Burke Baldwin offers group therapy to Muir Wood Teens

Understanding Internet and Social Media Addiction in Teens

According to a study conducted by Common Sense Media, 50% of American teenagers felt they were addicted to their smartphones, and 78% checked their devices at least hourly. 

While it may not come as a surprise if you are the parent of a teenager, this data highlights the significant impact that social media and smartphone usage have on teens in the digital era.

As parents of teens, we understand the challenges and concerns you may face in today’s digital world—a world in which social media, screens, cell phones, and gaming devices have become an integral part of your teen’s life. 

While these technologies offer many benefits, they also present significant risks, especially when their use crosses the line from healthy engagement to problematic addiction.

At Muir Wood, we recognize your primary concern is the well-being and happiness of your child. Our mission is to provide you with the knowledge, support, and effective treatment solutions to help your teen navigate the complexities of the digital world responsibly and develop a balanced relationship with technology.

Continue reading to learn more about social media, internet, and gaming addiction in teens, including how it’s defined, associated symptoms, and treatment options available to your teen at Muir Wood. 

What Is Social Media Addiction Versus Normal Use?

Social media addiction is a behavioral disorder characterized by excessive, compulsive, and uncontrollable use of social media platforms. Teens with social media addiction may find themselves constantly preoccupied with checking and engaging on social media, often at the expense of other essential activities or responsibilities. 

Social media addiction in teens can lead to negative consequences in various areas of their lives, such as academic performance, relationships, mental health, and overall well-being. Teens with social media addiction may struggle to control the amount of time they spend online. There is an irresistible urge to frequently check social media feeds, notifications, or messages, often feeling compelled to engage in this behavior. Over time, teens with social media addiction may need to spend increasing amounts of time on social media to experience the same level of stimulation.

It’s essential to note that occasional and responsible use of social media is not indicative of addiction. Social media addiction becomes a concern when it significantly impairs an individual’s daily functioning, relationships, and emotional well-being.

Attempting to reduce or stop social media use may lead to withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, restlessness, anxiety, or depression. Professional intervention, support, self-awareness, and healthy online usage strategies are crucial for teens struggling with social media addiction.

The Connection Between Social Media and Mental Health

Social media has revolutionized how we connect and communicate, offering numerous benefits in staying connected with friends, accessing information, and building virtual communities. However, excessive and problematic use of social media can pose significant mental health dangers beyond the scope of teen cell phone addiction. Here, we outline ways social media addiction can lead to or intensify mental health disorders.

Anxiety and Depression

There is a concerning correlation between heavy social media use and increased levels of anxiety and depression among teenagers, particularly girls. Constant exposure to carefully curated and idealized portrayals of others’ lives can lead to feelings of inadequacy and a fear of missing out. The pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty standards and lifestyle expectations can further exacerbate anxious or depressive thoughts and feelings.

Cyberbullying and Online Harassment

Social media platforms, like Instagram and Twitter, can become breeding grounds for cyberbullying and online harassment, with harmful comments and messages affecting a teen’s self-esteem and emotional well-being. 

Eating Disorders and Body Dysmorphia

The relentless exposure to filtered images and comparisons with others on social media can significantly contribute to body dysmorphia in susceptible teens. The pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty standards can lead to disordered eating behaviors and body dysmorphia, negatively impacting body image perception, especially in females.

Unhealthy Sleep Patterns

Excessive social media use, especially before bedtime, can disrupt a teenager’s sleep patterns. The constant scrolling, notifications, and the blue light emitted by screens can interfere with melatonin production, leading to difficulty falling asleep and decreased sleep quality. Poor sleep quality can limit decision-making and problem-solving capabilities and exacerbate symptoms of mental health disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety).

Low Self-Esteem

Social media can inadvertently foster a comparison culture where teens measure their self-worth based on likes, followers, and virtual validation. This constant comparison with others can lead to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and a distorted sense of self.

