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Social media addiction: How much is too much?

Published: Oct. 6, 2021 at 6:05 PM EDT
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HANOVER, N.H. (WCAX) - When Instagram and Facebook went offline this week, were you feeling a little anxious? Were you constantly checking your phone to see if it was back up? If the answer is yes, experts say that could mean you are spending too much time online.

“I definitely check it maybe twice a day,” said Avery Widen, a freshman at Dartmouth.

Monday, when Instagram went offline, she says she immediately went to Twitter to search for answers.

“I definitely think it is concerning. It definitely sheds light on the dependence I personally have on social media,” Widen said.

She is not alone. In only a matter of minutes of being on campus, scores of students walked by on their phones. It’s a clear sign of all of our dependence on technology. And social media sites, according to the experts, are designed to draw you in.

“Your brain really doesn’t know the difference between pulling a slot machine and getting a like,” said Kathryn Lively, a sociology professor at Dartmouth.

Lively says the immediate feedback that social media provides releases dopamine in the brain which can be very addictive.

“If you start to get too much of it, or overuse it, then your brain starts to down-regulate those feelings, and then you have to keep going back more frequently,” Lively explained.

“And then they kind of get stuck checking this all the time,” said James Craig, a child psychologist at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

Craig says while the studies are still relatively new on the potential harmful effects of too much social media, the downside, especially for younger kids, could include increased depression, anxiety, obesity and lack of sleep. Those are some of the things parents should be on the lookout for.

“They do it instead of doing schoolwork, they do it instead of sleeping, or instead of going out and having human to human or physically active type activities,” Craig said.

And outdoor activities, like going for a walk, can give you a similar sense of excitement.

“You know a chipmunk runs by and you go, ‘Chipmunk!’ I mean that is the exact same thing as getting a like,” Lively said.

The older we get, the more it becomes our own responsibility to regulate. One way is to monitor screen time.

“Instagram, I have one on. Snapchat, TikTok. Just general social medial sites I try to limit to an hour max a day. But hopefully, I can whittle that down to maybe 15, 30 minutes,” Widen said.

The experts say the goal is not to get rid of social media, but rather to use it in moderation. The pandemic highlighted the power of being able to connect online. But, as the saying goes, it is possible to get too much of a good thing.

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