics from addictionhelp.com. Of all Americans addicted to social media, 40% are 18-22. Research from San Deigo State University suggests that 7 out of 10 teens who use social media for over 5 hours a day are more likely to commit suicide. According to Common Sense Media, teens spend 7.22 hours per day. At the same time, 43% of teens experience negative emotions if their posts do not receive any likes, according to Statista. A longitudinal study done by BYU suggested that 13-year-old girls who spent three or more hours a day were more likely to be suicidal as young adults.

What does this all mean? Social media and the internet have impacted our society's mental health and well-being. How serious is it? Back in 2023, 41 states sued Meta (Facebook & Instagram), arguing that the massive tech company is consciously harming children's and adolescents' mental health. Additionally, the United States Senate passed a bill this year to ban TikTok, and the bill was recently signed into law by the President.

With all that being said, what can families and individuals best do to prevent themselves from the dangers surrounding these platforms? Will banning work? Or parental controls? The situation seems more complicated than that and akin to giving the world motor vehicles without anyone ever having to get a license. These media devices are given to children at increasingly early ages without a complete understanding of the potential pitfalls and power of the mediums they access. We as a society are speeding on the super-information highway without licenses, speed limits, stop signs, and traffic lights.

Intention, awareness, and understanding serve an almost obvious yet practical way forward. View the content that serves you the best, and intentionally hide the ads and content that is not for you. Virtually all these platforms have a "not interested" feature in all the content on a feed. Being intentional about what we do and don't want to see will teach these robust algorithms what content best suits us. Put the phone down before bed, as the blue light tricks our brain into daytime scrolling at night can quickly turn 9 pm into 1 am the next day and disturb our circadian rhythms. Silence certain notifications; we don't need to be notified of every little thing that happens. Check our phones when we want to; don't be shackled by constant notifications. Don't be a watcher; be a creator. Instead of consuming content at infinitum, put your skillset or passion into the world and find the courage to create more than you consume. Last but not least, understand our worlds are closest to us and not on a screen; our families, friends, and spouses are suitable in front of us; we don't remember the days scrolling; we remember the moments a post could not do justice. The life we post is a fraction of the life we live.

About the Author:
Shane Currin
Shane Currin

Admissions Director

Shane has dedicated over a decade of his career to...

Shane has dedicated over a decade of his career to supporting young people, starting as a camp counselor and swimming...