While we happily rebuke traditional addictions associated with cigarette smoking and alcoholism, we are more than quiet when challenged to acknowledge the effects of social media addiction. The truth is, we talk, walk, eat, and sleep the ‘social media’ craze to the extent of missing out on the true dynamics of life. The need to feel updated, shared, liked, and even loved online far outshines everything else.

The most affected are the Z generation children born at the end of the 1990s through to the first decade of the 21st Century. The generation Alpha kids who are born after 2010 are cast right in the middle of the fracas as they enter the tween years. They will become consumed just as well.

An equally interesting point to note is that Baby Boomers and Generation Xers too have not been spared the social media bug. The most vulnerable in these age groups are those who joined the internet bandwagon a little late in life. Even a few Millennials are still going through the social media bug!

The Numbers…

The apparent addiction to social media (and its negative effects) is attributed to the ubiquitous nature of mobile devices and the reduced cost of internet data plans globally. According to we are social the number of internet users worldwide surpassed the 4 billion mark in early 2018. The global population at the time was close to 8 billion. Of this figure, over 3 billion users (40%) installed one social media platform or another.

Social network sites and apps:

  • Facebook
  • Snapchat
  • WhatsApp
  • Instagram
  • Twitter

Social Video sites:

  • YouTube
  • DailyMotion
  • Vimeo
  • Facebook Video

Rising Social Media Apps amongst the youths:

  • Snapchat
  • Instagram
  • WhatsApp

The 7 Negative Effects of Social Media Addiction on Youth Today

social media addiction
The arrival of the internet and social media means children can have access to free adult and other content. Image by Andi Graf from Pixabay

1.  The Image Syndrome!

Statistics show that users who post cute and sexy selfies on Instagram, Snapchat or WhatsApp attract many shares and likes compared to those that use ordinary photos. Those that receive less feedback negatively compare themselves with others online and wrongly imagine they are inadequate. It gets worse when online bullies brand their images ugly. They develop low self-esteem and doubt their self-worth.

This triggers a stream of negative social patterns.

The victims spice up things by applying excessive make-up before photo shootouts or edit their photos excessively to create falsified facial and body appearance. Others charge up their profiles by supplanting their images in cozy and foreign backgrounds to falsify their location. They use enhanced photographic impressions to appear exotic and rich and those blessed with dark skins, edit them to look lighter! Worse still, others withdraw completely. They become withdrawn, lonely and depressed.

The feeling you are not cute may lead to low self-esteem

2.  Social Displacement – Distorted Communication

Our interaction with family, friends and the ‘unknown’ on social media means we spend lots of time liking, sharing and chatting than we do, liking, sharing and chatting in real life. Referred to as social displacement, the behavior explains the distorted sense of communication that grips most addicted users. The youth, in particular, choose to chat online with real friends with whom they are sited side by side.

We attach more value to what friends write and do online than in real life. The meaning of emojis, bubbles, and face swap tools become so meaningful than the invisible yet present facial expressions sited next to us.  In the end, we miss out on critical social skills that are attained through face-to-face interactions.

The famed eye-to-eye contact during communication has also received a beating. While you and I may engage in verbal communication face to face, our eyes will instead remain glued to smartphone screens, where we are chatting with online friends.

Ultimately, we barely recognize real friends and are excited about those we chat with online.

3.  Exposure to Adult Content

Gone are the days when parents exercised control over what children watched on TV and read in sleazy Playboy magazines. Much as parents spotted these in the boys’ bedrooms, a few times, they were immediately confiscated. Children only became exposed to them extensively at later years when they were mature.

That cannot be said today. The arrival of the internet and social media has played a great role in transforming this. The internet is awash with free adult and other content and social media is the platform through which they are mentioned and shared. The content range from inappropriate images, porn, sexting, and the use of bad language.

Growing children feel more comfortable weaving their way through this data alongside their peers. These are more willing to walk the interesting, yet risky path than the cautious parents. As a result, there is a degree of the digital and cultural disconnect between parents and children. Both parties rarely discuss sexual matters at home and if done it is not always approached with honesty.

4.  Exposure to Violent Content

We all agree that social media and the internet is awash with good and bad content. We treasure good content which we share with family and friends. But we all have to deal with bad content. These include violent media forms in movies, games and live-streamed broadcasts.

For those that are religious, bad content is a direct contravention of the pillars of religious teachings. For example, Christianity stands by the 10 Commandments as practical guidelines to what is right or wrong. Without measured supervision (which is next to impossible today), bad content is now everywhere.  This distorts the conscience and upbringing of young consumers.

Children and teens who watch these become conflicted about what is right or wrong. In the event of not being guided sufficiently, they are tempted to embrace violence and inappropriate behavior, right up to adulthood.

5.  Exposure to Digital Malpractices

While those who attended school in the 20th century know too well about face-to-face bullying, children attending school in the 21st Century have to deal with both online and offline bullying. Online bullying is known widely as cyberbullying or cyber harassment.  Bullies choose to harass select victims via electronic messages, pictures, videos, audio, email, and posts.

The perpetrators usually send the offending media directly to the victim or via public platforms. The communication is intended to embarrass or even threaten the victims. Another common malpractice is known as sexting. Perpetrators send sexually explicit images, audio-visual content, and texts to suspecting and unsuspecting victims.

Other malpractices users have to deal with are stalkers, imposters and radical extremists.

6.  Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) works the same way as digital peer pressure. A user feels incomplete when offline and is driven by the impulsion to always keep abreast of social trends. Because the pulses are running wild it feels relevant to communicate with friends 24/7, just to keep up appearances. This drives users into sharing more content than is usually necessary.

Uncontrolled posting of images and videos also lead to embarrassing moments. This happens when a user accidentally shares private content in the heat of the moment. Besides wanting to be online, there is also the urge to be part of offline social activities that are shared online. Participants in select groups or friend networks feel incomplete when missing out on promoted parties and other social interactions.

Whether they get to attend the parties or not, the images and video clips they watch are influential in their lives. Images and clips of online friends taking alcohol and smoking excite them. It is no accident that a good number take up these habits simply because they are well packaged on social media.

7.  Negative effects of Social Media Addiction on Health

Excessive use of smartphones is known to cause various health problems both directly and indirectly. For example, sitting may not be harmful, if well-regulated but becomes an issue if done for extended hours. Addicted users usually spend hours slumped in one position. It is public knowledge this is not good for the body.

The habit also interferes with other aspects of life like eating and body structure. Users opt for quick fixes for food and may become victims of obesity or other body malfunctions. Addicted users are also sleepless which deprives them of sharpness at school, work, and daily activities. Sitting aside, the use of social media platforms just before sleep is known to cause poor sleep patterns.

Extensive use of social media also exposes users to cellphone radiation. This happens when smartphones are placed next to the body lap for extended hours.

Other negative health effects:

  • Tech neck
  • Thumb syndrome
  • Reduced privacy
  • Stress/depression
  • Reduced attention span