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Cyberbullying and Social Media Addiction

Social media addiction, image of a person holding out a cell phone with hand cuffs on.Have you ever grabbed your phone to check a calendar date or the weather and the next thing you know, you’re scrolling aimlessly on Instagram or TikTok? Social media apps have a way of sucking us in and keeping our attention for long periods. But at what point does it all go too far and the desire for likes and comments becomes a need?

Social media addiction is real.

And especially for teens and young adults. A person can become addicted to that rush of receiving likes, going viral, or simply scrolling through meaningless videos. Interestingly, researchers have found that social media addiction can increase a person’s likelihood to engage in cyberbullying behaviors. In this article, we’ll discuss why that is, how one can develop a social media addiction, and what parents can do in response to this reality.

In This Article:

What is Social Media Addiction?

While many of us habitually use social media, it generally does not cause significant psychological issues. However, for a small percentage of users, the use of social media becomes an addiction. Psychologists have found that somewhere between 5 to 10% of Americans suffer from social media addiction, a type of behavioral addiction. A social media addiction can be characterized by the intense and uncontrollable urge to use social media despite the negative consequences and disruptions it causes in their lives.

Social media addiction looks a lot like any other substance use disorder with six key characteristics:

  1. Mood modification. The user experiences an emotional boost or high after social media use.
  2. Salience. The user has a behavioral, emotional, and cognitive fixation with social media.
  3. Tolerance. The user must continually increase social media use over time to achieve the same ‘high.’
  4. Withdrawal symptoms. The user experiences both emotional and physical distress when social media use is diminished or removed.
  5. Conflict. Social media use causes interpersonal problems in the user’s life.
  6. Relapse. After an abstinence period, the user quickly reverts to excessive social media use.

If you’ve noticed any of the following behavioral issues from yourself or your child, it may be worth looking into getting support from a professional. Social media addiction can lead to several problems in a person’s life (i.e. cyberbullying), especially for young people who are still developing cognitively and learning emotional regulation.

How is a Social Media Addiction Formed and Who is Most at Risk?

Social media sites like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are designed to give users minor dopamine hits as they use the site. Receiving a like or a positive comment triggers the brain’s reward area and can make someone feel better when they are experiencing negative emotions. The brain then begins to associate that positive feeling with social media use, resulting in positive reinforcement of that behavior.

Additionally, researchers have found that the reward centers in the brain are most active when we are talking about ourselves. And what is the premise of most social media sites? It’s to share noteworthy moments in our lives. We talk about ourselves 80% of the time when we’re using social media compared to 30-40% in real life.

People who use social media as a coping mechanism when they experience depression, stress, or loneliness in their lives are most at risk for developing a social media addiction. Additionally, teens who struggle with social anxiety in real life may be more likely to engage in social media due to the ability to be anonymous and the absence of face-to-face interactions.

How Does Social Media Addiction Lead to Cyberbullying?

Several studies have shown a link between cyberbullying and the amount of time a user spends on the internet. The longer a person spends on the internet, the more likely they are to engage in cyberbullying behaviors. Cyberbullying can be defined as intentional, repeated, and aggressive behavior that occurs through some form of technology or online platform that causes harm to another person.

Several theories explain how social media addiction can lead to cyberbullying. In this article, we’ll discuss the social learning theory, problem behavior theory, and the online disinhibition effect.

Social Learning Theory

The social learning theory of behavior suggests that young people learn through observation and imitation of others, usually of an adult or someone they respect or look up to. Continued exposure to social platforms exposes adolescents to aggressive behavior. They observe and learn from this behavior and begin to imitate it themselves online, perpetuating cyberbullying behaviors. They may also perceive that other users who engage in cyberbullying are somehow rewarded and seek the same reward for themselves.

Problem Behavior Theory

Problem behavior theory is used to explain adolescent problem behaviors (such as cyberbullying) and the impact of protective factors and risk factors. This theory suggests that adolescents use problem behaviors involving risky behaviors to gain acceptance and respect from their peers. In the context of cyberbullying, teens who engage in aggressive behaviors online use them as a way to cope with stress, eliminate or reduce pressure, or signify gaining independence from family. A social media addiction makes it more likely for teens to engage in problematic behaviors online to gain the acceptance they seek.

Online Disinhibition Effect

The online disinhibition effect underscores the concerning phenomenon wherein repeated exposure to online aggression and bullying can gradually normalize such behavior among youth. The more a person uses social media, the more they are desensitized to the aggression they may witness. Over time, this normalization may heighten the propensity for engaging in cyberbullying or becoming a victim of it.

How Parents Should Respond To Cyberbullying Caused By Social Media Addiction

Parents confronted with cyberbullying stemming from their child’s social media addiction should take proactive steps to address this issue. First and foremost, parents need to engage with their children and foster open communication about their online experiences. Counselors play a vital role in reducing the risk of addictive behaviors at a young age by imparting emotional regulation skills and effective coping mechanisms to children.

As adolescents are still undergoing cognitive development, they may struggle to make sound choices when wielding technology with a global audience. Therefore, parents should actively involve themselves in guiding their children’s digital habits, ensuring they understand the consequences of their online actions and the potential risks associated with social media addiction.

Moreover, parents should collaborate with schools to combat cyberbullying and social media addiction. Schools can proactively educate students about these issues through awareness campaigns or support groups, empowering them to comprehend the gravity of their actions and prepare them for potential consequences.

By taking a holistic approach that combines parental involvement, counseling, and educational initiatives, parents can help their children navigate the digital world responsibly while curbing the adverse effects of social media addiction and cyberbullying.

When the Cybervictim Becomes the Cyberbully

In many cases, the cyberbully was once the cyber victim. Those who have been victims of cyberbullying are more likely to engage in cyberbullying behaviors. When social media addiction is at play, this occurrence becomes even more likely as teens continue to be exposed to online aggression. If you notice your teen is spending an exceptional amount of time on social media and is exhibiting cyberbullying behaviors, it may be time to speak to them not only about proper behavior online, but also discuss where they learned their behavior and whether they themselves have been victims of online harassment.

If you find that your child is a victim of severe online harassment, see if you can speak with their parents as well as your child’s school to discuss ways to stop the harassment. If you notice the problem is profound and your teen’s school is not doing enough to prevent this behavior, consider speaking with a lawyer.

Having an anti-cyberbullying attorney who is not only knowledgeable about Illinois law but also passionate about every child feeling safe in school and online can help motivate the school district to take action. No child or parent should have to go it alone when fighting social media harassment, especially when complicated factors such as social media addiction are at play.

At Disparti Law Group Accident & Injury Lawyers, we have the skills to support you and your child through this difficult and complicated time. To speak with someone today, call (312) 600-6000 for a FREE case review. Together, as a community, we can stop cyberbullying once and for all.

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The Disparti Law Group Accident & Injury Lawyers is one of the most successful law firms serving the greater Chicago and Tampa areas. As the leader in Injury, Disability, Workers’ Comp, and Employment Law, with more than $1 Billion in recoveries, The Disparti Law Group Accident & Injury Lawyers has been named One of the Most Influential Law Firms in America by Trial Lawyer Magazine.

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