The strength of social media is deeply rooted in a person’s need to connect with another. The affirmation one gets from online friendships, however, is balanced out by new dangers on the Internet: cyber-bullying, online stalking, and identity theft, among many others. The most subtly dangerous of all these though, is addiction.
“Addiction is something that controls you,” says Myrna Sanchez, a senior counsellor at the Center of Family Ministries (CEFAM). “You have no control over it. You can’t not do it; it will keep gnawing at you until finally, you have no choice but to give in to the urge to do whatever you’re addicted to.”
Before dial-up and wi-fi
Before the Internet shrank the world in the 1990s, people used less sophisticated means of communication: a telephone with a landline, handwritten letters sent via snail mail, actual face-to-face conversations. Back then, telling people in New York about your dinner in Manila – while you are having it – was unheard of, even absurd.
Fast forward to 2015, the time of ubiquitous gadgets and high-speed technology. The Internet is on an unprecedented roll connecting people globally through social media, among its many other functions. Its most popular social networking tool, Facebook, announced recently that it now has 1.39 billion monthly active users worldwide.
The instant connection with others that people get from social media makes it too good to resist for many. For some, however, the pleasure the Internet provides sometimes turns into a social crutch, and eventually, an addiction.
Just what is this phenomenon? And how do we make sure that its presence in our lives is healthy and not divisive?
“Most addicts are not aware of their addiction,” Sanchez observes. “It’s the people around them who can tell there’s a problem.”
“There are many red flags when someone gets hooked on social media,” she warns. “The first sign would be staying online for more than 3 hours every day. As a consequence of this, the [person] will neglect school and sports;, will stay up all night to stay online, neglect his family, friends, and health – since he will lose sleep and miss meals in favour of the Internet will lose interest in the things he used to do before, and will start lying to cover up the addiction.”
From national defence to virtual communities
Born as part of the U.S. military defence plan against the Soviet Union, the Internet was conceived as a company-wide communications network – packets of data transferring from computer to computer. Since then, the Internet also became a commercial tool for vendors in the early 1980s, a vehicle of knowledge in the 1990s, and eventually, the home of social media.
Various social networking services have since popped up: Napster, Friendster, MySpace, Yahoo 360 and Multiply. But none of them could take on the king of all social networking sites that was created by college kids. Mark Zuckerberg, with a couple of pals, launched Facebook from his Harvard dorm room in February 2004. In less than a year, it had 1 million users. A year and a half later, it had 6 million users.
Today, Facebook and the micro-blogging site Twitter rule social media. With each status update and each tweet, they bridge gaps and fill in empty silences.
There lie their blessing and their curse.
Emilie Nolledo, a vice president of a multi-national bank, sets clear parameters regarding Internet use at home for her 2 daughters, a high school senior and a sixth-grade student.
“I let my daughters go online for a maximum of 30 minutes every weekday, unless they need to stay on longer for homework,” says Nolledo. “On weekend or holidays, my younger daughter uses Facebook for an hour. The older one is a Twitter person and uses it throughout the day until I threaten to get her cell phone.”
Nolledo’s rules are flexible, depending on necessity, but her daughters know that these are rules they have to abide by. “We use the honesty system,” Nolledo says. But implementing her rules sometimes requires harsh consequences. “Sometimes, at the extreme, I confiscate my older daughter’s phone and laptop so I am sure she doesn’t use them,” she shares. “Once, I even changed the password to wi-fi access when I caught [my older daughter] on the Internet past midnight, still tweeting.”
The techie mum’s approach – being present through rules, rewards, and consequences – is echoed by Byron Guazon, IT director of Don Bosco Technical College. “When it comes to limiting your time online, nothing beats setting a schedule for Internet use at home,” he says, and suggests a number of remedies, such as blocking certain sites, setting up an email log in time, and so on. But nothing beats being disciplined, claims Guazon.
Importance of family
Discipline works if you start early. If the addict is a child, setting limitations on computer use is easy if you are consistent. The issue of privacy, however, comes up when disciplining teenagers. This is when family dynamics comes in.
“When there is hostility among family members, when there is emotional disconnection at home, when parents are not present emotionally or mentally, children will turn to other things that will fill the emptiness,” explains Sanchez. “So, it is vital for parents to build a positive relationship with their children.”
That is easier said than done, yes. But once it’s done, here’s your remaining to-do list, Sanchez suggests, to steer your kids away from social media addiction:
- Talk to your children about online dangers and how they can keep themselves safe;
- Get to know the technology your children use;
- Encourage other interests and social activities away from the computer; and
- Set ground rules. If your children are not teenagers yet, get access to their accounts.
If all else fails and there is obvious addiction, get professional help.
An increasingly smaller world
“Is Facebook making us lonely?” asks novelist Stephen Marche in the article he wrote in the April 2012 issue of The Atlantic. He writes, “Loneliness is certainly not something that Facebook or Twitter or any of the lesser forms of social media are doing to us. We are doing it to ourselves.”
Indeed, an empty home – whether physical or emotional – breeds addiction of all kinds, one of them, to social media. So, fill your home with love, laughter, and sincere appreciation for each member of your family. Social media, after all, has its good side. It’s a platform where you can reconnect with old friends and long-lost relatives, boast about your smart and funny kids – tag them so they’ll see it – or help raise funds for a cause you and your family believe in.
The globe is getting smaller at a rapid pace, thanks to social media. The trick is to find out if your family is shrinking too, because of it.
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