Though I rely on it every day, am not a big tech fan. Not anymore. Sure, I love keeping up with faraway friends. And no more card catalogs and endless book shelf searches, but I still miss the library itself, its quiet, studious air… Just don’t really need it anymore. With my smartphone, I carry a whole library and much more wherever I go, just like millions of folks, including:

  • 42% of our kids by age 10;
  • 71% of our kids by age 12;
  • 91% of our kids by age 14.

I also miss seeing youngsters actively engaged with each other—running around, playing, talking, laughing–eyes glued on each other instead of a screen.

Childhood just isn’t what it used to be. Now pretty common: even babies in strollers with smartphones in hand and frazzled parents using devices to quiet their youngsters. Works like a charm, ensuring “seen but not heard.”

So, although alcohol, smoking, drugs, and gambling head up the list of the top 10 adolescent addictive behaviors, tech comes in right behind them:

  • #5 ~ social media
  • #6 ~ video games
  • #7 ~ the Internet

(Rounding out the list: sex, shopping, and eating.)

Temptation at every turn—highly profitable and intentional by platform providers like Meta and its Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp apps.

Says Philly’s Jefferson Hospital Health’s Director of Behavioral Health Dr. Nancy DeAngelis, “Social media platforms drive surges of dopamine (the brain’s feel-good chemical) via shares, likes, and comments. Once the brain experiences these rushes of dopamine and pleasure, the high from social media becomes harder and harder for anyone to resist, creating patterns of addictive behavior.”

A “high” like that triggered by gambling and drugs.

Also of note: Brain growth is second highest during adolescence making kids especially vulnerable to addiction. Plus, says DeAngelis, “The overuse of social media can actually rewire a young child or teen’s brain to constantly seek out immediate gratification, leading to obsessive, compulsive, and addictive behaviors.”

By the way, 46% of kids admit being online almost constantly.

Among their favorite social media offerings:

  1. YouTube comes in at #1 at 95%
  2. TikTok is next at 67%
  3. Instagram boasts 62%
  4. Snapchat follows with 59%
  5. Facebook comes in at just 32%

And now comes the latest social media entry.

Gas currently surpasses TikTok as #1 at the App Store. Its name comes from the term “gassing someone up,” as in boosting someone’s ego. Messaging is out, anonymous uplifting compliments are in, and via location data, kids can identify their high schools making it easier to find/add their friends.

Other selling points include:

  • Strangers can’t contact users.
  • Only good things can be “said” and only via polls with such options as most empathetic, most flirtatious, even whose hand you’d want to hold during a horror movie.

Win a poll and up pops a flame in your inbox.

What go wrong, right?

How about needing to pay $6.99 every week for such extras as getting hints about who voted for you, like the first letter in the person’s name. Yes, $6.99 a week.

And imagine never getting even one vote or being voted “most beautiful” when you’re clearly not. A bully’s catnip.

Says Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, author of Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids: “The evidence is clear, but we’re not ready to face it. We have a society gone all-in on technology, so we don’t want some buzz killing truthsayers telling us that the emperor has no clothes and that the devices that we’ve all fallen in love with can be a problem—especially for kids and their developing brains.”

Some signs to look for if you think your son/daughter may be hooked:

  • Decreased interest in other activities
  • Regularly missed homework assignments
  • Falling grades
  • Skipping school
  • Withdrawing from usual friends and activities
  • Signs of anxiety or depression
  • Poor sleep and eating habits
  • Moodiness and/or angriness
  • Unkempt physical appearance

If so:

  1. Share your concerns.
  2. Encourage/re-engage your child in activities they’ll enjoy like team sports, exercise, an art class, and so on.
  3. Make outdoor activities a priority, everything from a walk in a park to skiing, shooting hoops in the driveway, even just doing errands for you, like pulling weeds, taking out the trash.
  4. Plan family activities like a movie or dinner out.
  5. Plan a trip together.
  6. Help rekindle a love for reading, music, sports.
  7. Develop a plan together to limit screen time and promise to support it, including consequences.
  8. Try to uncover what draws your child to social media. Is it for friendship, a needed distraction, a way to keep up socially, fear of being left out, something else?
  9. Encourage face-to-face time with friends instead of screen time with them.
  10. Make your house/apartment the go-to place for his/her friends.
  11. Encourage your child to come to you if getting negative vibes from social media contacts or feeling lonely, sad, and/or depressed.

And never hesitate to turn to your child’s primary care doctor for help and advice.

~ With thanks and good 2023 wishes, Carol