January 20, 2022 5:13 pm

From excessive use to addiction. When Should We Be Concerned About Social Media Dependence

It is an everyday scene, repeated a thousand times: the adolescent staring at the cell phone screen, barely blinking, for hours. It is a sign of time, yes. But also it can become an addiction, just like substance addictions, in this case to behaviors. The American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization already classified as addiction to pathological dependence on video games. And the social networks? Can they also generate it? What are its peculiarities?

“Despite the fact that cases have increased, especially in girls, and there are numerous articles on the consequences of overuse, scientific evidence is still lacking to diagnose the excessive use of social networks as an addiction”, says Josep Lluis Matalí Costa , Doctor in Psychiatry and Medical Psychology from the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

“I make a distinction between dependent overuse and addiction,” explains Laura Jurkowsky, psychologist and director of Reconnect.– There are cases of addiction, but there are not many, and for them to exist there must be a compulsive behavior, seeking some kind of immediate satisfaction [los likes]. And there another indicator appears, tolerance: the need to be connected for more time in order to obtain what was obtained in less time at first, just like what happens with drinking or gambling. And finally the abstinence syndrome, which is when, by not being able to carry out the behavior, they feel high amounts of discomfort, irritability or aggressiveness ”.

Specialists explain that the mechanism of behavioral addictions it is similar to substance addiction. “The pattern is described. There is a circuit associated with pleasure and reward, and when that is interrupted, abstinence appears ”, affirms Marta Braschi, a hebiatrist and toxicologist, member of the Addictions Working Group of the Argentine Society of Pediatrics (SAP).

Instagram and Tik Tok, the favorite networks of the under 25s

In the country there are no updated official statistics on which social networks the generation of up to 25 years old uses. The last work of the Cultural Information System of Argentina (Sinca) is from 2017 and was supposed to be repeated in 2021, but it was not done because of the pandemic. Enrique Carrier, a consultant specialized in the subject, provided LA NACION with 2020 figures: more than 30% use between 3 and 4 networks and the favorites are Instagram (by far, with 61%), Tik Tok (26%), Twitter (23%), Pinterest (21%) y Facebook (21%).

German Beneditto, Clinical psychologist specializing in technoaddictions, states that what is abundant is excessive use, but says that he would not dare to speak of addiction. “With the pandemic and the need to connect online with study or work, there is a social acceptance of the use of mobile phones and networks,” he says.

A red flag is when everything revolves around the cell phone or becomes the only interest
A red flag is when everything revolves around the cell phone or becomes the only interestShutterstock

In this regard, Jurkovski contributes: “There is a dependent use if conflicts begin to occur in another area, for example, if grades drop at school, if they disconnect from their friends, if everything revolves around the cell phone or if it becomes the only interest. The emergence of the coronavirus increased the problems of some children who already had difficulties to relate socially. Some stay up very late and cannot get up the next day because they have no other motivation or desire to do another activity or go out. There were cases where it took a lot for them to go back to school. “

Director of Manantiales Foundation, Pablo Rossi, warns that each year there is an increase in the consultations of both men and women. “Approximately 30% of those we serve suffer technology addiction. The quarantine context has facilitated hyperconnectivity in all ages, but we must be attentive to the post-pandemic consequences that this situation may generate, ”he says.

Social media not only allows the illusion of omnipresence and hyperconnectivity but also brings the real issue into play – unreal. “Filters and cosmetic accessories allow us to get closer to the ideal of beauty, of how we would like to show ourselves, how we would like to be looked at, often searching the widest possible acceptance, in a compensatory way of the own insecurities. And it is a vicious circle: what is shown is perfect, the best. That generates a lot of frustration and insecurity in those who try to get closer to that ideal that another proposes, which is not real either. You see many influencers on the web and you think that they lead an idyllic life and, nevertheless, they are far from having it ”, he details.

The expert specifies that Instagram and Tik Tok are the ones that produce the most dependency and warns that excessive use causes other negative effects, from postural problems to syndromes such as the so-called Fomo (fear of missing out), that is, the fear of letting something happen in the world of networks.

Networks enable the illusion of approaching the ideal or perfection in a kind of game that carries its risks
Networks enable the illusion of approaching the ideal or perfection in a kind of game that carries its risks

“Everything that happens has to happen in the networks, if not, it does not exist,” says the psychologist. You have to dedicate time to them and, the longer there is, the more neglect of other activities. Networks generate ephemeral content, they are moments, without depth, and if we are going to acquire knowledge We can make a correlation with what the educational level has dropped ”.