At Muir Wood, we understand the complexities of social media’s impact on teen mental health. Our treatment programs compassionately address these dangers and help teenagers build resilience, develop healthy coping mechanisms, and foster positive digital habits.

Recognizing the Warning Signs of Screen Addiction

In today’s digital era, screens have become integral to our lives, offering convenience, connectivity, and endless entertainment. However, the allure of screens can quickly lead to problematic and addictive behaviors in some people—especially teenagers. 

As parents, recognizing the warning signs of screen addiction is crucial for early intervention and support. This helps teenagers develop healthier relationships with technology and achieve a balanced lifestyle. Some of the most common warning signs of screen addiction in teens include:

Increased Screen Time

One of the primary warning signs of screen addiction is a significant increase in screen time. Teens with screen addiction may spend excessive hours engaging with digital devices (e.g., smartphones, tablets, computers, or gaming consoles). This excessive use often comes at the expense of other essential activities, such as schoolwork, exercise, social interactions, family time, and even sleep. 

Withdrawal and Irritability

When teens with screen addiction cannot access their devices or are asked to limit screen time, they may experience physical, mental, and emotional withdrawal symptoms. 

These can include:

  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Mood swings
  • Agitation
  • Defensiveness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Isolation

In extreme cases, teens may also experience suicidal ideation or thoughts of ending their lives. 

Neglecting Responsibilities

Screen addiction can lead teens to neglect their responsibilities, such as chores, homework, or extracurricular activities. Declining grades tend to be one of the initial signs of social media addiction in teens.

Social Isolation

Teens struggling with screen addiction may use screens to escape real-life problems or cope with mental health disorders such as depression, stress, or anxiety. This can lead to social isolation, as they prefer screen interactions over face-to-face interactions with loved ones.

Declining Academic Performance

Screen addiction can negatively impact a teen’s academic performance. Constant distractions from screens can hinder their ability to focus, concentrate, and complete assignments on time.

Loss of Interest in Extracurricular Activities

Teens with screen addiction may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. Hobbies, sports, and quality time with friends may take a backseat to spending time on their phones, gaming consoles, or other digital devices.

Physical Health Issues

Excessive screen time can contribute to physical health issues, including headaches, eye strain, neck and back pain, and poor posture. Additionally, internet addiction can contribute to a sedentary lifestyle, potentially leading to physical health problems like obesity, diabetes, or heart disease.

Preferring a Virtual World Over Real-Life Interactions

Teens addicted to screens may prioritize virtual worlds, social media interactions, or online gaming communities over real-life interactions with friends, family, and peers.

Recognizing the warning signs of screen addiction is the first step in helping your teen find relief. If you suspect your teen may be struggling with screen, internet, or gaming addiction, it’s essential to approach the situation with empathy. Seeking professional support and setting healthy boundaries around screen time can help teens develop a healthy attitude and approach to screen usage.

What is Gaming Addiction?

Gaming addiction is a behavioral addiction involving excessive and compulsive gaming behavior. It refers specifically to a situation where someone becomes obsessed with playing video games to the extent that it negatively impacts their daily life, relationships, and overall well-being. Gaming addiction can affect people of all ages, but it is most often observed among teenagers and young adults.

Like internet and social media addiction, gaming addiction (also known as video game addiction or gaming disorder), affects teens in many ways. Rather than involving social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or Snapchat, it involves games they can play on their smartphones, computers, or gaming consoles.

The World Health Organization (WHO) included “gaming disorder” in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) in 2018. 

Gaming Addiction Symptoms

Symptoms of gaming addiction vary from one teen to the next but often include some level of the following

  • Uncontrolled, prolonged gaming sessions
  • The constant need to think about gaming
  • Ignoring school, work, or basic responsibilities due to gaming
  • Using gaming to escape real-life problems
  • Withdrawing from real-life relationships
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Neglecting hygiene, physical health, exercise, and nutrition
  • Sacrificing sleep for gaming
  • Unsuccessful attempts to reduce gaming time
  • The innate need to continue with gaming despite adverse effects

Not all individuals who spend significant time gaming have an addiction. A gaming addiction diagnosis requires a comprehensive evaluation by a mental health professional, like those provided at Muir Wood. If your teen is experiencing any of these gaming addiction symptoms and it’s affecting their daily life, seeking professional help and support is crucial for proper and personalized treatment.

