It is no secret that compulsive behavior is a major impediment to happiness and self-esteem. Addiction to drugs, tobacco, and alcohol has been a tragic reality around the world for quite some time. In our present times, however, a new peril has emerged in the form of addiction to the internet, especially among young people. Research has shown that internet addiction is deteriorating their well-being and adversely affecting various aspects of their life.

Growing Internet Addiction

A considerable number of young people today are addicted to the internet, or at least making excessive use of it. The numbers have been consistently increasing since the 2000s when social media first gained widespread popularity.

In a 2018 study by Anderson and Jiang, 54 percent of the young people surveyed believed they spent far too much time on electronic devices, while 45 percent said they were online almost all the time. In fact, the average 12th grader in USA spends over 6 hours a day on digital media, mainly the internet, according to a recent Monitoring the Future survey.

Effects of Excessive Use of Social Media

While there are many benefits of social media, it can also have adverse effects on young people, even if they are not seriously addicted to it. Social media can be a constant distraction; it discourages people from engaging in more productive activities; and it can reduce live and meaningful interactions. Anxiety is a further consequence of social media addiction or its excessive use; the feeling that something important or exciting may be going on while one is offline may contribute to anxiety or stress.

Excessive use of social media harms young people
Excessive use of social media may curtail face-to-face interactions

The constant use of the internet, particularly while multi-tasking, can reduce our concentration spans and make us less attentive to our immediate surroundings. Its excessive usage typically draws us into online arguments, and exposes many young people to cyberbullying. Moreover, being hinged on the internet can give way to other forms of addictions and damaging habits, such as pornography addiction.  

In a recent survey by Pew Research Center, young people were asked about the impact of social media on their life. The responses included providing a “fake image of someone’s life” and making it “harder for people to socialize in real life”. One respondent also linked social media to increased violence and crime among teenagers. Social media can also cause teenagers to give in to peer pressure or suffer from psychological issues, the respondents stated.

Internet Addiction Causes Depression

A study at the University of Leeds found that individuals who are addicted to the internet have a higher incidence of depression compared to others. The depression could range from moderate to severe, negatively affecting mental health. The research identified the average age of the internet addicts as 18 years, with young people more likely to be addicted compared to those in middle ages. The addicts typically spent a lot of time browsing online communities and pornographic websites, the study revealed.  

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The rise of digital media has contributed to the “fall of everything else”, according to Jean M. Twenge at the San Diego State University. Her research indicates that adolescents today spend less time getting together with friends and socializing than they did in the 1980s. Moreover, the time adolescents spend reading books and magazines, attending religious services, and even sleeping, has also declined. This shift towards digital media, and away from other activities, is consistent with a decline in general happiness over the years.

Social media has replaced book reading as a pastime
Reading books as a pastime is far less popular today than it used to be

Twenge has further found that heavy internet users are twice as likely to be unhappy as light users. A higher incidence of unhappiness can translate into growing cases of depression overtime. A 2019 study reveals that girls who spend 5 hours or more a day on social media are three times more likely to be depressed than non-users. Growing depression, in turn, results in more cases of self-harm, especially among girls and young women.  

Why Internet Addiction is linked to Depression

There are various explanations as to why excessive digital media usage contributes to depression. One reason identified by Steers, Wickham, and Acitelli in a 2014 study is social comparison – seeing glamorous highlights of others’ lives can make users feel inferior about their own. They may end up feeling they aren’t doing well in life or that they are not important enough. Cyberbullying, another outcome of online interactions and a growing phenomenon, can also lead to depression,.

Online interactions typically do not provide the same level of satisfaction as face-to-face conversations. This can again contribute to feelings of loneliness and low self-esteem, especially when live interactions are curtailed. Lastly, many of us do not realize the level of enjoyment simple non-screen activities and interactions bring compared to the internet. Hence, when we replace those activities with internet browsing, our happiness naturally decreases, making us vulnerable to feelings of anxiety and depression.

Therefore, it is best for young people to make optimal use of the internet and maintain a balanced lifestyle. It’s also important to make best use of the social media when online to ensure it makes a net positive impact in their life.