Rossi confirms that there is practically no adolescent who does not have at least one profile on social networks and reflects on what they are looking for there: “The desire to belong, to have the approval and recognition of their peers, not so much of their parents, of whom they try to differentiate themselves. Technologies allow young people to lose themselves in a fantasy world to escape from everyday life “

The impact of the publications themselves opens a complex chapter. “They despair if the photos they upload to Instagram don’t get enough likes. Wanting to please our peers is normal, but desperately seeking the approval of others can turn into an addiction where a low self-esteem”, holds.

In the permanent check of likes, which can become compulsive, the need for acceptance is displayed
In the permanent check of likes, which can become compulsive, the need for acceptance is displayedShutterstock

Experts agree that there is no particular personality bias that makes young people more dependent. “The networks became more massive and they stopped being a virtual medium in which there was a greater propensity for introverted people, today it is used by all kinds of people”, Beneditto reinforces.

Joaquín Linne, doctor in Social Sciences and associate researcher at the Conicet, analyzed the consumption in networks of adolescents from popular sectors and found that, despite the increase in the digital divide in a pandemic in terms of access to technological supports, in the playful and communicational use of Tics there are no differences. “They are all very skilled, in that they all move the same. There is a continuum switch between real life and virtual life, which is much more fluid in those under 30. And there is the imaginary that it is possible to ‘save’ as youtuber, instagrammer or developer of an app “, he describes.

As a counterpart, Beneditto comments that the virtual world encourages ostentation of those users of well-to-do classes. “The networks became overcrowded,” he explains. You do not have to have certain purchasing power to access. But there are differences in terms of content. If I have what, I will be able to show fantastic places, top-of-the-line clothing and high consumption. And that obviously pays off with the amount of likes they receive. “

Adolescents may come to have the feeling that what they have experienced outside the networks does not exist
Adolescents may come to have the feeling that what they have experienced outside the networks does not existMauro V. Rizzi

Regarding the most convenient age to give the first cell phone to a child, most of those interviewed agreed that it is during the last year of primary school, at 12 years of age. “You must always accompany them to avoid not only the addictive potential but also misuse, such as access to inappropriate content, sexting or cyberbulling,” says Costas.

According to the professional’s gaze, the cell phone should not be prohibited in the classroom, but rather be incorporated into the curricular subjects. “There are schools that use it as an educational tool,” he says. However, a use without academic content is not good, which should be limited or prohibited ”.

Braschi is located along the same lines: “It all depends on how capable the teacher is to incorporate it into the curriculum. What cannot happen is that they use it in class for any other purpose. The cell phone can be used by children and parents for safety reasons, to communicate, but inside the classroom, mishandled, it can make a mess ”.

They are connected all night, they do not sleep well, they perform poorly in school, they do not participate in other activities, they put aside their friends, they do not play sports, they do not entertain themselves off the cell phone. To do?

“You have to consult before reaching that limit,” says Jurkovski. And it is important to consider that educates himself by being a model: Beyond what is said, it is important that if we do not want adults to be connected all day, neither are adults, that there is moments and situations of family reunion, without screens ”.

Experts recommend that boys do not take their cell phones to the rooms, leave a reserved place in the house to recharge the devices, establish times when no one uses them and even disconnect the router so that there is no internet access. “You have to set guidelines and time limits,” Braschi says.

Nancy Marlene Malander, Master of Education and teacher at the Adventist Higher Institute of Missions, conducted research on 248 high school students from different areas of the country and established that those most at risk of technological addictions are those who perceive their parents as more permissive or more authoritarian, that is, parents who grant extreme autonomy or pathological control.

“As parents, we can often have a different image of ourselves. The issue is what our children perceive, says Malander. And perhaps a father can be very permissive because he wants his son to be independent, but the son feels that he is leaving him alone. On the other hand, a father who all the time indicates what to do and has very high parameters ends up generating a rebellious son but at the same time with a lack of self-esteem, who seeks to protect himself and finds that community on the internet ”.

The balance in the care, the permanent dialogue and the dedication of real time to the children emerge as fundamental factors to accompany adolescents and young people in times of virtuality and social networks. Lead an offline life that deserves to be lived it could be a good synthesis of the goal.


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