On FILTER First’s Instagram account this week, we focused on the intentions of our time spent on social media. This is the second component of our 6-part study, where the lesson draws attention to why we are spending time online. At FILTER, our goal is to encourage and equip kids to have a positive relationship with technology. This kind of relationship will result in active use of social media that spreads positivity online, seeks out the good in others, and defends those who are victims of cyberbullying or worse online harms.
But to change the action, we must address the intention. The nature of social media draws us into an addictive behavioral pattern that quickly numbs and distracts the mind from intentions that would lead to an active use of social media. Even if intentions are good, it is all too easy to succumb to the mindless scroll, distracting the mind from any sort of actionable behavior and exacerbating poor mental health.
In 2021, Dr. Anna Lembke released a book titled Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence. As Chief of Stanford University’s dual diagnosis addiction clinic, Dr. Lembke has spent over 25 years treating patients with every kind of addiction – often more than one: heroin, gambling, sex, video games – just to name a few. She was featured in the film, "The Social Dilemma", exposing social media as a drug, and how platforms call its consumers “users” for a reason.
In her book, "Dopamine Nation," Dr. Lembke explains how the dopamine released in our brains after using social media is creating a nation full of minor addicts, not to mention the extreme cases, and the supply is endless. With drugs or alcohol you can run out of a supply due to financial burden or difficulty of access, but TikTok will never run out of videos to keep scrolling through.
Dopamine is a pop-culture buzz word, thrown around without an understanding of what it actually is or what it does to the brain. It does not actually give pleasure, but rather motivates people to do what they think will bring them pleasure. Dopamine is released in anticipation of the action, before we do it, and during the action itself (5). It is afterward that we feel that dip in dopamine, driving us to open Instagram after we just closed it, to grab a second piece of chocolate from the pantry, or to click play on another TV show.
It is no secret that social media gives us hits of dopamine – that’s what makes it so addictive. That’s what makes us keep scrolling. But it’s not just TikTok that’s the culprit.
Gaming is a massive source of addiction, and while games like Fortnite might be an obvious target, new studies are showing that even “learning” games are a culprit of creating addictive behaviors.
In 2018, the World Health Organization recognized internet gaming disorder as a diagnosable mental health condition (4). Several extreme cases around that time made the topic sensational, one of which being a 9-year-old girl in the UK taken to rehab after deliberately wetting herself in order to keep playing (2). On a smaller scale, studies are now showing that “learning” games may have more drawbacks than benefits. Retention of the material may actually be extremely low, as kids are driven by the rewards of the game that releases dopamine in the brain (6).
Children are nearly constantly being exposed to things that can lead to intense addiction. As teenagers, their brains are four times more susceptible to addiction than at any other point in life (1). This is why there are age restrictions on other highly addictive substances like alcohol and gambling, but it seems as though our world has not fully realized the dangers of online media consumption. Nearly no regulation and constant exposure, coupled with a lack of education to understand and recognize what is happening in the brain, is a detrimental combination for kids.
It’s why they respond so poorly when they have to turn off the TV or the game. This isn’t a result of a poor attitude, it’s the result of an addictive chemical being released in the brain, and the letdown is too intense to handle in a rational way.
How might educating children from a young age on these effects, and creating more widespread regulations for social media and gaming use, change the way children interact with online media? We have hope here at FILTER that this will create a better future, and it all starts with intentions.
Studies have shown that a more active role on social media has led to decreased symptoms of anxiety and a depressed mood, regardless of the amount of time spent online (3). This shows the power of intention, that a more active role in creating good content that benefits followers actually benefit the user itself. This does not mean that we have to raise a generation of social media influencers on a large scale, but perhaps we should be too quick to dismiss the power – and benefits – of influence. If we all use our platforms to influence for good regardless of follower count, it has the power to change the trajectory of how social media, and online media in general, is used today.
Anderson, M. “A Majority of Teens Have Experienced Some Form of Cyberbullying.” Pew Research Center, 14 Aug, 2020. www.pewresearch.org/internet/2018/09/27/a-majority-of-teens-have-experienced-some-form-of-cyberbullying.
Carter, Thom James. “What Gaming Does to Your Brain-and How You Might Benefit.” Wired, 26 June 2021, www.wired.com/story/what-gaming-does-to-your-brain-how-you-might-benefit/
Ingibjorg Eva Thorisdottir, Rannveig Sigurvinsdottir, Bryndis Bjork Asgeirsdottir, John P. Allegrante, and Inga Dora Sigfusdottir. “Active and Passive Social Media Use and Symptoms of Anxiety and Depressed Mood Among Icelandic Adolescents.” Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 12 Aug. 2019, 535-542. http://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2019.0079
Mandriota, Morgan. “Gaming Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments.” Psych Central, 5 Jan. 2022, www.psychcentral.com/addictions/gaming-disorder#symptoms
Waters, Jamie. “Constant Craving: How Digital Media Turned Us All into Dopamine Addicts.” The Guardian, 22 Aug. 2021, www.theguardian.com/global/2021/aug/22/how-digital-media-turned-us-all-into-dopamine-addicts-and-what-we-can-do-to-break-the-cycle
Yu, Z., Gao, M., & Wang, L. “The Effect of Educational Games on Learning Outcomes, Student Motivation, Engagement and Satisfaction.” Journal of Educational Computing Research, 2 Nov. 2020, 59(3), 522–546. https://doi.org/10.1177/0735633120969214