Teen Social Media Addiction Treatment

Social media use impacts the current generation of teens more than any other generation in human history. From the moment they wake up until the moment they go to to bed, teens are inundated with messages and signals encouraging them to tune in and stay engaged. While most teens use sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Vine, Snapchat, and even multiplayer games responsibly, some seem to lose control.

Teen social media addiction is characterized by use that spirals out of control despite the teen experiencing clearly negative consequences. They will often use social media and engage with it to excess, checking profiles hundreds or even thousands of times per day. Many overlook daily responsibilities in favor of the intoxicating indulgence social media interaction provides, becoming so sucked into online culture that it becomes their only social outlet. They may lose real-world friendships, stop interacting with family members, or even ignore their studies in order to spend more time online.

What Does Teen Social Media Addiction Look Like?

  • Teens aren’t the only ones who can become addicted to social media. Both teens and adults check their social media accounts up to 150 times per day.
  • Research shows that this increased access to social media, and the negative messages shared on most platforms, can be incredibly damaging. This is especially true for teens, who may be more sensitive to issues that impact self-esteem or cause anxiety.
  • Living life “behind the screen” also promotes unrealistic ideals about socialization and appropriate behavior, encouraging teens to act out in ways uncharacteristic of their normal personality. The anonymity of online culture often causes teens to become engaged in, or even the victims of, aggression and cyberbullying.
  • Spending too much time on social media can cripple normal development of socialization skills. Teens may struggle to make friends or relate to others normally, either at home or in school. Grades and confidence levels often suffer.
  • When teens become addicted, their social media use may begin to affect everyone else in their lives – including family, friends, and romantic relationships. Teens often lose the ability to meet prior commitments, choosing the online world over real experiences time and time again.

Signs of Social Media Addiction

Teen Social Media Addiction Treatment

Feeling despair, anxiety, or grief when cut off from phone or computer

Teen Social Media Addiction Treatment

Becoming completely reliant on approval from online peers

Teen Social Media Addiction Treatment

Becomes angry, aggressive, or even violent when interacting online

Flashbacks, visions, and nightmares

Frequently forgoes sleep to spend more time on social media

Depression and/or Anxiety

Emotional outbursts heavily connected to social media access

Lying about time spent online

Displays obsessive-compulsive behavior around retweets or likes

What Causes Social Media Addiction?

Addictiveness – Believe it or not, social media and the experiences it brings is, in fact, addictive. It isn’t the same type of addiction experienced with drugs that cause physical withdrawal, but psychological withdrawal can be just as devastating. Companies who create social platforms engineer them to be heavily engaging, prompting users to check on almost constantly. Many use real-world psychological strategies to achieve their goals. The more time people spend on their platform, the more money the company makes via advertising, partnerships, post boosts, and more. It makes sense for them to push engagement as far as they possibly can, even if might be ethically questionable due to the consequences.

Stress & Self-Esteem – Social media isn’t all bad, all the time! In fact, it can be an amazing tool for connecting and learning from people all over the world. The instant nature also makes it easier for people to communicate, engage with communities, receive feedback from customers, or even organize sports, groups, and social justice movements. But the way social media incentivizes the nearly-intrusive connection between people, giving them a bird’s-eye view into the private lives of others can be extremely damaging. The fact that many people only share heavily edited images, experiences, and reputations in the online space is also inherently problematic. Teens may feel the need to compete with an unrealistic standard for how they themselves should appear and behave because influencers make their lives look and feel more alluring and exciting than they really are. When they fail to keep up, they blame themselves – even though what they’re competing with is really an illusion at best.

Social Anxiety – The online world can be tempting for teens who struggle with social anxiety, awkwardness, or communication issues. It provides an easy way to access socialization in a much more measured, controlled dose. Unfortunately, this can be a double-edged sword. Teens may begin to turn to social media for all of their socialization, totally ignoring real-world friendships and relationships. Excessive screen time and smartphone use worsens this effect.

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Teen Social Media Addiction Treatment


of all Chinese teens are addicted to instant messaging


of American teens spend time on YouTube. 72% use Instagram


of all teens are online almost constantly as per self-reports

How Can I Help My Teen with Social Media Addiction?

Help them with effective coping mechanisms – Social media use may be used as a coping mechanism for sadness, depression, anxiety, or compulsive behavioral issues. Unfortunately, it is largely maladaptive because teens quickly realize they end up feeling more empty, envious, or frustrated in the long-run. Help your teen develop new strategies for coping with stress and emotions, such as exercise, rest, healthy hobbies, and clean fun. Teaching teens how to think rationally about their problems, and how to problem solve without turning to social media, may also be helpful, preventing constant escapism.

Manage their screen time – As a parent, you are your teen’s number one ally in learning how to engage with the online world in a responsible fashion. The Internet is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used or misused. Help your teen understand that when they spend every hour of the day online, they lose the ability to focus their attention on daily responsibilities, friendships, and academics. No one can flourish in an environment where they are constantly busy on electronic devices, but some time online is expected. What matters most is being able to find the right balance between using social media responsibly and turning their focus back on everyday life, and managing their screen time will help.

