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The Digital Drug: A deep dive into social media addiction

Posted at 9:18 AM, May 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-02 22:05:08-04

The word addiction typically brings to mind drugs and alcohol. However, over the last 20 years, a new addiction has crept into our lives without warning.

It's legal, and it's right in the palm of our hands.

We're talking about social media.

In this three-part series, The Digital Drug, we're taking a deep dive into social media addiction, how parents manage their kid's use, and solutions that can help your children navigate this digital world.

Part 1

It can be all-consuming; the pings, the likes, the follows.

Social media sites like Tik Tok, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are created deliberately to be addictive.

"When we look at companies like Google and Meta, we find they're hiring a great number of marketing and advertising executives which makes sense but also addiction specialists," says Dr. Josh Nadeau, senior clinical director and an addiction specialist at Rogers Behavioral Health.

Rogers Behavior Heal
Rogers Behavior Health

Dr. Nadeau says many social media apps are designed to be progressively habit-forming.

"They are designed to reinforce very strongly, very rapidly, very consistently and it hits those dopamine centers in our brain, it's the same as it would with any drug that we use to ring about that feeling of getting that fix," he says. "And when you talk to kids and adolescents it starts to use language that sounds alarmingly like substance use and abuse," adds Dr. Nadeau.

Every click, like and scroll constantly feeds the addiction like a slot machine with no jackpot that nearly everyone can access it.

The Digital Drug Bar Chart FS.png

According to Common Sense Media, more than half (53%) of kids in the U.S. have their own smartphone by age 11, 69% by age 12, and nearly 20 percent of 8-year-olds now have a smartphone.

As of today, 16 years after Facebook was first opened to the public, Wisconsin Public Schools are not required by the state to teach social media safety.

Yet, in 1983 The Drug Abuse Resistance Education or DARE program was created and later implemented in public school curricula nationwide to teach kids about the dangers of drug use.

In the 1980s and 90s schools introduced sex education into the classroom in response to the A.I.D.S. epidemic.

Right now, no such system has been put in place for social media safety. It's up to each local school district to put systems in place to educate and help protect our kids.

"I think we've got a really great foundation of where we are starting from. And, knowing the internet changes every day knowing there are always things we can be teaching and learning," says Raquel Rand, the Library Media Coordinator at Green Bay Area Public Schools.

Both Green Bay Area Public Schools and the Appleton Area Public Schools have education tools in place for students and parents about social media safety.

"We talk about digital citizenship and using appropriate use of technology and that's kind of modeled throughout, permeates throughout the curriculum we talk about being a responsible citizen," says Appleton East High School Math Teacher and Technology coach Jeremy Kautz of Appleton East High School.

But many schools across northeast Wisconsin lack formal education for students and parents.

Aiden Olson, a senior at Appleton East High School, says, "Personally I don't think that it's covered enough in our normal curriculum. We cover the basics. But that's basically like all I've ever heard through the actual classroom experience. Other than that you just learn as you go really."

"I think it would be good to have a minimum that is required from the state," says Leslie Rodrigues, a mother of two young kids in Northeast Wisconsin.

"I think it's something that should be put on the responsibility of the schools," says Jacob Tease, a father of two children in Green Bay.

If social media education were to follow the same path as drug and sex education in public schools, some educators we spoke with argue leaving it up to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to decide the curriculum may slow down the process.

"The legislature has a hard enough time agreeing on anything and they would probably get stymied trying to figure out what's the best way to move forward on that," says AASD teacher, Jeremy Kautz.

Some Appleton area moms we spoke with say leaving it all up to the parents to teach their kids how to navigate the world of social media is overwhelming.

"It's exhausting as a parent and it's a constant fear of like, 'Am I doing this right, am I monitoring enough?'" says Denise Willis, mother of four kids ages 4 to 15.

Lyndsay Schumacher, mother of three, is facing similar struggles. "With video games, with YouTube, there's that instant gratification and it's like every 30 seconds it's like they're getting dopamine, dopamine, dopamine and it's hard to compete with that."

Watch Part 2 of The Digital Drug: 'It's exhausting.' Local moms share their kids' struggles with social media

The Digital Drug: Local moms share their struggles with today's social media obsessed society

Watch The Digital Drug, Part 3: Solutions to find balance in a digital world

The Digital Drug, Part 3: Solutions