How We Treat Teen Cell Phone and Internet Addiction

At Muir Wood, we understand the complexities of teen cell phone, gaming, and internet addiction and the impact it can have on their overall well-being. Our unique and effective treatment approach is tailored to address the specific needs of teenagers struggling with screen time addiction. We combine evidence-based therapies, individualized treatment plans, and family support to empower teens to develop healthier relationships with technology and lead more balanced lives.

Your teen’s journey with us begins with a thorough assessment of their struggles and challenges related to cell phone and internet addiction. Understanding the underlying factors contributing to addiction is crucial for designing personalized treatment plans that provide lasting results.

We recognize that every teen’s journey is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. Our expert team creates individualized treatment plans tailored to your teenager’s specific needs and goals. Our teen social media addiction treatment plan integrates various therapies to ensure comprehensive healing. Therapies may include

  • Teen individual therapy, e.g., CBT and DBT, etc.
  • Teen group therapy
  • Alcohol or substance use disorder treatment
  • Experiential therapies
  • Family therapy and support
  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Introduction to the 12 Steps

Additionally, we emphasize the importance of holistic well-being through

  • A balanced diet
  • Regular exercise
  • A supportive network of adults and peers who encourage your teen throughout their recovery journey

At Muir Wood, we are fully devoted to providing evidence-based treatment for social media addiction. Our goal is to equip your teen with the tools and skills needed to flourish in life long into adulthood, free from the constraints of excessive social media use.

Together, we can guide your teen toward a healthier digital life, nurturing their overall well-being.


Are Video Games Good for Kids?

The short answer is that it depends. Video games can influence kids and teens in both positive and negative ways, depending on several factors such as content type, usage duration, and individual screen time safety. Some potential benefits include

  • Enhanced cognitive skills
  • Social interaction
  • Creativity

However, it’s essential to set limits on gaming time and ensure content is always age appropriate. Excessive gaming can lead to negative consequences, such as reduced physical activity, academic challenges, and social isolation.

How Much Screen Time is Too Much?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provides the following general screen time guidelines for kids based on age:

  • Ages 2 and under: Avoid screens except for video calls with family and friends
  • Ages 2 to 5: Limit screen time to one hour of high-quality educational content per day
  • Ages 6 and older: Establish consistent limits on screen time, ensuring it does not interfere with sleep, physical activity, or social interactions

It’s essential to consider the quality of screen time and balance it with other healthy activities.

What Are Strategies for Limiting Screen Time?

Managing screen time effectively can foster a healthy balance between digital engagement and other aspects of life. Some strategies to limit screen time for kids and teens include:

  • Establishing clear guidelines and time limits
  • Creating screen-free zones in your home where screen time is not allowed
  • Encouraging regular participation in other hobbies, sports, and creative endeavors
  • Leading by example and limiting your own screen time
  • Using parental control settings on devices to restrict access to age-inappropriate content

By implementing these strategies, you can help your teen strike a healthy balance between screen time and other essential activities in their life.

Effective and Personalized Treatment for Teen Social Media Addiction in California

At Muir Wood, we are dedicated to providing proven treatment for teen social media, screen, and gaming addiction, along with care for co-occurring mental health or substance use disorders. We understand the challenges and complexities of navigating the digital landscape. Our evidence-based approach is designed to empower your teen to develop healthier relationships with technology.

Through psychotherapy and a holistic array of therapies, we address the root causes of social media addiction, helping teens gain self-awareness and cultivate positive coping strategies. Our commitment to family involvement ensures that you are an integral part of your teen’s recovery journey. This fosters a supportive and understanding environment for healing.

Contact us to learn more or get the help your teen needs now.