Encourage continued treatment after recovery – Treatment for teen social media addiction can be immensely helpful, but it’s a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Keep your teen on track by encouraging them to seek help for their problems. Even if that just means reaching out to you when they feel overwhelmed, making connections and seeking healthy answers is a step in the right direction.

How Teen Social Media Addiction Is Treated

Teen social media addiction treatment starts with a significant break away from social media and the online world. Teens are almost always resistant to this, at least at first, which is why inpatient treatment programs can be so effective. Helping teens refocus on themselves, and the repercussions of their addiction, can also help them to face their addictive behavior. Treatment also focuses on showing teens how to re-develop their relationship with social media so they can enjoy it without all of the negative experiences associated with overuse.

Talk Therapy

Talk therapy, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) are immensely helpful to teens facing social media addiction. Spending time with a professional in a non-judgemental space can help teens understand why they felt compelled to use social media, and how it negatively impacted them, in the first place.
Very often, teens are really struggling in secret with issues related to communication, self-awareness, self-image, and personal identity. Despite what many people believe, it is possible to use social media in a healthy, responsible way, learning how to socialize and communicate in real-life at the same time. A good therapist can teach these skills in a way that teens find accessible and easy to understand.

Family Therapy

Families play an important role in breaking teen social media addiction. Group therapy sessions can help the whole family better understand the addiction, healthy use of social media, and how everyone can work together to prevent negative online experiences. It also gives the teen the opportunity to help their family understand where they are coming from and why they feel the way they do. Families who make changes together are more successful.

Other Treatments

Talk therapy can be powerful, but it is really only one element in a much bigger therapeutic picture. Treatment programs at Paradigm also educate teens on social media, media consumption, critical thinking, and how to engage with the online world responsibly. Alternative treatments like meditation, yoga, art, equine therapy, and adventures into the local area also give teens information on how to relax, have fun, and cope for life.
Sometimes, teen social media use is a form of self-medication for an undiagnosed mental health disorder. Treatment starts with a thorough evaluation to rule this out or diagnose the problem. Other methods, including medication, may be employed to restore wellness and help them remain on track.

Teen Social Media Addiction Treatment at Paradigm San Francisco

Here at Paradigm San Francisco, the number one function of teen social media addiction treatment is to break the constant connection teens have to social media. We restrict the amount of time teens spend interacting with others online, showing them how to re-prioritize real social interaction with friends, family members, and loved ones. Still, in most cases, teens are allowed occasional access, as completely limiting social media access isn’t usually realistic once they leave treatment. Instead, we show them a healthier lifestyle that includes the benefit of time spent outdoors, in-person socialization, and real, filter-free experiences.

Getting Used to An Offline World

During treatment therapists work closely with teens to help them explore who they are and where they come from. The goal is to evaluate and address underlying contributing factors and triggers, like the belief that social media representation is somehow needed in order to be “cool” or interesting. Therapists also help teens explore how their over-reliance on social media encourages an unrealistic mindset while also sabotaging real-life relationships. Only then can teens discover the truth behind their addiction.

Social Media Misuse and Other Problems

There is a strong correlation between social media misuse and other concomitant mental health problems, such as mood disorders, anxiety issues, or substance abuse.  Teens who overuse social media may need help in other areas, too; our therapists provide this at the teen’s own pace. We try to help teens restore awareness about the world of social media, how it impacts people, and how the effects of excessive social media can destroy lives.

In many ways, social media use us really just a symptom of a greater problem. The real issue is much deeper and much more sensitive, producing an addictive feedback loop each time teens use. But this isn’t quite the same thing as a physical addiction, and like food, avoiding it completely isn’t usually realistic. By treating the contributing factors, the addiction is in and of itself often treated.

Our 16-year has been struggling with anxiety and severe depression and seemed stuck. We felt we had nowhere else to go. After 40 days, I feel like we've gotten our daughter back! It’s been an amazing experience. She now has tools, perspective, improved self love and a resilience we haven't seen in two years.

– Rebecca J.

Frequently Asked Questions About Teen Social Media Addiction

How can I keep my teen from developing unhealthy habits of social media?

As a parent, you are the first barrier between your teen and the online world. While it can feel a little bit like an uphill battle, you can – and probably already do – influence how and when they engage with social media platforms. But just cutting your teen off from social media altogether, at least later in the teen years, isn’t realistic; the moment they leave the house, they’re exposed to it from other sources. Instead of forcing your teen to stay off social media, encourage them to make the right decisions and educate them on how to recognize problems as they arise. If they’re still young, limit their screen time and monitor closely so you can intervene if it becomes necessary.

It’s important to note that parents should always have the right to intervene on teen social media use, but invading your child’s privacy is rarely wise. Instead, remind them that life exists beyond social media. Hold them accountable for finishing chores, homework, and commitments, like hangouts with friends, instead of staying in.

If my child spends time on social media every day, are they addicted?

Maybe. Truthfully, overuse isn’t always addiction, and not every teen who engages every single day has a problem. Most check in with social networks daily. More than 50% report spending most of their time online. Use only becomes an issue when it impacts other areas of their life negatively, when it becomes compulsive, or when they have negative reactions as they try to stop. Teens can become enraptured by social media to the point it consumes them, mostly because their growing brains still struggle to regulate emotions and impulses.


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