Are Teens Addicted to Texting, Social Media?
One expert compares digital media use to playing the slots.
“Text messaging outshines all other means of communication on teens’ cell phones, with one-third of them texting more than 100 times a day or 3,000 texts a month.” This statistic was taken from a study released by Pew Internet and American Life Project.
The first thing I thought when I saw that statistic was, “Is that all?” Smartphones appear to be surgically attached to teens, even more so now that cell phone use is allowed in many high schools during the school day. Combine that with the incessant amount of time teens spent on Facebook, which is often accessed on smartphones, and you have to wonder if there is such a thing as a social networking addiction.
With this question in mind, I recently met with Dr. David Greenfield, Ph.D, author of Virtual Addiction and founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. Obviously, with the word “addiction” in his book title and center, his answer was yes, the use of digital media devices is addictive, as are video games. As he explained to me, constantly checking texts and emails is like playing slot machines. Most of them are run-of-the-mill communications, but every once in a while you get a really good one telling you your Uncle Norbert died and left you $100,000 or in the case of a teenager, the girl or guy of your dreams (this week) agreed to hangout with you. When a communication like this is received, the chemical dopamine (the “feel good” chemical) is released in the brain. Since it is impossible to predict when something like this will happen, the teen will constantly check text messages in search of that hit of dopamine. Slot machines work in the same way, mostly no reward, but once in a while the siren goes off and the quarters spill out, which keeps you feeding the machine until your eyeballs start spinning.
Dr. Dave also pointed out that our children have become the dominant “knowledge keepers” for these new technologies and, for the first time in history, have surpassed previous generations of knowledge. I experienced this firsthand today when I asked my son to explain how to check voicemail messages on my new iPhone. He used a tone of voice I have never heard before, speaking to me like I was a toddler who asked him to teach me to tie my shoes. Dr. Dave believes it is this generational reversal which continues to have implications in parenting and managing this new world of technology.
In addition to social media, Dr. Dave and I had a long chat about video game addiction, which will be the subject of next week’s article so stay tuned, or plugged in.