Students acknowledge they are addicted to using social media

With social media use on the rise among young adults, some students say they are addicted – and their addiction is interfering with their daily lives.

“I’ve skipped a couple questions on a quiz just to get through them to see what my phone was going off for,” said Jeremiah Garcia, a sophomore Communications student who admits to spending upwards of 80% of his day engaging with popular platforms like TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat.

Tyler Malec, a visiting lecturer who has worked in social media public relations, is not surprised.

“Social media platforms [are] designed to make us addicted to them,” he said. “They’re designed to get you to keep looking because they want your screen time.”

Erika Guerrero, a junior Communications student and admitted TikTok addict, can relate.

“One thing I’ve noticed is when I have my phone, I procrastinate,” she said. “I could have the assignment in front of me and it could take 45 minutes [to] an hour and it’s taking me three to four hours because I’m not focused.”

Guerrero is in good company.

More than 230 million U.S. residents are active on social networks, according to a July 2020 report from Statista, a market and consumer data company.

Eighteen to 29-year-olds make up the greatest percentage of social network users, with nearly 88% active on social media platforms, according to the Pew Research Center.

Lori Utesch, a therapist intern at Crown Counseling Services and a graduate student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, said that stories of social media dependency have become all too common, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s become more of an addiction,” said Utesch, who added that she has seen an increase in instances of anxiety, withdrawal, depression and anger. “I don’t want to exaggerate but I’ve seen some meltdowns.”

The percentage of 18 to 25-year-olds who reported symptoms of depression rose by 52% between 2005 and 2017, according to a 2019 study by the American Psychological Association. The study, which found significant increases in instances of psychological distress, suicidal thoughts and suicide-related outcomes for young adults – with no corresponding increase in older adults – suggested that increased digital media use by  younger generations is partly responsible for the problems.

By age 11, 53% of U.S. children have their own smartphone and by age 12, 69% do, according to a 2019 survey by Common Sense Media, a non-profit group that promotes safe technology and media for children.

Utesch says she is beginning to hear stories of children receiving phones at an even earlier age.

“Just in the last week I’ve had three or four reports of [children] getting smartphones when they’re 9 years old,” she said.

Garcia, who received his first smartphone in high school, is concerned.

“I see younger kids and my younger cousins and they all have phones and iPads and they’re always on them and I think they’re starting their addiction so young, like at the age of 4 or 5, and it’s just going to continue on as they get older,” he said. “Growing up always having that from their first memory, I don’t think they’re going to know how to put it down and do what needs to be done.”

Guerrero says she also received her first smartphone in high school but guidance on how to navigate social platforms was largely missing.

“My parents didn’t understand social media,” she said. “They didn’t know what Instagram was. They didn’t know what a Facebook post was. They didn’t know what a like or a share was and they still don’t.”

Guerrero said she is worried enough about social media addiction, that she would intercede to offer some advice – before it’s too late.

“If I were a parent,” she said, “I would definitely like to sit down and talk to them [kids].”