This post is an excerpt from the Overcoming Digital Device Addiction breakout session at the Digital Citizenship Conference in Los Angeles led by Howard Barker, Community Liaison at Clear Recovery Center. The conference was a rich environment for educators, law enforcement officers and parents to openly discuss issues and solutions for helping students shine in the digital world. All of the content from the Digital Citizenship Conference is available as a Virtual Replay Ticket.
You cannot approach overcoming digital device addiction by trying to make it all go away. It’s a part of our society. It’s a part of the world that we live in. It’s a big part of how kids are growing up and so trying to swear it off and saying that it’s evil and we are going to make it disappear…is not effective.
What is social media addiction?
Find ways to help students manage their time on social media.
Social media includes Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and any other platform where individuals connect online socially. Social networking accounts for 28% of all media time spent online and so we need to stop pretending that this isn’t going on and instead find ways to help students manage their time on social media.
We want to focus on the relationship that our students and our teenagers have with social media and making sure that that relationship is healthy. We want to teach our kids how to use the digital world in a healthy way instead of using these tools as a way to “check out” from the daily activities of life as opposed to participating fully in life.
Negative impacts of device addiction
The problem that we see with teenagers is social anxiety when their primary means of communicating with the world is online.
One of the first problems that we see is that teens have the ability to create a false image and persona. If the teen doesn’t have the self-confidence, tools and the ability to interact with the world in a healthy way, social media gives them a great outlet and a great avenue to give them a completely new image and persona to deal with the world. They are not forced to become “okay” with who they are and learn how to communicate with other people. This also has an impact on the way that teens look at themselves now that they compare themselves on a global scale with everyone around them. Teenage girls used to compare themselves to their friend groups at school, but now they compare themselves to women around the world using photo editing software and this negatively impacts their self-esteem and self-image.
One thing we see a lot of is, teenagers do not have a clear idea of what is legal or illegal, what is right and what is wrong, what we are okay with and what we stand for. Teenagers are heavily influenced by what is around them. A big part of their moral compass and what they find acceptable on a daily basis comes from what their peers are doing. Outlandish behavior on social media gets better responses than behavior such as studying, so this outlandish behavior becomes normalized. Kids see a lot of other teenagers posting inappropriate things and so this becomes normalized.
The problem that we see with teenagers is social anxiety when their primary means of communicating with the world is through a screen and online. They are not developing those skills to go out into the world and communicate by meeting other people, talking to other people, looking people in the eyes, and shaking their hands. It also makes everyday social situations uncomfortable and there is this expectation sometimes that things may be recorded or conversations may be posted online so teens are uncomfortable interacting with others.
How to overcome device addiction
Disconnecting and reconnecting is the first step to helping our teenagers with digital device addiction.
Disconnecting and reconnecting is the first step to helping our teenagers with digital device addiction. Disconnecting from our virtual realities; meaning that we do not live exclusively in these worlds and are able to disconnect from the virtual space. We also want to teach teenagers how to have family communication and interaction at home that involves face-to-face conversations then kids are able to develop the skills to have in-person interactions.
Help teens find their strengths
What we see with people who have unhealthy addictions with social media is the need to “check out” and compulsive behavior. With addicts, it’s not a simple “check out” because something bad happened during the day, it’s a “check out” that they need on a regular basis because of everyday living. What we try to do is address the underlying issue. With teenagers, in particular, a lot of it has to do with self-esteem. When you start helping teenagers see their value interpersonally with their peers and in their family, when you start helping them to see their strengths, it can go a long way in dealing with this issue where they feel like they have to “check out” from life.
Uncover, discover, and discard
We have a saying with recovery that is: uncover, discover, and discard. So first it’s about figuring out what things you are struggling with. What are the stories that you are telling yourself and what are the ways that you put yourself down? Then you look at that stuff and figure out why you feel that way and then you discard it. Let it go and replace it with something positive. Once teenagers start doing this, they don’t get that same rush from an Instagram like on a photo because they have more self-esteem and they don’t need that negative self-validation as much.