How are students addicted to social media?

Your palms are sweaty. Your feet are shaking. Your eyes bounce between the walls, unable to concentrate on one thing at a time. Your hands make their way to your pockets. Your thoughts are completely submersed—only revolving around the one thing that keeps you going, your window to the world. You have not checked it in over 15 minutes which is way too long. Every moment it is not in your hand, is a moment spent thinking about the next time you will be able to hold it again.

Your phone is finally in your hand, and the screen lights up—two missed notifications and one new friend request. You have an addiction, but it is not towards drugs or alcohol. It is an addiction to social media.

“Today’s teenagers are the first generation to have lived their teenage years using digital devices and social platforms,” Jennifer DiBella, Electronic Communications Specialist, said. “The desire to share and socialize is natural; however, what is unnatural is constantly worrying about virtual friends or constantly checking what is going on in Twitter or Instagram.”

According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project survey conducted in September 2012, 95 percent of teenagers between 12 to 17 years old are online. Of those teens online, 81 percent use some kind of social media. The three most popular social media platforms used were Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“Social media is the second place to interact with those we do not see that often,” Michelle Hu ’15 said. “It is the vibrant hub of everything going on in our lives. We use it to learn about things for school, learn about things outside of our lives and connect to news.”

Despite social media having a strong presence in her daily life, Hu believes this dependency is negative. Hu considers social media as a way of cluttering lives. In addition, Hu believes that the most negative aspect of social media is its herd mentality which skews an individual’s bias towards viewpoints that are not necessarily correct.

“Its presence is overwhelming,” Hu said. “Modern society is defined by rapid pace, and social media plays a large role. While it does connect us, it also distracts us and stresses us out.”

Besides using it as a platform to find out more about school events, announcements or club networking, Hu admits that she regularly checks Facebook and often gets distracted on social media sites. On average, she spends around two hours per day checking social networks.

Similarly, Monica Muthaiya ’15, a user of over five social networks including Facebook, Tumblr and Snapchat, was shocked when she realized how much time she spent using her social media accounts.

“Under your settings you can check for your own phone usage and see how many hours it has been put to use since the last charge,” Muthaiya said. “I thought it would only be one to two hours, but I was pretty shocked when I checked at the end of the day, and it turned out to be six hours.”

While Muthaiya also believes that social media plays a big role in allowing students to connect with each other and other people across the world, both she and Hu see it as potentially dangerous if overused.

“I honestly believe that many students, including myself, have an addiction to social media and do not even realize it,” Muthaiya said. “I think that if you go home and the first thing you do is check Facebook, or if you are blowing off homework to message your friends—then you’ve created a dependency on social media.”

For Matt Rice ’15, being addicted to something means that the addiction impedes opportunities to do things a person normally does. If one’s grades are slipping because one is spending too much time on Facebook, Twitter, etc, or one stays up too late to message someone, then this type of behavior is unhealthy and is interrupting normal life functions, according to Rice.

“Everybody should find out how much time they are spending on social media,” Rice said. “Once you look to see how much time you are using for social media, then you can see if you have an addiction or not. However, many people do not want to do that because they are afraid to see to what extent they are addicted to social media. Having access to Facebook everywhere increases the dependency.”

Hu also believes that the only person that can diagnose a social media addiction is oneself. With social media, the addiction is so widespread that people outside of an individual cannot diagnose it because they may not even be able to diagnose themselves. While conventional addictions may have symptoms that are clear cut and identifiable, social media impacts people in different ways, and because of this, it is hard to understand the influence of social media on an individual’s average life.

“Teens need to be mindful regarding sharing on social sites and the amount of time they spend on digital devices,” DiBella said. “If it ends up that social media is the only thing that keeps you going, then turn off push notifications or even delete the account. It is important to find a healthy balance. If social media is consuming all of your time, then it is time to unplug.”

According to Rice and DiBella, one of the best ways to deal with social media addiction is to find a good balance between real life and virtual life. While conventional addictions, such as drugs and alcohol, involve substances that a person may be able to live without, Rice regards social media as something that is important in daily life and hard to eliminate from his routine.

“You’ll need it for school, and you’ll need it for the workplace,” Rice said. “You need to find a correct balance. Technology is so essential to life and necessary in the modern age to be successful, therefore you have to find a perfect balance.”

Turning off notifications, deleting the application or deactivating accounts are all probable solutions to social media addictions, according to Rice and Muthaiya. According to DiBella, when people hear push notifications, that creates the urge to check what’s going on. In her own home, she has created cell phone free areas and imposes an evening curfew to curb late night use of electronics. It is important for parents to monitor the amount of time that their teens are spending online as well as how they respond or behave during situations in which they are cut off from their digital device, DiBella said.

“In general, if we as individuals take time to rethink our choices on social media and regarding social media outlets, then we can inform ourselves better on ways to improve our lives,” Hu said. “Social media is not a thing that can be easily taken away and there are a lot of positive and negative aspects to it, but instead of categorizing it we should just continue to embrace the changes it brings to us and future generations.”