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Social Media Addictions Can Happen, But Here's How Children Can Find Balance

It's not all bad news.

09/01/2017 2:30 PM AEDT | Updated 10/01/2017 8:26 AM AEDT

Most of us catch ourselves retreating to our phones during a meeting, or triple checking the amount of likes on our latest Instagram post. The impact of technology and social media on Australian lives is yet to be fully-defined, but the chemicals that its overuse can release in our brains may harm us and our children.

TED speaker and author Simon Sinek's musings on millennials recently went viral, as he highlighted the impact social media is having on children worldwide. The chemical called dopamine (aka that hit of excitement you get) is released when you receive a like, or text -- which is the same chemical causing drug and alcohol addictions.

Child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg says "it is easy to blame the technology" but the issue comes down to the individual -- claiming social media addiction will only impact about 1 in 10 children. Most can actually benefit from the connection.

"I think [social media addiction] is to do with their psychology but also lack of parental supervision," Carr-Gregg told The Huffington Post Australia.

A 2015 study by the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre -- where Carr-Gregg is Managing Director -- found moderate use of social media was associated with a decrease in feelings of isolation, depressive symptoms and anxiety symptoms.

"The greatest predictor of well being in the lives of young people is not being good looking, or having more money, or having more positive life events -- it's actually having a rich repertoire of friends," Carr-Gregg said.

The psychologist said technology and social media has enabled peer connection like never before.

'Identity formation' has always been a part of growing up. This occurs through healthy risk taking over time, which now can happen in the virtual world too.

"You've got to balance between the healthy risks you take online along with the ones you take offline," Carr-Gregg said.

Simon Sinek on social media addiction

"We know that engagement with social media and our cellphones releases a chemical called dopamine, that's why, when you get a text, it feels good, right? We've all had it when you're feeling a bit down and a bit lonely and you send out 10 texts to 10 friends... 'cause it feels good when you get a response. It's why we count the likes, it's why we go back 10 times to see," Sinek said.

"When you get it, you get a hit of dopamine, which feels good, it's why we like it, it's why we keep going back to it. Dopamine is the exact same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, when we drink and when we gamble. In other words, it's highly, highly addictive. We have age restrictions on smoking, gambling and alcohol and we have no age restrictions on social media and cellphones, which is the equivalent of opening up the liquor cabinet... There's nothing wrong with social media and cell phones, it's the imbalance."

Sinek and Carr-Gregg both agree the key to it all -- like most things in life -- is balance.

While balance and regulation around the consumption of alcohol and drugs remains predominantly with the government and authorities, the use of technology and social media is vastly unregulated for children.

This leaves parents responsible for regulating their children's time online. So here's how parents can help their kids find balance -- helping them thrive in the modern world.

Start Early

Sit down with your child and create rules with them around the duration and type of screen time they can have each day or week.

"What you find is the vast majority of children involved in the decision making will abide by the decisions and will regard them as quite reasonable," Carr-Gregg said.

"There will always be -- due to temperament or upbringing -- the odd kid that will not cooperate."

Every kid is different, and you have to parent according to that individuality.Michael Carr-Gregg

Moderate Time On And Off Screen

Carr-Gregg said two to three hours of screen time for children each day is reasonable. This can be regulated by parents using apps like Our Pact.

"For very young kids, I think for every hour of screen time you should have an hour of green time -- outside, getting Vitamin D, oxygenating the brain."

Age Technology Is Introduced

The age at which a parent introduces technology to their child is not an important factor, Carr-Gregg said. The important factor is their child's maturity.

"The greatest predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. So if they have demonstrated the ability to self-regulate, and they have a good temperament then I think it's a marvellous idea on the basis of their past history to let them do what they like," Carr-Gregg said.

"Every kid is different, and you have to parent according to that individuality."



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