According to a recent study, nearly 50% of teenagers in the UK admit to feeling dependent on social media.
Nearly 50% of adolescents in the UK report feeling dependent on social media, as revealed in recent research. This comes at a time when there is increasing demand for major technology companies to take responsibility for the effects of their platforms on individuals.
The results of the Millennium Cohort study contribute to the growing evidence that numerous individuals believe their usage of digital interactive media has become uncontrollable. This comes amidst several US states filing lawsuits against Instagram and its parent company, Meta, for their alleged role in the mental health crisis among young people. Additionally, the EU has implemented significant changes aimed at empowering consumers with more control over smartphone applications.
The most recent study, conducted by Dr. Amy Orben and her team at the University of Cambridge, utilized information from the Millennium Cohort study, which is monitoring the experiences of approximately 19,000 individuals born between 2000-2002 in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. When the cohort reached ages 16-18, they were surveyed for the first time about their use of social media. Out of the 7,000 respondents, 48% reported agreeing or strongly agreeing with the statement “I believe I am addicted to social media.” According to data shared with the Guardian, a higher percentage of girls (57%) agreed compared to boys (37%).
Experts stated that this does not necessarily indicate that these individuals have a clinical addiction, but rather that expressing a feeling of lacking control may indicate a problematic connection.
Georgia Turner, a graduate student leading the analysis, clarified that the study does not label those who report feeling addicted as actually being addicted. She explained that while self-perceived social media addiction should not be equated with drug addiction, it is concerning to see a large number of individuals feeling a lack of control over their own behavior. This suggests that the impact of social media may not be entirely positive.
There is increasing worry about the possibility of digital tools leading to uncontrollable actions, as evidenced by the World Health Organization’s inclusion of “gaming disorder” in the International Classification of Diseases. Recently, the United States surgeon general released a rare public health warning regarding the potential harm social media can have on the mental health and wellness of young individuals.
Nevertheless, the data supporting these worries about public health are inconclusive, as a recent examination of Facebook usage has questioned the notion that social media has negative effects on mental well-being. Additionally, the categorization of behaviors associated with digital technology continues to be a subject of debate among specialists.
According to Turner, there is a common belief in social media research that addiction to social media will have similar patterns to drug addiction. However, Orben’s group and others are challenging this simplistic idea and examining if teenagers can be grouped based on other personality traits that may predict their behavior.
It is possible that, for certain individuals, their connection to social media resembles a behavioral dependency. However, for others, their engagement may be fueled by an impulse to constantly check, while some may be using it as a coping mechanism for difficult situations, and others may simply be reacting to negative societal views about spending time on social media.
According to Dr. Michael Rich, who leads the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital, the new research is consistent with the observations at his center that a considerable number of adolescents are facing challenges with “problematic interactive media use” (Pimu). This refers to unregulated consumption of various forms of interactive media, such as social media, gaming, pornography, and excessive consumption of short videos, blogs, and aggregated websites.
Pimu is typically caused by a psychological battle, which can stem from conditions such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders, according to Rich. He explains that individuals with Pimu often turn to human interaction or AI bots as a way to cope. However, once we address and manage the underlying disorder, Pimu can naturally improve or be managed through behavioral changes.
Rich expressed his disapproval of the term “addiction” due to its negative connotation and also because moderate use of the internet is necessary in daily life, making complete abstinence an unlikely solution.
Turner stated that there may be various methods of expressing agreement and it is not a universal feeling of addiction. She clarified that the topic at hand is not just a philosophical debate on addiction, but rather finding effective interventions when necessary. She emphasized the importance of assisting individuals and stated that if their issues are not truly stemming from addiction, then they cannot be given proper assistance.
According to Dr. Andres Roman-Urrestarazu, a psychiatrist from the University of Cambridge and leader in the UK for Bootstrap, a cross-European study on excessive internet use, there is a need for policies that go beyond individual clinical approaches.
“I believe that there is a lack of regulation for how social media and major tech companies interact with individuals,” stated the speaker. “It is concerning how algorithms, created to boost profits, often result in harmful products that put vulnerable individuals at risk,” he continued. “We must advocate for transparency in algorithmic processes.”