Digital Dependence and the Implications of Social Media

There is a growing body of evidence that our reliance on digital devices, social media and screen time is having a disasterous effect on our neurological functioning and emotional health.  Much like dependence on a substance, digital addiction provides a heightened dopamine release.  Because the average person uses their phone 72 times each day (performing more than 2,600 clicks and touches each day on their phone), the average person can become reliant on their digital device in a similar fashion that they become reliant on the dopamine release that is caused by the anticipation of clicking on an app, text, link and/or social media interaction.  Frequent users will use their device an average of 132 times per day (or 48,000 times per year) performing more than 5,400 touches per day (or over 2 million touches per year).


While an adult’s increasing reliance on digital devices is problematic, it can be more damaging for pre-teens and adolescents.  On average, pre-teens use digital devices for approximately 6 hours a day.  That number jumps to 9 hours once a person hits adolescents.  An average adolescent will use a digital device for more time than they attend school, interact with people or even sleep.  This digital epidemic is impacting brain development in pre-teens and adolescents in ways that affect academic performance, attention, mood, interpersonal relationships, and general activity levels while increasing levels of depression.


As a concerned adolescent, parent, clinician and/or program, what can I do?  Bringing awareness to the problem is often a good first step and sharing research and resources can help people bring some attention to the issue.  The Pew Research Center has a fantastic summary of the pervasiveness of digital addiction and how it relates, specifically, to pre-teens and adolescents.  On a day-to-day basis, here are some activities that can help structure your digital habits…..


  • Create times that digital devices are off limits.  Often ending digital communication and screen time 60-90 minutes prior to sleeping can help increase sleep and the bodies release of natural melatonin.
  • Be a role model!  If dinner time is ‘family time’ and digital devices are not allowed during the meal, try and follow your guidelines and avoid bringing phones or tablets to the dinner table.
  • “Research” your own digital habits.  Spend one day keeping track of how often and how long you are using a digital device.  Use a tally mark each time you use a digital device or, for extra credit, note the time and a brief 4-5 word note about when and how you used your device.
  • Create interests or use current activities where technology is not a part of the event.  Increase your time in those interests and activities by an hour each week.
  • Create a contract with your family around digital usage.  Here are some links to great resources for families

Safe Kids

Contract for Safe Cell Phone Use

FTC Internet Guide for Parents

A Dad’s Contract for Facebook

Media Family Contract

All About Interventions Resources For Complex Process and Substance Interventions

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