My Culture

Curbing A Social Media Addiction

Kids these days and their telephone devices, amirite?

I’m a youth minister, and occasionally the older parishioners at my church bring up the technology problem to me like they’re dropping a bombshell of information. “You know, the problem these days is that kids are so addicted to their phones!”

Yes, I’m aware. I just resisted the urge to check it twice during this conversation and you JUST walked up.

What I want to tell them is that my teens are more aware of social media addiction than I was when I was in high school. What I want to tell them is America has been addicted to screens since the invention of the color television. But I don’t have time to get on my soapbox after Mass. That’s what this blog post is for.

We didn’t invent the iPhone! We asked for one for Christmas because our friends had one and our parents got it for us. Now it’s burning a hole in our pocket and we’re itching to check it out every time our brains go, “Hey I’m kinda bored right now.”

No one saw it coming how addictive these little machines would be (except the people that designed them like slot machines). They SHOULD have seen it coming but didn’t. Now there’s really nothing left to do but to figure out how to get ourselves out of this hole.

So here, I’ve listed seven steps to get out of a social media addiction. All you need to start taking these steps is a piece of paper.

1. Admit your phone is not your friend.
Social media companies are run by executives who want your eyes locked on the screen so they can show you ads and make money. They also want your information so they can sell it to ad companies. Without data mining and ads, social media would die (RIP Vine).

That’s it. That’s why these products exist. Capitalism encourages doing whatever it takes to earn a profit, regardless of the consequences to human health (see: cigarettes and processed food). It’s fine to use them as long as you’re aware that these apps are trying to steal time and attention from you so they can sell it back to advertisers.

I really like my cast-iron skillet. It’s fun to cook with and I enjoy it. But if it started showing mobile ads and took attention away from my fiancée during dinner, I’d probably switch to a Teflon pan. The first step to curbing social media addiction is realizing and admitting that your phone is distracting you from the most important things in your life.
Your phone is a tool, not your friend. If it helps the reality sink in, admit it in writing at the top of your piece of paper.

2. Admit God alone can fill the hole left by your phone.
The other fiendishly clever thing about social media companies is they know that even if you try to stop using your phone as much, you’ve developed a habit of reaching for it when you’re bored, stressed, tired, etc. This is because human beings have a finite amount of willpower. Our willpower is like a muscle that gets tired throughout the day, which is why most people find themselves compulsively scrolling late at night.

If you quit cold turkey, you will probably find yourself aching to log back on. Without God filling in the gaps left by social media, you’re likely to make a few small concessions that turn into you going right back to full use again.
If it helps the reality sink in, write “Christ is enough” or “God alone satisfies” or something similar on the next line of your piece of paper.

3. Admit where you’re addicted to social media.
Now, set aside a time to think and reflect. Make a handwritten list of where you are addicted to social media. For instance, do you binge YouTube or Netflix and can’t stop (@ me). Do you scroll endlessly on Insta or Twitter and neglect responsibilities? Does social media affect how you view yourself or other people, (judging worth on followers, likes, or views)? Does it affect your purity in any way? Does it affect your mood, (i.e. feeling angry when you log off or turning to it when you feel anxious or bored)?

These things are the warning signs of addiction. Bring this list to prayer and ask God to show you places you’ve missed. Next, find a close friend and talk about your list. Bonus points if you get them to go through this process with you.

4. Commit to change.
In prayer, ask God to take these things and replace them with Himself. Make concrete resolutions like this: When I feel like ______ I will do _____ instead. (Ex: When I feel like scrolling, I will find a friend to talk to instead.)

If you feel the addiction is too powerful for that, consider deleting the apps from your phone or having that friend change your password for a certain number of days/weeks/months. You’ll be surprised how little you actually miss when you’re not logged on. Ask a friend to hold you accountable to these resolutions.

5. Start to build/rebuild relationships.
On the back of your paper, make a list of the relationships most valuable to you. In a second column, write how social media has damaged these relationships. For instance, not talking to your mom in the car ride home from school or scrolling during coffee with a friend. In a third column, list ways you can make that relationship better.

I hope you have small handwriting.

6. Start new habits of prayer.
Prayer has a way of eliminating our bad habits. At the bottom of your paper, write one or two new commitments to prayer. Instead of scrolling before you go to bed, pray for 15 minutes. Instead of checking Instagram, check in with God and yourself.

St. Francis de Sales says that our morning prayer can create a spiritual nest in our hearts we can return to throughout the day for rest. It’s a great way to turn a boring or stressful situation into an encounter with Christ.

Keep this paper by your bedside and review it every day at first until this really cements.

7. Share this with your friends (pls like and subscribe).
Once you feel firm in these previous steps, share this article with your friends. Technology addiction is something most of us have to an extent, but it’s something we can all get rid of. These steps aren’t magic. They require prayer and community to work. Social media is designed to be addictive but it can be conquered when we fight with God and with friends.

About the Author

Patrick Neve

I’m a youth minister in the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the cohost of The Crunch podcast. I was born and raised in Florida, studied Theology at Franciscan University, and I live by the philosophy, “God thinks I’m funny, so it’s okay if you don’t.” You can find me on Instagram @patrickneveiii.

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