How parents can get their teen’s social media addiction in check


MANATEE COUNTY, Fla.  (WFLA) – Smartphones and anything to do with social media are hot items once again this year on many parents’ gift lists, though experts warn buying these types of gifts can have negative consequences, like addiction to social media.

“It’s like instinct,” said Alicia Soto when she talked about picking her smartphone when an alert went off.  “You reach for it.”

The 9th grader at Manatee High School admits to spending more time on social media than anywhere else.

When we asked Alicia if it scared her that she relied so heavily on her phone she told us, “Sometimes when I get it taken away, I’m like empty without it.”

A study by Common Sense Media, a leading independent nonprofit organization aimed at helping kids better learn how to live in a world of media and technology, reveals more than 50 percent of kids are addicted to social media and many spend about nine hours a day online.

When we asked Alicia’s dad if he was going to buy her anything related to technology, he shook his head.

“No,” Arturo Soto told News Channel 8.

Tammy Hickey, one of Alicia’s former teachers, agrees with her father’s decision and the study.

“I don’t know how many more could be addicted,” Hickey said.

She’s seen the difference between first starting as a teacher 15 years ago and today.

“There’s a lot of them. Every student has a phone in their pocket, walking around, looking at it. I would say 99 percent of them.”

The study reveals that social media makes teens socially isolated, meaning less face-to-face time with friends and family.

The challenge?

Figuring out how to get the most out of technology without letting it get out of control.

Doctor Mike Schoenberg, a professor of psychology in the Department of Neurosurgery at USF and TGH says to avoid addiction, parents need to step in.

“Need to be engaged with a child in what they’re watching, what they’re downloading, what they’re saying,” Dr. Schoenberg told us. “There has to be an open dialogue.”

Some of the side-effects include less sleep, poor social skills, lack of impulse control, frustration and irritability.

We asked Alicia how long she could put her phone down before she felt the need to pick it up.

“Probably no more than five minutes,” she said.

Alicia told us her hope is that one day she can put her phone down and pick it up just a few times a day.

Experts recommend setting screen limits and creating device-free zones. They say it’s all about balance.

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