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DEAR COUNSELLOR: Teenagers and social media

Dr Karelle Hytlon, PhD Counselling Psychologist

Dear Counsellor:
I am a 14-year-old female and I am addicted to social media. I find that everything about my life is posted there … it feels like I cannot help myself. Wherever I go and whatever I am doing, I post … all my pictures … my issues, my successes, my failures, are out on my page. I love watching or following persons as well. My friends are tired of my need to post and have threatened to ‘unfriend’ me if this ‘obsession’ continues.

I find it pleasurable and exciting when I post on this medium. I do not think this is an obsession. This medium allows for freedom of expression (positive and negative … depending on what is happening), and this gives me satisfaction. Do you think I have an obsession?
– J.C.

Dear JC:
With social media obsession, unlike other obsessions, the users “have the ability to control their behaviour, but they do not have the motivation to control this behaviour because they do not see the consequences to be that severe ... Boredom is contrary to the natural, God-given impulse for fascination, excitement, pleasure and exhilaration”. When faced with a life of boredom, you either die emotionally or “madly rush to whatever extreme and extravagant thrill you can find to replace your misery with pleasure”.

There are still a number of persons who voluntarily share their deepest secrets about their intimate lives on social media. It has, perhaps, a lot to do with the gratification of being acknowledged or approved by our peers. I suggest that such social affirmations by your friends in your network are a key draw of social networking sites. Simply put, the ‘likes’ and the ‘loves’ by your friends give that feeling of belonging and acceptance.

There is no basis for me to say that sharing about yourself is wrong, because each of us has our own social needs to fulfil. It’s what makes us humans. What I am talking about here is the idea of oversharing, saying too much, and then regretting what was shared. When we are ‘addicted’ to something, we will do anything just to get a satisfying dose of engagement in the activity. It may sometimes appear to be an attempt to remind others and ourselves that we exist.

Either that or these people are just trying to make their offline life coexist with their social media one. Lack of sleep will undoubtedly affect your performance in school the next day, which is when social media becomes an obsession problem. Where social media presents as a problem, usually there is some dysfunction. It affects your relationships, your academic performance, your ability to interact with others face to face, and your ability to get satisfaction from person-to-person interactions.

Sometimes our friends are the best persons to bring attention to our behaviour. Maybe you should try interacting more with your friends. Get involved in some activity that will require your presence (in person). I suggest getting involved in some meaningful activity – a club at your school, participating in a community project, and refocusing your spare time into a productive means of communicating. Give this medium a break and see what else is out there for you to explore. Should you be adversely affected by this break, please speak to your counsellor about healthier social options.

You ought to be aware that the constant posting of your daily activities may leave you exposed, not only to potential predators, but this may have serious implications for your future. It is a new trend for prospective employers to evaluate the character of a person through accessing their social media posts.

Dr Karelle Hytlon, PhD Counselling Psychologist karelle_hylton@yahoo.com

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