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Posted On July 11, 2022 Personal Injury

What Parents Need to Know About Kids and Social Media Self-Harm and Addiction

Social Media HarmJuly 11, 2022 – For every funny meme or cute pet picture posted on social media by a friend, for every “like” and congratulatory comment, there’s a darker side to social media. Researchers have linked social media exposure—especially excessive and problematic usage—to social media addiction, mental health issues, eating disorders, self-harm behaviors, and suicidal ideation.

What Can Parents Do About Harm Caused by Social Media?

Given the massive world of social media content, where virtual interactions are truly endless and new posts are constantly being created, combatting the harm that can be done by social media may seem impossible.

Many parents feel helpless to prevent the dangers posed to their children by social media, particularly when their children’s overuse of social media begins to border on addiction. In today’s increasingly connected age, setting time limits and confiscating devices can only do so much to curb the problem, and some of the features common among social media sites inhibit parents’ abilities to monitor and limit their children’s usage.

The potential for harm may be more built-in to social media platforms than previously known. Experts and whistleblowers have identified features and algorithms of social media sites that are based on addictive psychological tactics and that, they say, pose a danger to young users’ mental health and, at times, physical health.

More specifically, social media companies have been accused of employing addictive psychological tactics to increase the use of their product and changing their algorithms to favor high-engagement (and often hateful or sensational) content. Social media companies are also alleged to have collected and used consumers’ data unethically. According to whistleblower and former employee Frances Haugen, Facebook “intentionally hides vital information from the public.”

This information, NPR reported, includes internal studies leaked by Haugen that showed how teen users reported worsening body image issues, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts related to their use of the Meta, Inc.-owned social media site Instagram.

For all of these choices, Haugen reported “astronomical profits” as the motivation. Social media sites are often free for consumers to use, earning their money off of advertising sales. Keeping users glued to the phone boosts social media companies’ value as a marketing tool in the eyes of advertisers, and the alleged unethical data collection, too, facilitates targeted advertising.

The Mental Health Crisis of Social Media Addiction

A child or teen user of social media doesn’t have to be addicted to the use of this technology to suffer negative consequences. However, social media addiction is increasingly being perceived as a serious and widespread problem, affecting as many as 5% to 10% of all Americans,  experts at California State University reported in 2018.

Part of the definition of social media addiction is that the excessive and problematic usage of social media persists despite the user experiencing negative consequences.

How Social Media Addiction Develops

Social media addiction occurs because the virtual social interactions that take place on these sites and apps stimulate the same reward pathways in the brain as taking drugs or gambling. The activation of these pathways produces the neurotransmitter dopamine, which creates feelings of pleasure that motivate the individual to repeat the behavior. In this way, the rewards system trains the brain so that the user becomes dependent on excessive social media usage.

Additionally, children, teens, and young adults are still developing their sense of self. This reality makes young users more susceptible to social media’s harmful effects than adults, who already have a fixed sense of self-identity, according to the American Psychological Association.

Types of Social Media Harm

The consequences of social media addiction can seriously affect a person’s physical and mental health.

Some of the serious effects of excessive or problematic social media use include:

Social Media Addiction

Social media use crosses the line into addiction when it becomes so problematic or excessive that it affects the user’s life in negative ways—causing emotional distress, loss of engagement in the “real” (offline) world, and even withdrawal symptoms upon pausing or stopping exposure.

Depression and Anxiety

Problematic or addictive use of social media may contribute to new or worsening depression or anxiety. These are clinically diagnosable mental health conditions in which the troubling feelings—sadness and fear, respectively—are persistent or excessive and impact the person’s life in significant ways.

Issues With Body Image and Self-Esteem

Additional examples of how social media harms mental health include negative body image and low self-esteem. While body image refers specifically to an individual’s view of their own body, including weight and perceived physical attractiveness, self-esteem is how the person feels about their whole self.

Unfortunately, social media exposure—and particularly problematic social media use—can affect both body image and self-esteem by promoting harmful messages about health and the ideal body and by exposing users to the abusive and hateful words of cyberbullies.

Eating Disorders

Clinically diagnosable eating disorders and disordered eating patterns are examples of some of the serious ways in which social media can affect physical health as well as mental health. Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder can cause serious harm to a person’s physical health as well as their mental health, leading to conditions like osteoporosis, kidney failure, and heart attack, according to National Eating Disorders Association.

Self-Harm Behaviors

A self-harm behavior may include any intentional physical harm a person inflicts upon themselves, such as cutting, burning, or other methods of self-mutilation, without the intention of taking one’s own life. Self-harm behaviors are usually performed in an (unhealthy) attempt to cope with emotional pain and unwanted feelings, according to Mayo Clinic. Self-inflicted injuries can cause permanent damage or serious complications, like infections, and in severe cases can accidentally cause the death of the individual engaging in self-harm behaviors.

Suicidal Ideation and Behaviors

Suicide is any self-inflicted injury undertaken in a deliberate attempt to end one’s own life. Suicidal ideation means suicidal thoughts, such as thinking about or actively planning the deliberate ending of one’s own life. A suicide attempt is the implementation of these thoughts and plans by taking action to kill oneself through any means.

Suicide attempts and suicidal ideation can arise out of a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, addiction, and eating disorders.

In an emergency situation, like suspected self-harm or suicidal ideation, please seek immediate assistance by calling 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

How Can Youth and Social Media Lawyers Help Families Harmed by Social Media?

Numerous research studies have linked social media exposure to many kinds of harm, particularly among impressionable children, teens, and young adults. Whistleblowers have testified about the ways that, they say, social media companies are harming society and particularly young people. Last year, a bipartisan coalition of U.S. state attorneys general launched an investigation into Facebook and Instagram over the sites’ alleged targeting of children “despite potential harms,” Reuters reported.

Families that have been impacted by the harmful effects of social media, too, are taking action. Social media companies like Meta Platforms, Inc. and Snap Inc. have been the subject of lawsuits over the harm that parents and families allege their children suffered because of social media. Often, these lawsuits allege that the social media platform used dangerous or defective product features, such as engagement-based algorithms that promote the spread of hateful or abusive content and functionalities that allow cyberbullies to harass victims anonymously.

A social media lawsuit attorney can review your family’s unique situation and determine what avenues for legal recourse may be available to you. If your family does end up moving forward with a social media harm lawsuit, we can offer professional legal representation on a no-win, no-fee basis. For a free, confidential consultation with our compassionate legal team, call (866) 778-5500 or contact us here.