Psychiatrists and researchers studying the impact of social media on teens and young adults have long wondered why some develop unhealthy relationships with social media while others do not.
An emerging body of research suggests that bonds formed with caregivers early in life shape online interactions along with real ones. People who have the most difficulty regulating the use of social media also tend to be those who did not form trusting bands early in life, new studies have found.
“If you can not get in touch with the person you really need contact from, social media offers a substitute,” said Phil Reed, chair of the psychology department at Swansea University in Wales, who summarized the latest research in a new article.
But social media can not completely replace deeper relationships, he said. “You feel anxious and alone and you think social media will help, but it does not, so you feel worse and you use social media more,” he said.
The bike is easy to fall into, regardless of childhood experiences. That was the case for women I interviewed who said social media exacerbated their loneliness during the pandemic. It may also explain social media giant Meta Platforms Inc.’s own internal discovery, published by The Wall Street Journal Last fall, it was said that Instagram was harmful to the mental health of a significant proportion of young users, mostly teenage girls.
However, there is help for people who feel trapped, and below are some options (as well as a quiz to learn where you stand when it comes to attachment problems).
Worried or evasive?
For many young people, overuse of social media goes deeper than turning to Instagram when they feel lonely, says Adela Chen, associate professor of computer information systems at Colorado State University, fresh study about the connection between early ties and later use of social media was published in the journal “Computers in Human Behavior.”
“People who have low self-esteem in relationships tend to be vigilant for signs of abandonment and rejection, and seek approval and reassurance from others,” she said. The confirmation found on social media – in the form of followers and similar bills – can give the illusion of affiliation and approval, she said.
This new research has its roots in attachment theory, a psychological concept developed in the late 1950s by a psychoanalyst and a developmental psychologist. Attachment theory tries to explain how early experiences shape how people approach interpersonal relationships. In order for healthy social and emotional development to take place, the theory says, very young children must establish a strong relationship with a primary caregiver with whom they feel safe.
If a parent or other caregiver is consistently sensitive and responsive to children’s emotional needs, appears when they cry or comforts them when they are scared, children are more likely to form a secure attachment. It prepares them to be confident, to regulate their emotions, to deal with stress and to continue to form close, healthy relationships with friends and romantic partners, according to psychologists.
In cases where children do not form secure attachments, the outcomes later in life can vary. Some children may become anxious and seek closeness and approval from their parents and later in life from friends and partners. Others have the opposite reaction, growing into distrustful and overly independent adults.
Psychologists say that one’s attachment style is established at the age of 2, but it can change – for better or worse – from experiences later in life.
Where do you fall?
Dr. Chen conducted a study of more than 300 students who use Facebook every day, and evaluated both their attachment style and their social media habits. She asked them how much they agree or disagree with statements such as “I sometimes neglect important things because of my interest in Facebook” and “I have made unsuccessful attempts to reduce the time I spend on Facebook.”
The students who said they had the most difficulty managing their use of social media also received the highest score on the spectrum of anxious attachment.
Psychologists at Ozyegin University in Turkey came to the same conclusion after their own study of college students. They also evaluated students ‘parents and found that parents’ attachment anxiety may indirectly contribute to their children’s compulsive use of social media.
If you’re curious about where you end up on the extension spectrum, do this quizdeveloped by University of Illinois psychology professor R. Chris Fraley and his colleagues.
It is primarily focused on romantic relationships and asks you how you agree or disagree with statements such as “I feel comfortable sharing my private thoughts and feelings with my partner” and “I often worry that my partner is not really loves me.”
What can you do
We can not go back and change how we were treated as small children. However, this does not mean that our social media habits are fixed, or that we have ruined our children if their early childhood was not perfect. Psychologists give the following advice.
For people who want to change their social media habits: Experts say that the best way to break your addiction to social media for connection is to seek meaningful personal relationships. For tips on that, read this column.
Meeting a therapist can also help people understand their online behavior and find ways to change it. The American Psychological Association has one psychologist location tool (and the magazine has another guide Find one that accepts insurance).
Making a plan to move away from social media can also help, say digital health experts. That plan should include specific activities, such as spending time outdoors or taking lessons to fill time previously spent on social media.
For new parents: “The biggest enemy of parenting is stress,” said Swansea University’s Dr. Reed. “Quality time with your children when you can be very responsive to your child’s needs is better than half-hearted low-level parenting 24/7.”
Doing so requires that you have a partner or other support system in place, such as having your child’s grandparents nearby, to give yourself time to recharge. Dr. Reed also advises parents to stay away from their phones as much as possible around their young children, to let them know that when you are there, you are really there.
For parents of older children: If you worry that you were not responsive enough to your children’s needs when they were very young, you may be able to help older children feel safe, says Gizem Arikan, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at Ozyegin University, and one of the authors . of his study. She recommends an intervention program for families called Circle of Security International. You can search for trained professionals on its website.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers age-divided tips on how to make children feel safe.
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