Facebook addiction and how it impacts the family

Facebook addiction By Kristy MacKaben

It's not unusual to catch Erin Mantz sitting on the couch in her living room texting a friend or checking her Facebook page while her sons, ages 8 and 11, play on iPads or fiddle with Instagram nearby.

Mantz admits to spending too much time online. The Potomac mom logs about six hours a day on social media for her public relations job, but it's the personal time she spends on social media sites when she's with her children that causes guilt. She may have a little Facebook addiction going.

"I think it's too much time," Mantz says. "I think it's probably not a good use of my time."

Mantz is not the only mom who admits to spending a bit too much time on social media. There are plenty of moms out there with who upload pictures to Instagram while their children dangle from monkey bars, return texts at warp-speed, blog every detail of their day, "like" multiple Facebook posts and pin countless crafts on Pinterest.

A recent Nielsen study found 54 percent of moms in the U.S. own smart phones and 75 percent regularly use Facebook. Moms also make up one-third of all Pinterest users. Today's moms may not have grown up with smart phones and tablets, but they sure caught on quick.

The pull of social media is strong for many people. Moms, especially, might feel socially isolated or in need of connections and confirmation from peers. Because social media provides constant emotional and mental stimulation, as well as instant gratification, many people easily get hooked, according to Dawn Barie, a licensed clinical social worker and mindfulness-based psychotherapist in College Park.

"In a hectic and fast-paced society, parents are turning to social media to have their needs met as it provides a quick fix," Barie says. Those "needs" might include acknowledgement, inclusion, attention, recognition and appreciation, she says.

When social media sucks parents in

But while all this accessible technology can be great for keeping in touch with friends, researching the best preschools and expressing oneself, experts say there are drawbacks. If taken too far, social media can become addictive, which can wreak havoc on a family.

"It can impact your parenting, the care of your kids, your ability to perform household duties, your ability to perform well at work and be productive," says Dr. David Greenfield, director of Internet and Technology Addiction in West Hartford, Conn.

It's not so much the amount of time spent on social media but what a parent might be giving up to spend time on Facebook or Twitter, Barie explains.

"Even just 30 minutes of social media use in the evening can come as a great sacrifice to family matters needing attention," she says.

When children see their parents constantly glued to technology instead of interacting and spending time with family, it sends the wrong message, says Rebecca Cook, a Centreville-based therapist. Parents start neglecting the needs of their children, which causes them to feel that they aren't valued, Barie says.

"They will think the computer or phones are more important than their concerns," Barie says. "This will lead to a communication breakdown, thus weakening the bond between parent and child."
This sense of neglect could also lead to behavior problems as children seek negative attention through different means, Barie, says. It also causes kids to think it's ok to spend excess time online, according to Cook, who treats mostly children, many of whom spend too much time with computers, iPads and video games.

"Kids model ... what we do as parents," Cook says. "They're going to think it's ok.
Then it becomes a problem for them."

The distraction of social media can also be dangerous, experts agree.

"Accidents in the home may increase as parental attention and supervision is withheld in favor of using the computer or cell phone," Barie says.

Julia Howes, of Shady Side, estimates she spends about two hours a day on social media — particularly Facebook — when her daughter Zoey, 2, is playing, eating or sleeping.

"I probably spend too much time [online]. Social media can be addictive," Howes says. "We are constantly checking our phones and computers just to see if anything is happening."

Mantz agrees social media is addictive. "I feel like I'm going to miss something," she admits.

Facebook addiction

Though spending time on social media might seem harmless, Facebook and Twitter can develop into a serious addiction once it starts to interfere negatively with someone's life, Greenfield says.

A person struggling with an addiction will be unable to cut back on social media and will feel guilty about it, according to Barie. He or she might try to hide or lie about time spent online, which can create a disconnect with loved ones, she explains.

Internet addiction is relatively new and most people may not realize they have a problem, Greenfield says.

"It hasn't really reached a tipping point," Greenfield says, indicating most people who seek help at his center are dealing with addictions to online gaming or pornography, not the Internet or social media in general.

"There has to be an excessive amount of time and a major impact" to be an addiction, he says. "People spend excessive amounts of time on equipment because they have a sense of disassociation. They don't realize they spend that much time on it."

Read on to find out if you are addicted to social media

Are you addicted to social media?

You might be spending too much time on social media if:

  • Social media has become a central factor in your life.
  • You are constantly focused on gaining access to social media. You constantly check social media accounts.
  • You feel anxious if you are away from social media too long—thus distracting you from your family's needs.
  • Relationships with family and friends have deteriorated as a result of your obsession with social media.
  • You try to hide or lie about social media use.
  • You withdraw from activities or hobbies which you once enjoyed.
  • Your sleep has become disrupted.
  • You are experiencing chronic stress or depression

Information provided by Dawn Barie, a licensed clinical social worker and mindfulness-based psychotherapist in College Park and Dr. David Greenfield, director of Internet and Technology Addiction in West Hartford, Conn.

Steps for breaking social media dependence

If parents sense their social media use is negatively impacting the family, Barie and Greenfield suggest taking these steps to improve the situation:

  1. Recognize and acknowledge the problem and document how much time is spent online.
  2. dentify when, where and under what circumstances social media is used most often.
  3. Admit what problems social media might be causing in your home and work life.
  4. Set time limits for using social media. A kitchen timer will work, or computers can be set to turn off at certain intervals.
  5. Block websites that are most tempting.
  6. Limit access to technology. Do not bring smart phones to the dinner table or on family outings.
  7. Be present with your children and consciously plan activities to spend time with family. Do not update Facebook or upload photos while spending time with family. That can wait.
  8. "Get a life," Greenfield jokingly says. Find other interests or hobbies.
  9. Seek professional help, especially if a problem seems unmanageable.