Social media addiction and young people’s emotional wellbeing: Part I

 CASE 1: Tope, a 13-year-old female secondary school student pressured her mother to buy her a smart phone for her last birthday. She cried and begged and eventually won her mother over. After all, all her friends have had phones since they were 10 years old.

She felt like the relic among them and an outcast as she watched them enviously chatting and posting pictures on their social media handles. Now she had suffered enough and it was time to join the big league with her own smart phone.

She promptly created her own social media accounts and was thrilled to spend the next three days sending friend requests, accepting requests from others and responding to chats. She received lots of compliments on her profile picture and she felt good. To think that she had been missing all the fun these past few years…she sighed to herself.

Over the next few months, she became very obsessed with her phone and would be very anxious all day in school, to get back and check up on her messages and respond to her online friends. Or follow a thread that is really hot on twitter or facebook. She always wanted to know what was trending.

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She stopped spending time with her friends in school or her younger siblings at home – her parents closed late and usually returned home after their bedtime anyway. But she only pretended to be asleep when they checked in on her. She remained online till late every night…chatting away.

She became irritable and sleepy in class and her school grades dropped remarkably. Her class teacher became concerned and invited the parents to find out what was going on after discussing with Tope who insisted she was fine and had no problems.

Her parents were puzzled by the report from her class teacher and turned to Tope, who continued to insist that there was no problem. Until Akin, Tope’s younger brother, decided to let the cat out of the bag, by disclosing that she spent long hours every day and long into the night, on her phone chatting.

Her parents were shocked and decided to take away her phone immediately. Tope cried and was very upset with Akin and her parents for several days but they were having none of it. Tope decided to rebel against her parents and the teachers by refusing to study hard, if they would not return her phone to her. She was sure they would reconsider if her grades still didn’t improve.



Adolescence is the period between the ages of 10 and 19 years while youth is defined as occurring between the ages of 15 and 24 years. Adolescence is especially characterised by significant changes in physical growth, onset of puberty, and transitioning from childhood into adulthood with increasing freedom and responsibilities.

It is also fraught with challenges, as they become more opinionated and assertive, whereas it is also a period when their decision making is more likely to be impulsive than well -thought out; and they are especially vulnerable to peer pressure and the desire to be socially accepted and liked. Adolescents are the heaviest users of social media sites than any other age group.


Psychological distress or mental disorder?

Emotional problems may occur from time to time in the course of daily living and result in psychological distress but may not necessarily qualify as a disorder. So there may be fleeting problems with functioning but they do not last for a long time.

What qualifies as a disorder, or the difference between normality and abnormality is a function of three criteria: a) Severity of symptoms, b) duration of symptoms and c) impairment in functioning.



The ability to interact meaningfully with others in a community may be described as being ‘sociable’. But communities may be physically present or an on-line (virtual) community.

Social media addiction is a new term that refers to the uncontrollable use of the social media that results in excessive time consumption; as well as problems with social interactions and fulfilment of normal role expectations at school, family or at work.

The term addiction is used, because it shares similar pattern with other addictions including drug addiction which has the following six (6) criteria:


  • Strong desire/craving to take a psychoactive drug
  • Development of tolerance; needing to take more in order to feel high
  • Severe withdrawal symptoms (when they attempt to stop)
  • Takes greater amounts or over a greater length of time than originally intended (difficulty controlling behavior)
  • Continuing to take the substance even when he is having many problems because of it
  • Loss of interest in other things that he used to enjoy in the past, but no longer cares about.


To be concluded next week


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