Part of the success that explains the popularity of social networks like Facebook or Instagram lies in how easy they are to use . Their operation is simple, and once inside, it’s not hard to know what to do at any given moment just by (literally) moving a finger.

Unfortunately, that same simplicity of use is a potentially harmful mechanism of use for many adolescents, an age group that is especially vulnerable to the “charms” of this kind of virtual environment.

If people as prone to distraction and immediacy as young people have learned to use social networks, it is because these digital platforms are capable of constantly promising them the satisfaction of several of their basic needs. E his leads us to talk about like-addicts : what they are, how they are made, and what can be done to manage this problem.

The causes of dependence on “like” in social networks

Two of the most important characteristics of adolescent psychology are the following: search for experiences beyond the family environment, and search for acceptance by a reference group (adolescents of the same age and a little older than oneself).

These sources of motivation for the average teenager are often uncomfortable for many parents, and certainly sometimes do not fit very well with parents’ values and priorities. However, they are still part of normal young people’s development.

The desire for popularity should not become a problem or an obsession. But the reality is that, in order to achieve the fame and attention they desire, some young people will be able to expose themselves to risky situations (even for their lives) or to overexpose their intimate lives, becoming obsessed with the objective they are pursuing: recognition and popularity, all this translated into likes . And the more, the better.

This adolescent mentality can also make young people more prone to certain unhealthy habits. In particular, the uncontrolled use of social networks like Facebook or Instagram can make them “hook” on their smartphones and computers . The reason? These digital platforms allow them to constantly enter into a dynamic in which these two needs mentioned above are quickly satisfied. This is why many boys and girls can end up developing an addiction to mobile devices (nomaphobia) and a severe addiction to likes, (like-addicts).

The search for new experiences

On the one hand, social networks give the opportunity to be creating content continuously, almost without interruption : write states, upload photos, share videos… One type of content that these digital platforms try to prioritize is that which is created by the users, which speaks about the person. Stories from Instagram, photos where one can be tagged, personal reflections…

The companies that manage these platforms focus on original personal content, created by the users , avoiding institutional content.

This creates a context in which teenagers have an excuse to show themselves in different situations and share them on the Internet through photos, videos, messages, etc. Even those actions that at other times might seem ridiculous are justified by the fact that they are seen by many people who become potential sources of “likes”. And this leads us to the next point.

The search for acceptance

As we have seen, social networks provide a reason to publish content that talks about yourself, and this makes experiencing new experiences even more stimulating: you can get more out of exploring a ruin, climbing an abandoned building, going on holiday to an exotic place or even wearing new clothes. And this links up with the other great source of motivation for teenagers: the search for acceptance and respect from other young people.

Here it is important to note the following: the young people for whom the adolescent wants to feel accepted are not the members of his group of friends, but many more people , even strangers, or other adolescents from higher grades who have never heard of him.

This logic is very well suited to what social networks offer: the possibility of generating content of potentially unlimited scope. If done right, a home video can go viral, reaching hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of hours. The reach of this content depends, in large part, on the number of times that content is shared, and the “likes” that others give to that video, photo or message.

In this way, social networks offer the possibility of becoming famous practically without the need to move from the couch , without first having to submit to the scrutiny of other people more popular than oneself, and even without depending on the collaboration of friends.

The result: the like-addicts

A social network is a place where original content is consumed and shared and where rewards what is personal and surprising . In return, it offers fame and a lifestyle based on constantly trying new things. All this, working in real time, at the click of a button and without waiting.

The result of this goes beyond a constant use of social networks to see what others have posted. Many teenagers around the world already fantasize about achieving fame in the virtual world. Achieving popularity, money and recognition thanks to social networks has already become one of their main desires .

In fact, there are already studies that suggest that in the adolescent population there is a direct relationship between obsessive use of social networks and a greater likelihood of developing depression. That’s why parental supervision and attention to observing children’s use of their social networks is important.

How do you manage this problem?

It is clear that for many families this dynamic of use of social networks by adolescent sons and daughters becomes a problem. Here are some recommendations on how to deal with it.

1. Improving risk education

Exposure to social networks carries many risks for adolescents. You have to make sure that they know about them and are aware of them , but without alarming them by exaggerating so that they do not become obsessed with dangers that do not exist.

2. Better education in values

It is important that parents, teachers and tutors make young people understand that in life the most important thing is not just to be at the top of the social hierarchy by the number of followers on Facebook or Instagram, and show them that there are other criteria by which they can be inspired.

Reinforcing the positive values that underlie friendship, companionship, curiosity for learning… all of this can also help by looking for inspiring examples especially from people in your age group, people with whom you can easily identify.

3. If necessary, limit access to social networks

In cases where the use of social networks is very excessive, a schedule can be set in which the adolescent can access these . However, this should be done by avoiding confrontation and explaining very well the reason for the measure.

In any case, a total ban on access is a bad idea, not least because this could lead to the adolescent becoming socially isolated, especially if we consider that virtually all young people of his age socialise through these platforms.

The need to seek professional help

In some cases, it is necessary to go to psychotherapy .

Addictions go beyond substance use, and can in fact arise from behaviors that are entirely within the law. Dependence goes beyond the intake of substances, since in the end it ends up prioritizing the addictive action before everything else. A harmful habit that disrupts the psyche and life of the person by absorbing their attention completely.

In the case of young people who need to be constantly reviewing their social networks, the problem is not considered a recognized psychiatric disorder in the diagnostic manuals used by mental health professionals (as is the case, for example, with drug addiction), but it can be a problem, and it is advisable to seek psychological therapy.

The key to this is not to remain superficial: beyond the apparent addiction to social networks, there are concrete psychological mechanisms that are being exploited by these digital platforms. Therefore, in order to understand what happens to those teenagers who don’t get off the screen, we must understand why like-addicts emerge, and act accordingly by seeking professional help from psychologists.

Bibliographic references:

  • Pantic, I.; Damjanovic, A.; Todorovic, J.; Topalovic, D.; Bojovic-Jovic, D.; Ristic, S.; Pantic, S. (2012). Association between online social networking and depression in high school students: behavioral physiology viewpoint. Danubine psychiatry. 24(1): pp. 90-93.