05/13/2013 02:27 pm ET Updated Jul 13, 2013

Social Addiction

Only 30 minutes have passed, and the urge continues to grow stronger. You checked your phone first thing this morning and again when you arrived at the office, but you're already eager to log in to Facebook for your next Newseed fix. Social media addiction represents a growing concern for psychologists, parents and families across the U.S. With more social media platforms available each year and the ease of access constantly improving, the reach of this type of addiction appears to have no stopping point.

Social media serves a legitimate social function for the majority of online users. Instant chats, status updates and comment posting represent some of the most common ways to connect with friends and acquaintances. Interactions made through websites also bypass many of the limitations of face-to-face meetings. Friends around the globe connect easily on social media. In addition, curfews, time-limits and money mean little in the virtual world. Its availability on smart phones and tablets also makes social media one of the most accessible means of connection, which adds to the temptation to login at almost any point in the day.

A recent survey from Experian, the credit reporting agency, discovered that U.S. citizens spend an average of 16 minutes out of each hour they access the Internet perusing social networks. According to the report, Americans also spend more time on social media than citizens of any other country with U.K. citizens averaging 13 minutes and Australians spending 14 minutes on social networks for each hour of Internet usage.

Some psychologists have reported treating patients for addictions to social media, and many experts agree too much social media exposure may lead to serious life consequences. Social functions may be impaired by excessive hours spent on social media websites and feelings of anxiousness may increase when separated from Internet and electronic devices. These represent several of the concerning impacts for individuals who struggle to balance real and virtual social identities.

All social media users must thoughtfully consider how much time they spend online and how Internet interactions impact overall social functioning. Additionally, by maintaining personal relationships based on offline exchanges, social media interactions also become more meaningful. Look to the following guidelines to help maintain a healthy relationship with social media:

  • Moderate social media usage and stick to a predetermined time limit each day
  • Engage in offline interactions for time increments equal to the amount of time spent on social media websites
  • Engage in a before bed and morning ritual that involves time with family or friends rather than going to social media websites to start and end the day
  • Take social media vacation days to spend time with friends and loved ones
  • Choose friends carefully on social media websites in order to spend time interacting with real friends rather than sorting through updates from distant relatives and former acquaintances