Spending too much time on social media is and has been harmful to Gen Z—yet I am still addicted

Those around the globe who use the internet spend on average 2 hours and 27 minutes per day on social media, according to the World Economic Forum. That means that, globally, people spend around 6% of their day on social media (a number I calculated by dividing the average number of minutes spent on social media by the total number of minutes in a day). Statista reports similar numbers for global social media usage with an average of 145 minutes (2 hours and 25 minutes) in 2021, increasing to 147 minutes in 2022. 

If the average person around the world is spending almost two and a half hours per day on social media, how does that affect them? I believe that excess social media use harms humans—and especially those who grew up with the internet. 

Forbes refers to Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) as “the first generation of true Digital Natives,” meaning they do not know a world without internet technology. Gen Z grew up either having or being around computers, smartphones, internet access and social media.

Around 98% of Gen Z own a smartphone, according to Forbes.

As a Gen Z member myself, I can testify that all of my friends and I have smartphones and are constantly using them. Even my brother (a millennial) and parents (Gen X) frequently use their phones to go on social media apps and the internet. 

I believe using social media has benefits. Keeping up with friends and family, getting quick information, finding entertainment, connecting with new people and generating business are all great things that social media can facilitate. As a public relations student, my life practically revolves around using social media as a marketing tool. However, excessively using social media has been and is harmful to health and wellbeing, particularly that of Gen Z, who grew up in the digital age.  

Business of Apps reports that Gen Z averages four hours and 15 minutes per day on apps (about 17.7% of a day). My screen time on my phone is currently averaging three hours and 37 minutes, which apparently is down 44% from last week (ouch, but last week was spring break). This week, I am spending a whopping average of 1 hour and 15 minutes on TikTok per day. Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter follow behind TikTok in the list of my most-used apps.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness says that social media can have a negative impact on people’s mental health—especially young people, whose brains are still developing. The brain stops developing “in the mid-to-late 20s,” according to The National Institute of Mental Health. Online bullying, isolation, comparing ourselves to others and missing out on learning in-person “people skills” are all issues that can arise with social media use, according to the NAMI. These issues can prompt poor mental health and exacerbate already existing conditions, according to United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, such as anxiety and depression. 

“Mental health challenges are the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people,” according to the USDHHS. The USDHHS and Surgeon General’s office reports “significant increases in certain mental health disorders in youth, including depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation.”

As a large majority of us in Gen Z are considered young people or have still-developing brains, I believe some of the increase in poor mental health in youth is caused by our proclivity to use (or be addicted to) social media. 

As a full-time student and part-time employee, I believe I am using social media excessively, at around 15% of my day, as compared with the global average of 6%. I feel social media may be damaging my health as a form of addiction. However, breaking that addiction is difficult when I use social media for school, work, friends, family and entertainment. If I were able to use social media less often, would I experience FOMO (fear of missing out) from not being the same as my peers? My best guess is that a lot of my fellow Gen Z members are in the same boat. 

There is no definitive line between “excessive” and “not excessive” internet and social media use. Ultimately, people have to determine what is excessive for themselves. Ultimately, people have to determine what is excessive for themselves. Adults need an awareness of how they spend their time and how those allocations affect their mental and physical health. If their social media use outweighs efforts to focus on other areas of life, a reevaluation of their time commitments is in order. Gen Z members should support one another when it comes to living balanced lives and learning to get away from technology. Older generations should acknowledge that Gen Z and younger generations have never known a world without technology and support their youths’ journeys regarding internet usage.  

To quote the words of pop culture icon Kesha, “Tick-tock on the clock.” Or should I say, “‘Your excessive TikTok usage is on the clock’”?

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