I joined social media the summer before high school and quickly became obsessed. Within a few months, it became normal for me to spend 5 hours a day switching between apps like Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok.
When I was at school, it didn’t raise a red flag for me because everyone around me was equally addicted, but during the pandemic it bothered me. I felt like I did not have enough hours in the day and could not justify spending so many of them on my phone.
Not only was I alarmed by how much I was missing out on, but I connected the dots that this was causing me anxiety. After this realization, I made a goal to spend less time on these apps by setting limits for myself but I lacked the self control to follow through. I decided I just needed to cut the cord completely.
The initial separation from social media was extremely difficult. I would reach for my phone every couple of minutes out of habit. FOMO (“fear of missing out”) rushed through me. I had no idea what to do with myself.
The good news is that once I made it through the initial week or two of withdrawal, I began to see the light on the other side: I exchanged my time for things that made me less anxious like reading and running, for example.
It felt like a sigh of relief to finally break the hold social media had on me. It also made me curious about how other people’s experiences compare to mine, so I asked Riverside students to report their daily usage.
Sixty-nine students responded, and most of them spend as much, if not more, time as I did on social media. This means that students spend an average of approximately 200 minutes on social media each day – over six times the recommended daily limit of 30 minutes set by The Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.
Even more alarming – 51 percent of responders report social media harming their mental health.
I don’t believe expecting others to eliminate social media altogether is a realistic option but the way many kids are using it is not sustainable. As we transition back to in-person learning more fully in the coming months, schools should take steps to loosen the grip social media has on its students:
- Teach about internet safety in health classes. Health curriculums should evolve with the culture; it is no longer relevant to spend entire lessons talking about out-dated topics such as smoking cigarettes. Instead, students would benefit from discussions about the pros and cons of technology – everything from activism to inappropriate behavior’s impact on college and job prospects to its impact on physical and mental health. Students should also learn about setting boundaries for themselves as part of a healthy lifestyle.
- Quit relying on social media alone to share school information. One of the main reasons I stayed on social media for so long was because it was my only way of finding out information about the activities I was a part of. If practice was cancelled or a club meeting was rescheduled, I found out on Instagram. It’s an effective resource for sharing information because most students are active on social media, but it’s frustrating when it’s the only place to find it. If students are self-reporting overuse and mental health issues, why are school accounts feeding into this addiction?