Neptune Navigate Blog

Tips for online safety, security, and responsible digital citizenship for parents, kids, and families.

How Social Media Deliberately Creates Addiction Among Kids

October 15, 2020

Social Media addiction is a “thing”. It doesn’t make you a parenting failure, it’s intentional on the part of the tech industry to create screen addicts! If you’ve ever tried to convince your kids to put down their devices for any amount of time, you know you’re going to get some kind of “push back” as we call it at my house. It will come in the form of an eye-roll, a deep sigh, a comment that it’s “not a big deal”, or my favorite…”can I just finish this one thing”?

We all know that unlimited social media is not healthy and sometimes, outright dangerous. Just like we want our kids to be mindful of the food that feeds their bodies, we want them to be mindful of what feeds their brains. There is a term for all the unhealthy stuff our kids feed their brains, and it’s called “junk tech”. Junk tech is considered low level tech usage with very little intellectual and interpersonal value and requires absolutely no cognitive effort. “It’s the infinite scroll that keeps going like a bottomless pit. It’s the constant stream of passive outputs, the mindless drivel about what people had for breakfast, the insatiable checking for likes, comments and forms of approval that make us hungry for further validation.”

So, let’s take a minute and draw some parallels between junk food and junk tech. Both target children and manipulate them with visual enticements, special advertisements, things they love, the desire for more, and the difficulty quitting or scaling back their consumption. We know from nutritionists that junk food affects our children’s physical and mental health so we do what we can to limit it. With junk food we can actually see the effects on our bodies so we tend to fight against it. That isn’t the case with junk tech. It’s an invisible force which makes it so hard to fight. The ingredients on a package of donuts are available right there for you to see, but the algorithms and design features that get our kids addicted to online platforms are invisible. The revealing documentary The Social Dilemma, details how design features in many social media platforms are used in the gambling industry to keep people coming back for more.

So, as parents, what can we do? Well, we CAN’T wait for tech companies to build mechanisms into devices that limit screen time because there is no official body regulating the tech industry, and it would take a lot of time and money. But there are things we can do to manage our kid’s use of technology. First of all, have open conversations with your kids and educate them on how they are being manipulated by the tech industry as well as the mental and emotional toll that unlimited screen time can have on them. Another is to start signing up and using the platforms your kids are using. We need to understand how they work and what they are feeding our kids. Help your child to gradually scale back their screen time, even just a few minutes each day will have a positive impact over time. After all, if we wouldn’t allow our kids to eat junk food 6 hours a day, why would we allow them to spend 6 hours a day on their devices?