The Dangers of Social Media Addiction & Athlete Development

Athlete Social Media Addiction

Since SPMI was founded in 2011 I have witnessed the rapid progression of how social media has infiltrated the lives of young athletes. From the acquisition of instagram by what was then Facebook in 2012 to shortly after, the first notorious selfie by Kim Kardashian. The rise of social media has been anything but beneficial to athlete development. It’s opened the door to an increase in performance anxiety, unhappiness, and in extreme cases, depression.

This article is not to condemn social media but to raise awareness to athletes and parents that it’s time to treat it for what it has become, a powerful drug. If you don’t believe me, then I challenge you as an athlete or as a parent to unlock your son or daughter’s phone (if you feel bad about this, just remember who pays their phone bill and that this is for their mental health) to view screen time analytics on their phone for the day and per week. To do this scroll left on the iPhone and then scroll to the bottom. Check out where they spend their time. Once you’re done checking that, now check what are called “pick ups”. Pick ups are the number of times an individual opens an app.

Over the past year, this is become a common theme in my sessions with my athletes and the findings are staggering. The majority of athletes I work with from ages 11 to 22 spend an average of 3 to 6 hours a day on social media! That’s 20 to 40 hours a week! And if you think that’s bad, well it gets even worse. When asking my clients how many pickups they average per day and week the numbers are astounding. One of my clients who will remain anonymous, said that for the one day alone he already had 156 pick ups and for the week already had 756 picks ups and counting (remember the iPhone accounts for weekly data starting on every Sunday so depending on when you check the weekly data you will get the overall total based on the Sunday of that week and not the total number for the 7 days)! When assessing social media engagements of many athletes over the past year, I have found that athletes predominately use at least one of the big 3: TikTok, Snapchat, and/or Instagram. Since I want to keep this article brief, I won’t go into the many reasons why this is a problem. That topic I will elaborate more on in the upcoming podcast (Stay tuned!) But I will instead leave it up to you as an athlete or parent by proposing a few questions.

1. Why is this a problem?
2. How many hours a week does your son/daughter train per week and go to school?
3. How much time in the day is left to focus on studies and other development or with family?
4. Why are children so heavily drawn towards these apps to the point that they often become restless without them?

Here are a few short answers to a few of those questions.

First, social media addiction which often involves obsessive scrolling is linked to an over-production of dopamine. In fact, studies have found that the amount of dopamine production one receives from scrolling on an app is almost identical to a hit of cocaine! Basically, much of today’s youth have become social media/gaming addicts needing to seek numerous hits in a short period of time to sooth their anxiety. To make matters worse, recent studies on the average amount of screen time for the general population of adolescents is over 7 hours! It's no wonder why athletes when asked to reduce screen time become moody. This is a clear sign of withdrawal and is to be expected. 

Second, Social media addiction has elevated the comparison trap. Many children are bombarded with false representations of success on image, performance, and results. We know that children interpret success and failure differently than adults. In fact, studies have found that children naturally interpret failure towards themselves than towards others such as caretakers. The utilization of social media only magnifies this maladaptive pattern tenfold leading to fear of losing the very fabric of who they are if they can’t keep up. 

Third, a major struggle in the development of young minds since the beginning of time is establishing a healthy identity. With social media, the identity of many athletes has single handedly focused on their sport. This issue has led to athletes struggling with anxiety in their sport at levels not seen before. Many social psychologists believe that the pervasive rise in anxiety is heavily due to the technological advancement of smart phones which occured in 2010. In 2010, the iPhone 4 was introduced which featured the first ever front-facing camera. This opened the door to an over-emphasis on phsyical appearance with young athletes, since it made it far easier to take pictures and videos of themselves. Soon to follow was the Instagram aquisition from facebook which introduced their over 1 billion followers to the platform (currently, facebook has over 3 billion active monthly followers!) ramping up the socail epidemic. Current studies by the American College Health Association state that Anxiety rates of college students increased 134% since 2010, depression rates have increased 100%, ADHD has increased 72%, anorexia 100%, substance abuse or addiciton 33%, bipolar 57%, and schizophrenia 67%! Also, since 2010 suicide rates for younger adolescents (ages 10-14) have increased 91% for boys and 167% for girls! These are statistics that shouldn't be taken lightly by any means. 

Well, this is a short article but one I can no longer stay silent about. We need to do a better job as parents and as a society on how we manage these powerful tools. There are no age restrictions unlike many other vices and the impact it’s having on the development of young minds is alarming and needs to be addressed starting at home. A podcast discussing this topic at a greater length will also be released shortly where I will go into critical solutions that atheletes and parent-athletes can take to combat this social epidemic. For more information or if you are interested in your son or daughter working with SPMI please click on the link and sign up for a free call. We would be more than happy to help in this area or any others you may feel need to be addressed. SPMI has helped thousands of athletes in areas such as performance anxiety, confidence, mindset, and many other areas of mental performance.

Please SHARE this article with other parent-athletes and athletes. This is a social epidemic that must be addressed to as many people in the athlete community as possible and it starts with you. Thank you for your support. - Patrick Alban, SPMI